In a recent decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed a lower court ruling that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act does not require school districts to provide special education services or accommodations in dual credit courses offered at postsecondary schools. The decision stems from an appeal filed on behalf of a Kentucky student with Tourette’s Syndrome, autism, and other physical and cognitive conditions. After three years of accelerated courses in high school and a dual credit course at a local university, the student’s IEP team determined to focus on his transition to postsecondary education – pinpointing a “residential college experience” as one possible option. When Parents enrolled the student in a dual credit, dual enrollment residential program outside of the district, their request for on campus IEP services was denied. The family then filed due process, seeking reimbursement for the support services financed by parents. The hearing officer and the appeals board sided with the district. The ensuing court appeal was dismissed by the trial court.
On further appeal, the Sixth Circuit’s review highlighted several relevant points, beginning with the clear fact that the Act applies to “secondary,” not postsecondary education. Since the program at issue delivered college-level courses on a college campus, it was not covered under the IDEA. Following the guidance of the U.S. and Kentucky Departments of Education, the Court found that the mandate for a free appropriate public education did not include postsecondary education.
The Court also considered that the dual enrollment was in fact exclusively exercised in a college setting located some 130 miles from the student’s high school. As the district had no control over what classes the student took, what times services might be warranted, or where the services would be provided, the Court agreed that the Act did not obligation school districts to provide services at universities as opposed to the student’s high school.
Finally, the Court distinguished between the obligation to provide special education services for Advance Placement courses and doing so for the dual enrolled student. AP courses are available to high school students based on district-determined offerings and do not require enrollment in a postsecondary institution. However, the residential postsecondary program here caters to high school students but does not offer a secondary school education. Therefore, the dual enrollment precludes eligibility under the IDEA.
What this means for school districts: The facts in this case clearly establish that off- campus college credit programs do not oblige school districts to provide special education services. Accordingly, schools should carefully consider program location and the level of program control when suggesting postsecondary transitional services for high school students.