Do I Have To Tell My School?


School can be tough for students with inflammatory bowel disease. The symptoms can make it hard to get to class, the meds can make it hard to study, and long absences can put students behind their peers. The good news for students in American schools: there are rules protecting you from discrimination.

Earlier posts looked at whether IBD counts as a disability (it does!) and what rules protect employees –especially the Americans With Disabilities Act as amended in 2008. Most schools also have to follow Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which applies to any school or school district that receives federal money. Another law, the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), applies to public school districts. (Here’s a handy chart comparing the three.)

Note that these laws protect all students — not just American citizens. If you come to the U.S. to study, you are protected. They also apply to pretty much everything the school does, including academics, athletics, and extracurricular programs. The laws provide two basic protections: first, that a disabled person can’t be discriminated against; second, that a disabled person must be provided with reasonable accommodation. Reasonable accommodation for students with IBD might include things like bathroom breaks during tests or a modified course schedule.

IDEA also requires that schools provide ‘auxiliary aids’ to help disabled students learn alongside their non-disabled classmates. Auxiliary aids include things like note-takers, interpreters, textbooks on tape, specialized keyboards and calculators. Auxiliary aids aren’t supposed to do your schoolwork for you, but only guarantee equal opportunity “to reach the same level of achievement” as non-disabled students.

There are important differences in the protections between K-12 and college students. Public schools are supposed to identify disabled students — meaning the burden is on the school to determine whether you are disabled (not that you should make it hard for them), and come up with a plan for your disability.

Colleges and universities, on the other hand, are not required to determine whether you are disabled, so you as the student are supposed to self-identify and request whatever accommodations you need.

If you believe your school is not following the rules that protect you, there are a couple ways to proceed. One is to notify the principal or school board, and go try to resolve the issue through that process. But — you can just skip that step and go straight to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Keep in mind that there are deadlines for reporting violations, so you should file a complaint as soon as practical.

For more information, check out these Disability Discrimination Resources from the Office of Civil Rights, and especially this factsheet, ‘The Civil Rights of Students with Hidden Disabilities Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973’.

Photo ‘1019061651’ by Flickr User Travis Rigel Lukas Hornung modified under Creative Commons license.




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