School District Responsibilities

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School districts have a variety of responsibilities to students, but their most basic responsibility is to provide all eligible students with disabilities with a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment possible. In addition, the environment and education that school districts provide, must be appropriate to the child’s individual needs by providing them with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) (Application of a Child with a Handicapping Condition, 30 Ed Dept Rep 64 (1990)). Regardless of the severity of their disability, or their ability to benefit from special education, the school must still provide appropriate education that is likely to produce more than minuscule learning or developmental strides (Timothy W. v. Rochester Sch. Dist., 875 F.2d 954 (1st Cir.), cert denied, 493 U.S 983 (1989). This responsibility does not end here, but it also extends to disabled students who are incarcerated in county correctional facilities for ten or more calendar days (Educ. Law § 3202(7); 8 NYCRR Part 118; see also NYS Education Department, Special Education Responsibilities for Students Incarcerated in County Correctional Facilities (Oct. 2010).


Districts also have a duty to:


• Identify, locate, evaluate, and maintain records about all children with disabilities who reside or attend school within their districts. This responsibility also extends to students who attend private school. (20 USC § 1412(a)(3)(A), (10)(A)(ii); 34 CFR §§ 300.111, 300.131; Educ. Law §§ 3602-c(2-a), 4402(1)(a); 8 NYCRR § 200.2(a)(1))


• Establish an IEP team, known in New York as the Committee on Special Education (CSE), CSE subcommittees as appropriate, and a committee on preschool special education (CPSE) to assure the timely identification, evaluation and placement of eligible school age students with disabilities and preschool children with disabilities to ensure that children with disabilities are identified, their parents are notified, and they can be properly treated and educated (20 USC § 1414(b)(4)(A), (d)(1)(B); 34 CFR § 300.321; Educ. Law §§ 4402(1)(b), 4410(3); 8 NYCRR § 200.3(a), (c))


• Ensure that testing and evaluation materials and procedures for identifying and placing children with disabilities, meet the requirements of federal and state law and regulations and aren’t racially or culturally discriminatory (20 USC §§ 1412(a)(7), 1414(a), (b), (c); 34 CFR §§ 300.304–305; 8 NYCRR § 200.4(b)(6))


• Arrange for special education programs and services based upon completion of a student’s IEP and the recommendation of the CSE or CPSE (8 NYCRR §§ 200.2(d), 200.16(f))


• Keep an acceptable plan of service, as required by Education Law, that can be publicly inspected or reviewed by the commissioner of education § 3602(8)(b) (8 NYCRR § 200.2(c))


• Provide procedural safeguards for children with disabilities and their parents (20 USC § 1415; 34 CFR §§ 300.500–520; 8 NYCRR § 200.5) and notice of those procedural safeguards at various times specified in law and regulations (20 USC § 1415(d)(1)(A); 34 CFR §§ 300.504–05; 8 NYCRR § 200.5(f)(3))


• Appoint imperial and unbiased hearing officers to hear appeals over the school district’s actions concerning the identification, evaluation, and placement of students with disabilities (20 USC § 1415(f)(1)(A), (3)(A); 34 CFR § 300.511; Educ. Law § 4404(1); 8 NYCRR §§ 200.2(b)(9), 200.2(e)(1), 200.5(j)(3)(i), (ii)) and report to the NYS Education Department information related to the impartial hearing process as required by the commissioner (8 NYCRR § 200.5(j)(3)(xvi)


• Notify parents, upon their child’s enrollment or attendance in a public school, of their rights regarding the referral and evaluation of their child for purposes of special education services and programs under federal and state law (§ 4402).


School boards also have a responsibility to identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities within their districts, including homeless children, home-instructed children, and children attending private school, regardless of their disability, and advancement from grade to grade (20 USC § 1412(a)(3)(A), (10)(A)(ii); 34 CFR §§ 300.111(a), (c), 300.131; Educ. Law §§ 3602-c, 4402(1)(a); 8 NYCRR § 200.2(a)(1)). They must keep a register of all children, even those who attend nonpublic schools, who are found with a disability, that is updated annually.


Identifying students with disabilities in nonpublic schools can, at times, be tricky. However, school districts must take similar action, within a similar time period, to identify children with disabilities as they would in the public school setting (20 USC § 1412(a)(10)(A)(ii)(I), (III); 34 CFR § 300.131(c), (e); 8 NYCRR § 200.2(a)(7)). For example, school districts may widely distribute informational brochures, issue regular public service announcements, or hold staffing exhibits at community activities to raise awareness of identifying students with potential disabilities.


A school district’s responsibilities don’t end when a student with a disability graduates from high school. For students with disabilities who are transitioning from high school to college, school districts must provide such students with a coordinated set of “transition services” (20 USC § 1401(34)). These services must be based on the student’s individual needs, which take into account his or her needs, preferences, and interests. These activities must include instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and adult living objectives, and (if appropriate), helping the student develop daily living skills, while providing functional vocational evaluations (20 USC § 1401(34)(B); 34 CFR § 300.43(a)(2); 8 NYCRR § 200.1(fff)). These transition services guide the student into obtaining education, employment, and living on his or her own so that he or she can be an independent member of society.


School districts are also required to provide year-round services to disabled students, not just during the months that they attend school. This law was enacted to prevent substantial regression during summer months, when students are generally out of school. Substantial regression specifically refers to the inability to maintain developmental strides due to the loss of a skill between the months of July and August. School districts, may, however, limit the type, amount, or duration of year-round services for students with disabilities, or they may limit year-round services only to students with certain disabilities.


There are times where parents may wish for the child’s school to provide medical services to their child with a disability. However, school districts are not legally required to provide medical services to a child with a disability, except for diagnostic and evaluation purposes (20 USC § 1401(26)(A); 34 CFR § 300.34(a); 8 NYCRR § 200.1(ee)). Diagnostic and evaluative purposes refers to the specific services provided by a registered, and qualified physician, or other qualified healthcare professional who can identify and diagnose a student with a disability. Districts are, however, required to provide health services to students with disabilities if the services do not have to be performed by a licensed physician, are are essential for the student to attend and benefit from special education Cedar Rapids Cmty. Sch. Dist. v. Garrett F., 526 U.S. 66 (1999); Irving Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Tatro, 468 U.S. 883 (1984)). In light of a student’s disability, regardless of how severe, schools may not require students to be medicated to attend school. Both federal and state law prohibit schools from making the medication of children with disabilities a requirement to attend school (Federal Controlled Substances Act; 21 USC § 812(c)).


As part of the legal requirement for schools to provide an equal education in the least restrictive environment, schools must adopt and implement procedures for ensuring that students with disabilities are provided with an equal opportunity to participate in, and benefit from extracurricular, and nonacademic activities. Examples of these activities would include, counseling services, pep rallies, special interest groups, or clubs and field trips. This law applies to all students with eligible disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Act or section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (34 CFR §§ 104.37, 300.107, 300.117; 8 NYCRR §§ 100.2(k); 200.2(b)(1)); Rose Tree Media (PA) Sch. Dist., OCR Decision, 40 IDELR 188 (2003)).


Schools also have an obligation to prevent bullying against disabled students based on their disability. The topic of bullying against disabled student’s is taken very seriously both among schools, and legally. A school district’s failure to address reasonable concerns from a parent regarding the severe bullying of their child can be considered as a denial of a free and appropriate public education and entitle the parents to tuition reimbursement should they choose to transfer their child to a private school. In addition, a school’s failure to address bullying based on a child’s disability may result in a disability-based harassment violation under section 504 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. More information about these violations, and repercussions can be found at:


Schools must have a variety of procedural safeguards that requires that students with disabilities. School districts must give parents a written notice of the procedural safeguards at least once per year as well as upon the following conditions:

  • A child's initial referral, or parental request for evaluation.
  • Receipt of the first filing of a state complaint for a due process complaint during the school year.
  • Upon the parent’s request.
  • The day a decision is made to suspend or remove a child with a disability for a violation of the student code of conduct, and the suspension or removal constitutes a disciplinary change in placement (34 CFR §§ 300.504(a)(3), 300.530(h); 8 NYCRR § 200.5(f)(3)).


When it comes to students with disabilities, school districts have a great responsibility to provide, care, and educate them in a way that they can develop to be independent members of society. Ensuring that they are educated in a way that is specific to their needs, while including them with their non-disabled peers as much as possible, are only small portions of what school districts are obligated to do for their students with disabilities. From including them in extracurricular activities, to providing transfer services that guide them into independent adult living, school districts are required to ensure that students with disabilities are in no way left behind in the path of becoming a well-developed productive adult. 


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Angel A. Castro, III, Esq.

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