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Identifying When Adaptations are Necessary

Coaches who are employed by public schools or other educational programs held to Title II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act are responsible for following any applicable accommodations within a student’s IEP or 504 plan. Once students have joined your team, it is important to follow your school’s process for ensuring that you are aware of any students who should be receiving accommodations.

There may be a disconnect for some coaches who do not teach the students on their team in a classroom setting. Coaches who are unsure of how their school communicates accommodations with non-instructional coaches are encouraged to check with an administrator. In addition, school counselors, nurses, special education department chairs, and 504 coordinators can be excellent resources for school-based process questions. 

A school, district, or state may have more stringent requirements than federal law. Private schools may be required to comply with Section 504 or state laws. If coaches have questions about how these laws apply to their programs, they should consult with an administrator.

Confidentiality 

Students in public schools are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) [20 U.S.C. § 1232g]. In general, FERPA limits the disclosure of educational data that can be connected to an individual student unless certain exceptions apply. The three exceptions most relevant to speech and debate coaches and students with disabilities are addressed here.

Directory Information

FERPA defines “directory information” as information contained in the education records of a student that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed [34 C.F.R. § 99.3]. Each public school must have a policy that specifically identifies what information the school considers directory information that may be disclosed without consent. Directory information frequently includes the student’s name; address; telephone listing; electronic mail address; photograph; date and place of birth; grade level; enrollment status (e.g., full-time or part-time); dates of attendance; participation in officially recognized activities; and degrees, honors, and awards received. Parents (and students who are over 18) may choose to designate some or all directory information about themselves or their child as private information that may not be released without consent [34 C.F.R. § 99.37]. Disability status is not likely to be designated as directory information.

School Officials

Information from student educational records may be shared with other school officials who have a “legitimate educational interest” in the information [34 C.F.R. § 99.31(A)(1)(i)(a)]. Coaches who have responsibility for implementing accommodations pursuant to an IEP or 504 plan likely have a legitimate educational interest in receiving information pertinent to their role.

Consent/ Self Disclosure

A parent or eligible student may consent to disclosure of certain information that is otherwise private [34 C.F.R. § 99.30]. Such consent must be in writing (check with your school to see if they have a release form for this purpose).

Students may voluntarily disclose any information about their disability that they are comfortable sharing with coaches, teammates, competitors, etc. 

Some visible disabilities will be readily apparent to anyone who comes into contact with a student. For example, it would not be difficult to discern that a student using a wheelchair has a mobility impairment. But coaches should be wary of confusing visible disabilities with self disclosure. While a coach may explain to others that the student using a wheelchair needs to be in accessible classrooms for competition, the coach may not disclose that the student is in a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy.

There is a common misconception that student health information is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Schools are not “covered entities” under HIPAA. Student health information provided to a school may only be disclosed consistent with FERPA, but there are no additional requirements that apply specifically to health-related information.