U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights Reports Increase in Number of Complaints Involving Students with Disabilities

The United Stated Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reported in April 2015 that almost half of all complaints OCR received in the fiscal years 2013 and 2014 involved students with disabilities. There were more disability-related complaints than sex- and race-discrimination complaints. Out of the 19,939 complaints filed over those two fiscal years, 9,941 of them alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The number of disability-related complaints were much greater than the number of such complaints filed in 2010 (6,933) and 2005 (5,533).

Under Title III of the ADA, no individual may be discriminated against on the basis of a disability with regards to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation. The obligations and responsibilities of Title III of the ADA are applicable only to a place of public accommodation, which include a "nursery, elementary, secondary, undergraduate, or postgraduate private school."

The surge in the number of disability-related complaints correlates with court cases regarding students with individualized education programs under the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA). There has also been an increase in students with Section 504 plans and students pursuing postsecondary education because of the expansion of eligibility standards under the 2008 amendments to the ADA.

To see the full OCR report, please visit: http://www2.ed.gov/about/reports/annual/ocr/report-to-president-and-secretary-of-education-2013-14.pdf.

NOTE:

Religious operated schools are not subject to the requirements of Title III of the ADA because the statute specifically exempts from coverage "religious organizations or entities controlled by religious organizations." However, school administrators should be cognizant of the fact that the school would still be subject to the employment obligations of Title I of the ADA if it has enough employees to meet the requirements for coverage.