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Persons with disabilities have specific rights with respect to educational services. These include the general rights under state and federal law not be discriminated against and to receive a reasonable accommodation if that is required to access the service (education).

However, discrimination does occur, and students in colleges and universities who develop psychiatric symptoms are often illegally excluded.

Schools, colleges and universities are places of public accommodation that cannot discriminate on the basis of disability in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and must provide reasonable accommodations when requested. Similarly, many of these institutions receive federal funding which makes them responsible under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act as well.

The response of some institutions to students who show symptoms of a psychiatric disability while at school is varied, and can be discriminatory. Some institutions impose involuntary leaves of absence on students who have shown symptoms. The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law’s excellent website includes the downloadable publication Campus Mental Health Guide: Know Your Rights! which addresses this (and other issues):

A school should impose a leave of absence or require a student to live off campus only after an individualized assessment. The assessment should consider whether there is a significant risk that the student will harm him/herself or another and whether the risk cannot be eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level through accommodations.

Information from mental health professionals may be vital in making this assessment. If the school then does decide to act, the student is entitled to what are called “due process protections.” These include notifying the student of the action the school is considering and an explanation of why the school believes that such an action is necessary. The student and his or her representative should have an opportunity to respond and provide relevant information.

The school may inquire into a student’s current condition and request recent mental health information and records. But it can only request information and records that are necessary to determine whether the student is a threat. The school cannot insist on unlimited access to confidential information or records. You have a right to limit a release of information to specific dates, and you have a right to approve and to review information that is being made available to the school.”

For More Information:

Text from IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights

Connecticut State University System Procedures Regarding Medical Leaves of Absence

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