Florida Department of Education Required to Pay for Maintaining Specific Unique Assistive Technology Needed for Student to Take State Exams

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In Seminole County (FL) School District, 58 IDELR 113 (OCR 2011), the parents of a 5th grade student with cerebral palsy and a visual impairment complained to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) that the Florida Department of Education failed to provide their daughter with a screen- reading device as an accommodation during a state exam.

The parents had requested the screen-reader as an accommodation for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) state exam, but had been denied by the Florida Department of Education. The Department had offered her alternative accommodations such as an auditory exam format, human reader, or large print. In its investigation OCR noted that the student  was enrolled in regular education classes, but due to physical disabilities could not communicate verbally or through writing in a conventional manner. The screen-reader the student used was a Kurzweil 3000 with specialized soft ware. The Kurzweil 3000 has an auditory output, a text to speech function, and highlighting capability. It highlights each reading section word by word so that the student can focus on reading one word at a time rather than the whole page.  She needed the screen-reader and  was accustomed to using the screen-reader in her classes. Moreover, the screen reader was specifically listed on her IEP for her use in class and to be used for the FCAT exam.

 OCR rejected the alternative accommodations offered by the Department of Education because they did not meet her unique needs. Each of the offered accommodations would have deprived her of the word-by-word highlighting she was accustomed to with the reader and the student would have to look at lengthy questions that would challenge her visual disability. Finally, OCR noted that under its own policies the Department should have approved the reader. According to the Florida Department's policy, requests for unique accommodations were approved based on two criteria: (1) whether the accommodation was regularly provided to the student in the classroom; and (2) whether it was documented on the student's IEP.

OCR concluded that the failure to provide the screen-reader and more accessible testing denied the student a free appropriate public education in violation of 504 and Title II of the ADA. To remedy the violation, the Florida Department of Education agreed to provide a computer based test version of the FCAT with a built-in screen-reader for students who meet the requirements for having the screen reader approved as an accommodation.