Last Updated on July 28, 2022 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995
Life does not always go how we think it will, all rosy and sunshiny. What if a previously great student suddenly starts struggling while attending a private school? What if that student is found to have a disabling condition which is interfering with their education?
In a public school, maybe the student would be entitled to a disability accommodations plan, called a 504 Plan, but are they entitled to a 504 Plan in a private school? What about a private religious school?
504 Mandates Depend on Federal Funding
The law is complex, and the law which applies to private schools is complex as well. The ultra simplified answer on whether 504 Plans are required in a private school is that it depends on whether the school receives federal funds.
If a private school accepts federal funds, such as via a federal grant or via Title I, they should be bound by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and must provide qualified disabled students with a 504 Plan.
Do Most Private Schools Receive Federal Funds?
Most private schools from pre-K through high school, in my experience, do not accept federal funds and so may not be obligated to provide a 504 Plan to a disabled student. However, there are some that do.
A parent can do some research on this subject to try to figure out the school funding, or simply ask the private school.
Maybe the School Must Do Something Anyway
If a private school does not accept federal funds, they may still be bound under Section 504 to provide minor adjustments for a student.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title III also prohibits discrimination to a disabled student. Preventing discrimination means a private school must provide reasonable modifications or accommodations in practices and procedures. The school may also have to provide “auxiliary aids and services,” to ensure effective communication.
Religious Versus Nonreligious Schools
A religious private school not accepting federal funds is not bound by Section 504 or the ADA. Parents can ask for some accommodations, but there is no guarantee they will get them at a private religious school.
What this Means
What this means is that if a school receives federal money, get that 504 going. If they don’t and the school is religious, a student will be out of luck.
If the school is not religious, the student still should not face discrimination. The school will have to make some reasonable modifications to ensure no disability discrimination to the student.
Parents Can Try to Bring in Their Own Support
Depending on the situation, if a disabled student meets the private school’s attendance requirements, their parent may be able to bring in their own supportive services.
For example, if a family wants to pay for a full time behavioral aide, parents can talk with the school about providing the service themselves.
If a private non-religious school does not allow an otherwise qualified student to receive parent-funded supports so they can attend, there could be an argument of disability discrimination. It is highly fact dependent.
This article is not intended to address nonpublic schools (NPS). Nonpublic schools are usually special needs schools where students are placed by a school district, at the school district’s expense.
Michelle Ball is a Sacramento California student 504, special education, and private school lawyer, who has been helping resolve school disputes as an attorney since 1995. She can help across the state, in Rialto, Foresthill, Mountain View, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Meadow Vista, and many other cities.