Can you tell parents that there will be no “accommodations” for a student with a disability in AP or Honors courses?

It’s a common concern.  A student with an IEP or 504 plan wants to take AP or Honors courses. These courses are designed to be more rigorous than the regular courses.  Some teachers believe that there should be no accommodation of disability—if the student cannot make the grade, so it goes. Others believe that federal law requires that whatever accommodations are in the IEP must be honored in all classes.

This issue came to a head in a case from New Jersey.   The district generally required a teacher recommendation before a student could enroll in an AP or Honors course. If there was no teacher recommendation, the student could still take the course—but the parent and student were required to sign a waiver:

The student understands the requirements and demands of the honors/advanced placement course and is willing to enroll in the course without the recommendation of the faculty and that department.  The student further understands that no accommodations or curricular adjustments will be allowed per academic year.

The parents alleged that this waiver requirement was a form of disability-based discrimination.  They sought an injunction to force the district to retroactively change GPAs and transcripts based on allegations that the district discriminated against students with disabilities in access to AP and honors courses.

The court denied the injunction.  The court did not interpret the waiver as the parents did.  The parent thought the waiver meant that no accommodations of any kind for any student would be permitted.  The court interpreted it to mean simply that academic rigor would not be compromised. Key Quotes:

If the student does not do well, the waiver form warns, NVRHS will not respond by softening the academic rigor of the course.

[The district] intended to inform parents that the “demands” or “requirements” of AP or Honors courses would not be changed or adjusted just because a student struggled in an intentionally difficult class.

The waiver could have been written better. An accurate statement of the law is that accommodations that 1) are needed due to disability, and 2) would not reduce the academic rigor of the course should be permitted. For example, a student may need a service animal. A visually impaired or hearing impaired student may need accommodations for their sensory limitations.   Such students can be expected to perform at the same level as other AP or Honors students as long as these accommodations are provided.

But an accommodation that reduces the rigor of the course would not be required, and a written notice to make sure that parents and students understand that is a good idea.

The case is Leddy v. Northern Valley Regional High School District, decided by the federal district court in New Jersey on September 6, 2017.  We found it at 70 IDELR 201.


Tomorrow: Does your policy permit a teacher to pull a student’s hair?