After-School Programs & Accommodations
Section 504 and the ADA both require that programs make "reasonable accommodations" to enable persons with handicaps to participate effectively. What accommodations are reasonable depends on the circumstances, including an analysis of the size of a program, its overall budget compared to the potential cost of an accommodation, the potential disruption to a program's central services that might be caused by the requested accommodation, and other factors.
What an educational program may not do is simply to expel or refuse to allow a person to participate without making any effort to accommodate if it can be done reasonably. In your case, the program should read your son's IEP, which you should provide for their confidential review, for clues about modifications that may help accommodate him. You may want to let the director consult with teachers and/or with other medical or therapeutic professionals who know your son to develop a plan of accommodations.
Since the program is located in a public school building, you should be able to enlist the help of the school administration in seeking accommodations. Under Section 504 and the ADA, the public school must not contract with an entity that discriminates illegally, and it is likely that the after-school program's contract includes provisions specifically obligating the program not to discriminate. These requirements may even include some that pertain specifically to meeting the needs of children with disabilities. You should be able to examine the contract (which may be in the form of a lease) as a public document in your school's administrative offices.
Your approach to the after-school program should be documented -- that is, you should write a letter (mark it "confidential") notifying the program that your son is disabled and specifically requesting appropriate accommodations to enable him to participate. If you make the director understand that you are raising an issue under the ADA or Section 504, s/he will be more likely to treat this as an issue to which s/he must respond with great care. With such a letter, the program's attorney should advise the director of the program's obligations under these laws and of the possibility of a claim for damages if the program does not comply.
Enforcement of laws pertaining to discrimination on the basis of disability is available at the federal Office of Civil Rights and most states also provide enforcement through a state agency. An attorney should be consulted regarding the applicable statute(s) of limitations and procedural requirements for bringing such a claim.
Robert K. Crabtree is a partner at Kotin, Crabtree, and Strong, LLP, a general practice law firm in Boston, Massachusetts. Among other areas of practice, Mr. Crabtree concentrates in special education and disability law.
Copyright 1998 Kotin, Crabtree, and Strong, LLP
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