Last Updated on March 17, 2021 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
Transitioning from high school to college can be exciting and challenging for young adults. For a student who was previously on an IEP (Individualized Education Program) or Section 504 plan (accommodations plan) in high school, the challenges increase. However, proper planning and talking to the right folks at the college or university where the student will attend or is attending can help.
Students should be aware of changes that will occur as far as their obligations and the support levels to which they are entitled. There is no more IEP plan or process, as all school IEP obligations vanish when the student graduates from high school. There is no mandatory “504 meeting” to develop accommodations, nor obligation of staff to follow up for the student in college. This means the student may be on their own, if they don’t get a college support plan put in place and take steps to get it known and applied.
Section 504 obligations continue to apply with colleges accepting federal funds, and the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) applies to most colleges, excluding religious colleges. For public colleges, one looks to ADA Title II, and for private non-religious colleges, ADA Title III. Housing requirements may be covered by the Fair Housing Act. Other laws may also apply. However, no one is obligated to do anything unless they are notified by the student of their disability and needs.
For academic and other accommodations, the first step is to contact the college or university’s disabled students office, such as the “Student Disability Office” if a student attends the University of California, Davis (UCD), or the “Services for Students with Disabilities Office” at the California State University, Sacramento (CSUS).
Once a student makes contact, they should follow the procedures outlined by the college to become a registered disabled student. This may involve provision of various documents evidencing a disabling condition, as well as meetings to discuss the student’s needs in the classroom and at the college. The discussion which ensues is typically called the “Interactive Process” during which the student should indicate what they think could assist them, with the school personnel offering their take on potential effective accommodations to help meet the student’s needs.
The college is not obligated to alter the fundamental program in which the student must participate or the requirements for a degree, but they can set up items which can ensure the student proper access to the curriculum equal to other students.
Typically, there is a back and forth which may continue outside the meeting process, with a document eventually developed outlining what professors must do and put in place in their classrooms to assist the student. The plan can also offer solutions for physical barriers and needs on campus, such as with regard to parking, accessible entrances and other items for the student to access their education and the campus.
Often the “plan” must be taken by the student and provided to professors who will need to implement it, prior to classes starting and/or before the student wants the accommodations to take effect. This is different from during high
school, where the obligation was on the school or school district staff to notify teachers and ensure an IEP was being implemented. Now, the obligation to notify staff may be on the college student, depending on who must be notified (e.g. with some restrictions the student would not have access to applicable personnel and the college may need to step in).
If there are issues with enforcement, the student can follow any internal process to resolve issues, or they can also file complaints outside the college with the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights or the US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, depending on the type of college.
If you or a loved one are in college now, and have disabilities, but don’t have a formal support plan, it could be a good idea to look into what is available. Even if a student is having no apparent issues or needs, it is often best to get these plans in place before an issue arises, as after it arises, the student cannot usually attack the college for “noncompliance” if the student either did not set up a a plan or failed to notify their professors about the plan.
Education Attorney for Students
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Please see my disclaimer. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting. This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.