504 Plans and Individual Health Care Plans
Is your child being denied access to school or extracurricular activities that other students are benefitting from due to a disability or medical condition or because the school district has not implemented an appropriate 504 Plan or individualized health care plan? Our New Jersey education attorneys can help you get the appropriate supports put in place and determine whether your school district is in violation of anti-discrimination laws intended to protect you and your child’s civil rights.
Most anti-discrimination laws are federal statutes that address specific types of discrimination, such as discrimination based on disability, gender, sexual orientation or race. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) prohibits discrimination based on disability in any program or activity operated by recipients of federal funds, including schools. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) extends this prohibition against discrimination to the full range of state and local government services, programs, and activities regardless of whether they receive any federal financial assistance. Under these two laws, elementary, middle and high school students are entitled to access their education as adequately as their nondisabled peers. New Jersey schools can meet these obligations through develop of 504 Plans and an education lawyer can ensure their proper implementation.
Section 504 is an anti-discrimination law that protects qualifying students with a disability. Although it is a federal law, New Jersey students benefit from its full protections. A qualifying student with a disability is someone who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, (2) has a history of such an impairment or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. Major life activities include walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks, among others. Under Section 504, qualifying students with disabilities must be provided reasonable accommodations to ensure they have equal access to educational programming.
Section 504 also guarantees students with disabilities a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). New Jersey schools can meet their obligations under these laws by creating and implementing what are known as 504 Plans that list the accommodations that are necessary to ensure equal access to the educational environment. Accommodations in a 504 Plan might include assigning aides, providing written communication in alternative formats, modifying tests, or altering facilities for physical access. The question our lawyers ask under Section 504 is, how is the school making sure the student is able to participate equally in learning and extracurricular activities?
When a student’s disability involves complex medical needs, schools must also create an Individual Health Care Plan to ensure the student’s medical needs are met in school and during school-sponsored activities. New Jersey law contains specific guidelines for the protection of students with diabetes and epilepsy in schools. Our education attorneys know that those guidelines can be applied to any student requiring ongoing medical supervision to access their education. The school nurse together with the parents and student’s doctor must develop an individualized health care plan and an individualized emergency health care plan for the student. The individualized health care plan (IHP) must be consistent with the recommendations of the student’s doctor and describe in detail the health services needed by the student at school. The individualized emergency health care plan (IEHP) is a set of procedural guidelines that provide specific directions about what to do in emergency situations, including fire drills or lockdowns, and should include how the student will retain access to their medications, food, and water if needed. Both documents should be updated every school year or as often as the student’s medical needs change.
Ideally, schools will develop a “school health team” to address the needs of medically complex students. A school health team is not mandated by law, but New Jersey considers it a best practice because having a team in place to address all school health and wellness issues is generally going to be more efficient than using a more fragmented, issue-driven, or purely student-specific approach. The law mandates several actions on the part of the school nurse for students requiring IHPs and IEHPs, but other school personnel play a pivotal role in the student’s ability to manage their disease.
If your child is being excluded from a school activity due to a disability or medical condition, you have rights under federal and state anti-discrimination and education laws. Reach out to one of our experienced education attorneys for a consultation and we can walk you through it.