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Legal Considerations Part 1: Differences in the laws that govern K-12 schools and schools at the post-secondary level


One of the biggest issues facing students with learning challenges and their families is the difference in laws that govern schools that service K-12 versus schools at the post-secondary level.  Information in this two-part series is designed to help you better understand the transition from the laws and procedures in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to the legal protections that apply to college students.
Until a student goes to college or until the semester he turns 21, he is protected by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA.  Once a student enters college, however, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, or Section 504, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) take over.  The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) specifically requires that K-12 schools actively seek out students with learning challenges and provide them with the services and the assistance they need to be successful in the classroom.
For example, Section 504 requires a school district to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to each student with a disability in the district’s jurisdiction.  Students are evaluated at no cost to families and Individual Education Plans, or IEPs, are formulated.  As a result, students may receive tutoring and other academic services and aids during the school day as dictated by their IEP or intervention plan dictates.  Transition services are also required by IDEA, and it is this plan that helps to ensure that students have taken the appropriate courses for college entrance and received the necessary accommodations when completing college entrance exams, such as the ACT and SAT, if they qualify.
Students with a disability leaving high school and entering post-secondary education will see differences in their rights and how they are addressed.  Unlike high school, the college or university is not required to provide FAPE.  Rather, it is required to provide appropriate academic adjustments as necessary to ensure that it does not discriminate on the basis of your disability.  In other words, focus shifts from academic success to academic access.  Therefore, colleges are not required to seek out students with learning challenges and are not required to provide any diagnostic services.  They are also only required to provide “reasonable accommodations.”  Students with learning disabilities or ADHD, however, may be entitled to reasonable academic services and aids based on the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities At (ADA).  These laws mandate that all colleges and universities in the United States that receive any federal financing cannot discriminate in the recruitment, admission or treatment of students with disabilities.  This law allows your student to request modifications, academic support, and auxiliary aids that allow him to participate in and benefit from all of the programs and activities that colleges offer.
Check back tomorrow for the second installment of this series.  I’ll discuss what accommodations your student should expect to benefit from at the college level.
Heather Creech
Educational Consultant for Students with Learning Challenges


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