Mackenzie Casall Director of Special Education – Duncanville ISD
SUMMER 2017 ISSUE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities at work, in school, and in public spaces. The ADA can make it easier for parents to get help for their child. Because the ADA is very broad, it works in conjunction with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The following article is a guide for parents to learn about the different accommodations their child can receive in the classroom.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Mackenzie Casall. I’m the Director of Special Education in Duncanville ISD. I’m in my seventeenth year in education. I’ve been in the classroom as a special education teacher. I’ve worked assessment as an educational diagnostician and also in the central office as a special education coordinator. I’ve been a principal for special needs students.
What is an accommodation?
An accommodation is a change or an adaptation that helps a student overcome or work around their disability. It is meant to level the playing field. It does not change what is being taught or the expectation for a student. That is a modification, which is different from an accommodation. Accommodations can adjust scheduling, setting, materials, instruction, or the student response.
Where does a parent start if their child needs accommodations?
I would recommend starting with talking to that child’s teacher. Many accommodations can be provided in schools even if the student does not have an identified disability and is not in special education or section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act. We can provide those through RTI which is Response to Intervention. If there is suspected disability, then I would be talking to that student’s teacher and maybe the counselor at that school as well to see whether or not we need to do a referral for special education or 504 identification to determine if a more detailed plan and more assistance can be provided to that student if they have a disability.
What are the some of the most common misconceptions about accommodations?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that people do not understand the difference between an accommodation and a modification. An accommodation levels the playing field, but the students are still being held to the same standards as all other students that do not have a disability. A modification changes that expectation for a student such as what is being taught and maybe even the rigor of the instruction for that student. Another misconception is that accommodations have to be for a specialized setting. That is not true. We provide special education support in the general education setting as well, and most accommodations would be for the general education setting, not just the special education setting. Accommodations can be through Response to Intervention, through the RTI, and don’t have to be in a program such as special education or 504 to receive accommodations.
Do all teachers have to implement the accommodations?
Yes. If a teacher has a student that has an individualized education plan, IEP, or a 504 plan, they have to implement all of the accommodations that are in the plan. It is not optional. That is a law. They are required by law to follow those, and it has to be used routinely and effectively.
If a parent disagrees with the school’s decision, what can they do?
Well, first, I think schools work really hard to collaborate with the parents, and we are always trying to make sure we are on the same page and working on the best interest of students. However, if a plan that does not reach consensus occurs, for 504, if we have a child that’s in 504, you can file an Office for Civil Rights (OCR) complaint. If you feel like your student’s civil rights are being violated based on a teacher not implementing a 504 plan or appropriate accommodations not being developed in a 504 plan for special education, you have due process rights and can file due process. We start with a mediation, and then it could possibly go to a due process hearing to settle what that student is needing and whether we are following the school’s plan or looking at the parent’s concerns. A parent can revoke consent from a student’s special concerns in the entirety. They have a right to revoke consent at any time, but they cannot choose a part of the plan and not parts of others. It’s all or nothing in special education. In special education, you can choose the whole, being in special education in its entirety, or revoking consent completely.
IF YOU FEEL LIKE YOUR STUDENT'S CIVIL RIGHTS ARE BEING VIOLATED BASED ON A TEACHER NOT IMPLEMENTING A 504 PLAN OR APPROPRIATE ACCOMMODATIONS, YOU HAVE DUE PROCESS RIGHTS AND CAN FILE DUE PROCESS.
What body of law authorizes accommodations?
There are three laws that authorize accommodations in the schools. There’s Americans with Disabilities Act, which allows for public accommodations and provides accessibility for students in schools and in the community. There’s Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which authorizes necessary accommodations in schools based on the student’s disability and needs, and then there’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA, which authorizes accommodations for students that are in special education. These accommodations allow a student to have a Free and Appropriate Public Education or FAPE.
Who can get accommodations?
Any student that is in special education, which is for ages 3 through 22, under IDEA, and is in a public or charter school is eligible for accommodations, and these are determined by the Admission, Review and Dismissal Committee (ARD) and developed Individualized Education Plan or IEP based on their present levels of academic achievement and functional performance and their disability and their needs. Also, students that are receiving services through Section 504 may also receive accommodations through their 504 plan based on their disability and their needs. And, there’s other students that can receive some accommodations through Response to Intervention Services that are not identified with disability and that are not in a program that is specific for students with disabilities.
Who can refer a child for an accommodation?
An ARD committee can refer an accommodation for students in special education. The ARD committee includes a parent. It also includes a general education teacher, a special education teacher, a district representative, which is usually a campus administrator, and an assessment staff. Other appropriate parties may be at the ARD committees as well that may help to determine the accommodations for a student based on their disability and based on their need. As in 504, the 504 committee would develop the accommodations based on their needs as well.
Is nationality or immigration status a factor when a child is receiving accommodations?
No, not at all. We cannot exclude any student based on race, nationality, or immigration status. As far as immigration status, we don’t even ask the immigration status when the students enroll in the schools.
Who decides whether a child is eligible for accommodations?
All students that are in special education are automatically eligible for accommodations, but they don’t qualify for all accommodations. They are qualified based on what their individual student need is, based on their disability, based on their present levels of performance. Then, we determine what accommodations are needed to help level the playing field for the student. For 504, same thing, the 504 committee would help determine that.
Is parental notice or consent required?
Not specifically for accommodations. Consent is required to place a student in special education. After that, we provide notice for any ARD committee meeting to make sure that the parent is notified of that meeting. When they come, we want to always have meaningful input from the parents, and they are part of the committee, and we should be developing accommodations collaboratively. If, for some reasons, it is determined that an accommodation is needed or not needed or there is disagreement from that parent, we cannot institute those accommodations until five days prior written notice is provided to that parent. We are always trying to work collaboratively with parents and come up with a plan that is in the best interest of the students.
How does an unaccompanied minor without a parent in the country receive accommodations?
When a student is enrolling in school, there has to be a guardian that’s enrolling that student that’s taking responsibility for that child. That may be another family member or that may be from an advocacy center, but there’s always somebody that is involved and that person would become the parent in the ARD committee.
What types of accommodations are available, and could you explain the most common ones?
Sure. There are lots of accommodations, and they are individualized for that student. They can be adjusting schedulings, setting, materials, instructions, or the student response methods. Some of the most common accommodations for students that we see may be an opportunity to respond orally for a student that has a writing disability, or extra time for assignments. It may be a copy of class notes for a student that might have a processing disability or writing disability as well. Other accommodations could be the use of visual support, preferential seating, or oral administration to assist with reading.
¹ U.S. Dept. of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Protecting Students with Disabilities: Frequently Asked Questions about Section 504 and the Education of Children with Disabilities, (Oct. 16, 2015).
² Austin Independent School District.
³ Texas Education Agency, Division of Federal and State Education Policy, Notice of Procedural Safeguards, (April 2016).