Concerns of safety and behavioral issues are valid when it comes to taking students with disabilities on school sponsored field trips. However, these concerns do not allow districts to exclude students with disabilities from participating in a school sponsored field trip. Refusing to allow a student with a disability to participate on the basis of his or her disability may violate many federal laws that give protections to disabled students such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). In addition, such denial could amount to denial of a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) as required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”).
Under Section 504 of the ADA, districts are prohibited from discriminating against students with disabilities. This means that districts are responsible for providing services that meet the needs of individual students with disabilities and ensuring equal access. This includes equal access to participation in school sponsored field trips.
The ADA requires districts to presume all students with disabilities will participate in field trips. The ADA requires district to provide reasonable accommodations if necessary to allow the student to participate in the field trip. This may include related services and additional aids to allow the student an opportunity to participate in the field trip. Additionally, the district may not require a parent to accompany a student with a disability as a prerequisite to field trip participation unless district policy requires parent attendance for all students.
If the district believe that a student should be excluded from participating, the district must make that determination on an individual basis. In this scenario, the district bears the burden of demonstrating why the student should not participate.
When on a field trip a student's IEP must be implemented in the same manner as it is at school. This means that if the student's IEP requires an aide throughout the day, an aide must accompany the student on the field trip. Whatever supports the student's IEP calls for while the student is at school, the student is entitled to the same for the duration of the field trip. This also includes any Behavioral Intervention Plans (“BIP”) that may supplement the student's IEP.
Individualized Determination Process:
Districts should have a process in place in the event that a determination of exclusion from a field trip is necessary. This process should be an individualized determination of the student's disability and contemplate the following:
- The student's IEP, especially any provisions that relate specifically to field trips
- The purpose of the field trip (academic or non-academic)
- Any accommodations or related services and aids that would enable the student to fully participate in the field trip
A best practice would be to have the student's IEP discuss and aid in making such a determination. These people are generally the most knowledgeable about the student and his or her needs and capabilities. Additionally, the district should provide the parents notice of its decision to exclude the student from participating in the field trip as well as any accommodations and related services and aids that would provide the student equal access to the field trip.
Should you have any questions about your district's policies or practices related to this issue, please feel free to contact us!