Ask ECAC will occasionally discuss a situation or question that repeatedly comes to us from parents. We will offer an answer that will be of use to the vast majority of our readers. As with all things related to special education and people with disabilities, there are factors unique to each child that may have some bearing on how to best handle your particular situation.
Question: My 5 year old son has Autism Spectrum Disorder and he receives special education services at school. His kindergarten teacher has already told me that she is concerned about my son’s safety and he will only be able to go on field trips with his class if I come along to personally supervise him. Do I have to agree to this?
Answer: If extra conditions or restrictions are put on your son’s ability to participate in a school activity solely because of his disability, this would be considered to be a form of discrimination that would be inconsistent with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits any program that receives federal funds from denying a person with a disability the equal opportunity to access, participate in, or benefit from that program. Our public schools receive some federal funding, and any child that has an IEP is a person with a disability under Section 504.
One thing that you may want to do is call for an IEP meeting and make sure that your child’s IEP clearly includes field trips and extra-curricular activities as part of his General Education Program Participation. Regardless of whether he will be taking the field trips with a special education class or a regular education class, any accommodations or supports that your child will need should be clearly listed and described. Such accommodations could include things like: close-proximity adult supervision at all times, preferential seating away from interior and exterior doors, or adequate staffing to allow for removal to another area, if needed. These accommodations are not on the drop-down box of the computer programs commonly used for IEP writing, but they can be added as “Other”. Also, preparation ahead of time so that your child knows what to expect, and communication with the teacher about how to handle some “what if…” scenarios should reduce the chances of running into any significant problems on the day of the trip or special event.
If you still find that there is resistance to including your child in these activities, discuss your concern with the school principal and, if necessary, your school system’s Section 504 Coordinator (they may be listed under “Federal Program Compliance” or some similar title). In North Carolina there is a Section 504 Consultant at the Department of Public Instruction, but the entity officially charged with enforcing Section 504 in schools is the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Education. Formal Complaints about disability discrimination would need to be submitted to OCR for investigation. Hopefully, things will be resolved long before that step becomes necessary.