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Guidelines for Effective Communication in Schools

The Department of Justice (DOJ)’s Civil Rights Division together with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services has issued joint guidance about the rights of public elementary and secondary students with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities to effective communication. The guidance is intended to help schools, parents, and others understand schools’ obligations under Federal law to meet the communications needs of students with disabilities.                                                                                                             
Public schools must apply both the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) analysis and the Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) effective communication analysis in determining how to meet the communication needs of an IDEA-eligible student with a hearing, vision, or speech disability. While the two often overlap, the Title II effective communication requirement differs from the requirements in the IDEA. While the IDEA requires that schools make available a free appropriate public education (FAPE), the Title II regulations have a specific effective communication requirement for individuals with disabilities. In some instances, in order to comply with Title II, a school may have to provide the student with accommodations that are not required under the IDEA.                                                                                                                        
For example, let’s suppose a male 13-year-old IEP-eligible student has a cochlear implant and relies on lip-reading to communicate with others. For the past three years, he has used FM technology, which consists of a microphone held by the teacher and a receiver that transmits to his implant.  During this time period, he has maintained above average grades, completed grade level work, and interacted appropriately with his peers.                                                                                                 
Recently, however, he stated that he is struggling with hearing others in the classroom. He also stated that the FM system transmitted static and background noises and interfered with his ability to focus.  Based on these concerns, his mother requested that he receive communication access real-time translation (CART) services. Under the IDEA, the services must enable him to receive FAPE. Based on his above average grades, his grade-level work and teachers’ reports on his interactions in class with his peers, the IEP Team could determine that CART is not necessary for him to receive FAPE.                                                                                                                                   
However, under Title II, the school district must take appropriate steps to ensure that communication with that particular student is as effective as communication with students without disabilities. The school must also give primary consideration to the requests made by the student and his parents. In this hypothetical, the student cannot hear many of the other students in the classroom, and by not hearing a student’s question or comment, he does not always understand a teacher’s response.  Based on this, the school’s ADA Coordinator can determine that he is not receiving effective communication and is entitled to CART services.                                                                              
The guidance includes a letter to educators, a Frequently Asked Questions document and a summary Fact Sheet, which can be accessed here:

U.S. Department of Justice – Civil Rights Division

Frequently Asked Questions

Fact Sheet

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