The United States Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in collaboration with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services recently released a Dear Colleague Letter elaborating on the responsibility of public schools to ensure that communication with students with hearing, vision and speech disabilities is as effective as communication with all other students.

The short letter, accompanied by a 30-page FAQ on the matter, detail three federal laws—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitative Act of 1973—that address the responsibilities for all public schools to meet the communication needs of students with disabilities.

As the guidance states, the IDEA requires that schools provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE), consisting of special education and related service to all eligible children with disabilities, while Title II requires that schools ensure students with disabilities receive effective communication through the provision of appropriate auxiliary aids and services.  According to the guidance, public schools must apply both the IDEA analysis and the Title II analysis in determining how to meet the communication needs of an IDEA-eligible student with a hearing, vision or speech disability.  In many instances an individualized education program under the IDEA will also meet the requirements of Title II.  However, in some instances, in order to comply with Title II, a school may have to provide the student with auxiliary aids or services that are not required under the IDEA.

The FAQs are intended to address the interplay of IDEA and Title II requirements with the goal of assisting schools, parents, and others in addressing the communication needs of students with hearing, vision or speech disabilities.

If you have any questions about the Dear Colleague Letter or the information contained within the FAQ, please call Caplan and Earnest’s School Law Section at 303-443-8010.