Beginning August 10, 2017, the regulations implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”), 34 C.F.R. Part 104, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“the IDEA”), 34 C.F.R. Part 300, will be revised to change references to “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability.”  The revisions are being made pursuant to Public Law 111-256, better known as Rosa’s Law.  Originally enacted in October 2010, Rosa’s Law is named for Rosa Marcellino, a child with Down Syndrome whose family advocated for more accurate and progressive terminology in legislation affecting individuals with disabilities.  The Marcellino family’s efforts are part of a larger trend toward replacing outdated or pejorative legal terms with language that acknowledges the dignity and capabilities of individuals with disabilities.

Section 504 prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by recipients of federal financial assistance, and ensures that children with disabilities have equal access to their education.  Rosa’s Law amends the Section 504 regulations in part by changing the definition of “handicapped person.”  A handicapped person generally means any person who has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.  The amended definition replaces “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” as an example of a physical or mental impairment which may render someone an individual with disability entitled to protection under the Act.

The IDEA guarantees a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) in the form of special education and related services to a child with a disability.  Rosa’s Law amends the IDEA regulations in part by changing the definition of “child with a disability.”  A child with a disability generally means a child evaluated as having one or more enumerated disabilities and who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.  The amended definition replaces “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” as one of the enumerated disabilities that may render a child eligible for special education and related services.

Importantly, Rosa’s Law does not provide a new definition for “intellectual disability” in either Section 504 or the IDEA, nor does it provide any additional rights or eligibility requirements for individuals who have intellectual disabilities.

The full text of the updated federal regulations, as well as a more detailed explanation of Rosa’s Law, is available via the following web link:

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2017/07/11/2017-14343/rosas-law?utm_content=&utm_medium=email&utm_name=&utm_source=govdelivery&utm_term=

The revisions to the federal regulations in accordance with Rosa’s Law are testament to the Department of Education’s responsiveness to public and private advocacy.  The Department continues to actively seek input regarding revisions to its implementing regulations.  On June 18, 2017, Secretary Betsy DeVos released a statement inviting entities significantly affected by the Department’s regulations, including state and local governments, to provide input on regulations that may be appropriate for repeal, replacement, or modification.  Secretary DeVos’ invitation was made in furtherance of the Trump administration’s policy of reducing “unnecessary regulatory burdens,” including those regulations are excessively costly, “outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective.”  Local and regional boards of education are encouraged to explore submitting comments for revisions to the Department’s regulations before the August 21, 2017 deadline.

The full text of Secretary DeVos’s invitation, including information regarding the process for submitting comments on existing federal regulations, is available via the following web link:

https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2017-06-22/pdf/2017-13157.pdf

Attorneys at Berchem, Moses & Devlin, P.C. are available to consult school districts regarding regular and special education matters in the State of Connecticut.  For further information, please contact Attorney Michelle Laubin at mlaubin@bmdlaw.com.