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The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) has released a data snapshot about education access for students with disabilities drawn from OCR’s 2020-21 Civil Rights Data Collection (“CRDC”). The CRDC “gathers information about student access to educational programs, activities, staff, and school climate factors” from all public schools in the United States and Puerto Rico that serve students preschool through grade 12.  

Among other informative statistics, the snapshot reports that 8.4 million students with disabilities were enrolled in public schools during the 2020-21 school year, with 6.8 million students being served under the IDEA and 1.6 million students being served under Section 504.  This accounted for 17% of the overall student enrollment—14% under the IDEA and 3% under Section 504.

OCR found that black students, representing 15% of total student enrollment, were slightly overrepresented in the receipt of services under IDEA, but were under represented in the receipt of services under Section 504. Asian students were underrepresented in both categories. Native Hawaiian students, American Indian students, and students with two or more races were proportionally represented in both categories. While proportional under the IDEA, white students were overrepresented in the receipt of services under Section 504. Boys accounted for the majority of students with disabilities: equaling 51% of all students enrolled, and 59% and 66% of students receiving services under Section 504 and IDEA, respectively.

The snapshot also reports that students with disabilities served under the IDEA were underrepresented in Advanced Placement Courses, gifted and talented programs, and dual enrollment or dual credit programs. However, OCR does not address that the  breakdown by qualifying disability shows that many students have disabilities that affect their ability to learn.

The snapshot also comments that a higher percentage of students with disabilities were physically restrained or secluded than students without disabilities. This statistic is unsurprising because previous OCR guidance provides that “a student’s behavioral challenges, such as those that lead to an emergency situation in which a school believes restraint is a justified response, could be a sign that the student has a disability and needs special education and related services.” In fewer circumstances, students “might be experiencing a crisis, such as due to a divorce in the family, a recent death, or other traumatic incident [which] could cause a student to engage in behavior that might lead a school to believe restraint or seclusion is a justified response.” An interesting statistic to measure in the future might be whether students with disabilities are physically restrained or secluded to the same degree as students without disabilities for the same behavior.

The new CRDC disability snapshot, and other CRDC data reports and snapshots, are available on the CRDC website.