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U.S. Education Department Announces First-of-Its Kind Resolution of Virtual Charter School Civil Rights Investigation
November 6, 2013
Source: U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Department of Education announced that its Office for Civil Rights has entered into an agreement with Virtual Community School of Ohio to ensure compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act for students with disabilities at the school. This first-of-its-kind resolution promises equal access to educational opportunities for students with disabilities in virtual charter schools.
Virtual Community School of Ohio is an Internet-based, public charter school that serves approximately 1,200 students who reside throughout the state of Ohio.
"Students with disabilities who attend online public charter schools are entitled to all the protections of the federal civil rights laws that their peers receive at traditional public schools, including the right to receive a free appropriate education. Online schools also must take steps to ensure that the websites and online classrooms they use to promote their services and to educate students are accessible to individuals with disabilities," said Catherine E. Lhamon, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights. "Online education environments such as this in which students reside across the state and go to school together in a totally on-line environment, may present unique challenges. Nevertheless, these online schools must comply with the civil rights laws. I commend Virtual Community School of Ohio for agreeing to address these issues as part of its agreement with OCR."
OCR initiated a compliance review in 2011 to assess whether the school discriminates against students with disabilities by failing to ensure that they receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). OCR also examined whether individuals with disabilities are provided an equal opportunity to access the school's website and on-line learning environment.
OCR's investigation identified compliance problems with the evaluation and placement procedures used by the school to identify students with disabilities under Section 504 and to determine their individual education needs and the services necessary to provide them an appropriate education.
OCR also found that the school did not provide procedural safeguards for students with disabilities relating to identification, evaluation and placement under Section 504; did not publish contact information for the employee designated to coordinate its efforts to comply with Section 504 and Title II; and did not adopt and publish disability grievance procedures, as required under Section 504 and Title II.
The office also determined that the school utilized a website and an on-line learning environment that are not accessible to individuals with disabilities, particularly those who are blind, have low vision, or have other disabilities, such as learning disabilities that substantially limit their ability to access printed materials.
Under the agreement, the school committed to take specific actions to ensure that it is providing a FAPE to students with disabilities, as well as an equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities to participate in the school’s web-based education program. The agreement provides that the school will:
- Develop Section 504 policies and procedures so that students with disabilities are appropriately identified, evaluated, and provided services to ensure they receive a FAPE;
- Notify parents, guardians, and students of the revised Section 504 policies and procedures;
- Evaluate or re-evaluate students with disabilities enrolled in the last two years to determine whether they need compensatory special education and/or related aids or services and, based on this evaluation, promptly provide compensatory services;
- Publish contact information for the school's Section 504/Title II coordinator and ensure that the coordinator is appropriately trained;
- Develop and publish grievance procedures that provide for the prompt and equitable resolution of disability discrimination complaints;
- Provide training to staff involved in the evaluation and placement of students with disabilities;
- Develop policies and procedures to ensure that the school's online technologies are accessible, including the adoption of technical standards to ensure accessibility;
- Revise its website and on-line learning environment so that they are accessible to individuals with disabilities, including students with visual, hearing, or print disabilities and those who otherwise require use of assistive technology to access the school's program;
- Monitor the accessibility of the school's online technologies; and
- Provide annual training for staff responsible for online technologies about the school's accessibility policies and procedures and their roles and responsibilities in ensuring online content is accessible.
OCR will closely monitor the school's implementation of the agreement.
A copy of the OCR Ohio Charter School Resolution Letter [Word, 89.5 KB] can be found here: http://www2.ed.gov/documents/press-releases/virtual-community-ohio-letter.doc
A copy of OCR Ohio Charter School Resolution Agreement [Word file: 245 KB] can be found here: http://www2.ed.gov/documents/press-releases/virtual-community-ohio-agreement.doc
The office's mission is to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. OCR is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination by educational institutions on the basis of disability, race, color, national origin, sex, and age, as well as the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act of 2001. Additional information about OCR is available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/index.html.
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