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U.S. Department Of Education Releases Section 504 Guidance For Colleges And Universities Regarding Compliance With Federal Civil Rights Laws During COVID-19 National Emergency
On May 12, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education released a technical assistance document to assist postsecondary institutions with meeting their obligations under federal civil rights laws during the COVID-19 national emergency.
The guidance reminds institutions they must still meet the requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (Title II), and other federal disability statutes when providing distance learning. Institutions must provide students with disabilities with academic adjustments, auxiliary aids and services, and reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures, where doing so would not impose an undue burden or fundamentally alter the service, program, or activity. Some of the academic adjustments, auxiliary aids and services, and reasonable modifications in place for students when attending on-campus classes may continue to be effective during distance learning, but institutions may need to adjust to better support students with disabilities through virtual means such as online or telephonic resources. Overall, institutions must provide students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from its service, program, or activity.
Additionally, the COVID-19 national emergency does not relieve institutions of their legal obligations under Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and other civil rights statutes. Institutions should not adopt a blanket policy to delay complaint investigations until campuses resume normal operations or refuse to accept and respond to new complaints, although delays in investigations and adjudications may be unavoidable in particular cases. Institutions should use technology, as appropriate, to conduct these activities remotely, while ensuring that this is done timely, equitably, and consistent with due process protections.
The Questions and Answers for Postsecondary Institutions Regarding the COVID-19 National Emergency, along with other documents the Department published related to COVID-19, are available on the Office for Civil Rights’ website, https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/20200512-qa-psi-covid-19.pdf.