An OK letter in some ways and very troubling in many others.

OK? In many ways this “letter to colleagues” states the current practice–as schools have successfully been including students with disabilities in sports programs for many, many years. [NOTE that much of OCR’s regulations and letters, including parts of this letter reach far beyond the law, Section 504. More on this in a later blog].

Interestingly, this ‘directive’ or ‘ruling’ as headlines proclaim, came in the form of a letter to colleagues….not a ruling, not a court decision, not a formal action by a deliberative body. What weight will it have in future disputes? We know that often courts, administrative law judges, and hearing officers overturn government letters–when they exceed their authority.

Troubling? This letter goes far beyond the law when it ‘orders’ separate programming. In my view, this letter exceeds the authority of Section 504. Section 504 has more modest goals, to provide equal opportunity in EXISTING programs for students with disabilities–not to demand the creation of new programs.

Troubling? This letter misuses the term ‘modifications.’ When it talks about ‘ reasonable modifications’ it is really discussing ‘reasonable accommodations.’ We know that accommodations do NOT fundamentally alter standards, programs, etc., while modifications do. This OCR letter is not, as I read it now, ordering fundamental alterations in existing programs. Thus, it’s talking about accommodations. This misuse of terminology is troubling, as it confuses educators, parents, and students alike.

Much has already been written about this new OCR letter. See, for example the Ed Week Blog below.

Above are my quick two cents. More later. Your thoughts?

About Miriam

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, JD, MA—an expert in public education, focused on special education law— is a lawyer, author, speaker, consultant, and reformer. For more than 35 years, Miriam worked with educators, parents, policy makers, and citizens to translate complex legalese into plain English and focus on good practices for children. Now, she focuses her passion on reforming special education, with her new book, Special Education 2.0—Breaking Taboos to Build a NEW Education Law. Presentations include those at the AASA Conference, Orange County (CA), Boston College (MA), CADRE (OR), and the Fordham Institute (DC). Her writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Education Week, Education Next, Hoover Digest, The University of Chicago Law Review on line,, and The Atlantic Monthly on line.

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