May is Mental Health Awareness Month and the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) has announced several efforts to support students with mental health challenges.

On Monday, May 23, USDOE is hosting a half-day virtual summit on supporting the needs of students with mental health needs and students with disabilities as they emerge from the pandemic.  The summit, “Recovering to Thriving: Supporting Mental Health and Students with Disabilities,” includes education leaders, advocates for people with disabilities, and special education professionals to discuss issues affecting these two student groups. Participation in Recovering to Thrive is free and registration is available at this link. The summit begins at 12:30 p.m.

One of the issues that has been discussed nationally and in Ohio is the effect of lost instructional time on all students and particularly those students whose educational experience is supported by 504 plans and individualized education programs. Providing a free appropriate public education to students with disabilities is the central legal requirement for school districts under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). USDOE’s summit will discuss using American Rescue Plan funding to address lost instructional time and provide mental health services. Additionally, the summit will include a panel discussing IDEA’s requirement to support equitable pathways for students with disabilities as they transition from school to careers. Another panel will discuss considerations for digital accessibility in the emerging virtual and hybrid work and school environments. The summit will also highlight a recently announced resource for schools to promote student mental health.

In another USDOE initiative, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced earlier this month that it intends to propose amendments to regulations implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Sec. 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in public and private programs that receive federal funding, including public schools. The regulations were first published in 1977.

At this stage of the process, OCR is seeking public comment and input regarding improvements to the regulations, particularly as they affect individuals with disabilities who also have mental health needs. Anyone interested in submitting comments can do so via email to and via mail to: US Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Lyndon Baines Johnson Department of Education Bldg., 400 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20202-1100. USDOE would prefer comments be submitted before the end of June 2022 but will review comments received at any time until the issuance of a notice of proposed rule making.

The division of legal services will continue to monitor the rule making process and provide updates as they become available. Please call if you have any questions. 

Posted by Jennifer A. Hardin on 5/20/2022