ADA & Private Schools

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires entities to make reasonable accommodation to aid people with physical or mental disabilities. This lesson answers questions about how the law applies to private schools.

Public School vs. Private School

Imagine that you've just begun working at a private school. As you get more acquainted with your job, you realize that there are many differences between public and private school. For example, you learn that certain public funds are only available to public school districts, and that private schools have more freedom in developing their curricula.

You also learn that some laws that apply to public school do not apply to private school. Very often, the reason for this is that the government provides public schools with funding for certain programs. So, to receive that financial support, public schools must meet government expectations set forth by laws. Private schools generally do not need to meet these expectations.

However, things work a bit differently for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This Act requires entities to provide reasonable accommodation to people with physical or mental disabilities, and private schools are generally required to comply with the ADA.

Entities Covered by the ADA

Title III of the ADA gives a very clear list of entities that must adhere to the reasonable accommodation rule. This list outlines private entities that are considered ''a place of public accommodation,'' including the following private education spaces:

  • Nurseries
  • Elementary schools
  • Secondary schools
  • Undergraduate schools
  • Postgraduate schools
  • Other places of education

The ADA also covers the many services that private entities provide, such as transportation, and these services must also provide reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities. For example, if your private school has a bus to transport students, it may need to be equipped with a wheelchair ramp or other accommodations for students with disabilities.

ADA and Private School

So, why are private schools not subject to certain laws but still required to comply with the ADA? The right of individuals with disabilities--whether the disability is physical or mental--is a matter of civil rights. All U.S. citizens have the basic civil right to equal treatment. This concept of 'equal treatment' prevents discrimination, and it applies to public entities as well as many private settings, including private schools.

When it comes to people with disabilities, the right to equal treatment includes the right to receive reasonable accommodation in order to access a service or place that's considered to be of ''public accommodation.'' For example, one reasonable accommodation for people disabilities is wheelchair access.

Now, say that the private school you work at has just enrolled Joe, a student with a hearing disorder that prevents him from capturing the entirety of a message in video or audio played in class. Under the ADA, it is your school's responsibility to make reasonable accommodations to help Joe hear video and audio for instruction purposes. Such accommodations ensure he doesn't miss out and gets the full learning experience.

By regulating private schools, the ADA ensures that students with disabilities are not discriminated against, regardless of the type of school they attend or services they need.

Religious Entities

Now, imagine that you work at a private school that is directly controlled by a religious organization, such as a Jesuit school. Your school would not be required to adhere to the ADA. According to Title III of the ADA, religious entities, including religious schools, are exempt from the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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