A Review of Legal Decisions Relevant to Technical Standards Used in Pharmacy School Admissions

By Lipton, Douglas A. | American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, March 2017 | Go to article overview

A Review of Legal Decisions Relevant to Technical Standards Used in Pharmacy School Admissions


Lipton, Douglas A., American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education


The implementation of an effective and legally sound technical standards procedure for pharmacy schools requires a proactive approach by admissions officers. Applicants with disabilities are accorded significant rights that must not be infringed during the admissions process in order to ensure compliance with applicable law. This article provides a review of applicable state cases, federal cases, and OCR decisions and guidance to help pharmacy schools identify procedures and implement technical standards into their admissions processes as required by ACPE Standards 2016.

Keywords: technical standards, admissions, disability, Office for Civil Rights, case law

INTRODUCTION

Pharmacy admissions departments should be aware that their use of technical standards in admissions must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the pertinent case law, and the guidance provided by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Best practices for the use of technical standards in admissions can be gleaned from the holdings of the cases listed in Appendix 1.

In developing technical standards, pharmacy schools should use criteria that are: essential, (1) based on accreditation standards, and possess a rational relationship to the program. (2) Using a two-step admissions process that avoids pre-admission screening of applicants for disabilities and addresses the needs of each applicant individually on a case-by-case basis is strongly recommended. (2) To accomplish this, schools should establish a panel or committee with the appropriate knowledge to handle requests for accommodations and gather sufficient medical documentation so that the applicant can be fairly evaluated. (2)

The panel or committee should attempt to identify accommodations that will allow applicants to meet the technical standards (2) and thoroughly evaluate the existence of auxiliary aids that may prevent the exclusion of any applicant with a disability. (3) Lastly, programs must consider whether a required programmatic element is truly essential and consider a series of alternatives to the element that may impede a person with a disability. (4)

Section 16.5 of the new ACPE Standards 2016 requires that admission materials include "technical standards for graduation." (5) The use of technical standards in admissions has resulted in a substantial amount of litigation and the issuance of numerous letter rulings by the OCR.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is the branch of the U.S. Department of Education that is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in educational programs that receive funding from the Department of Education. Because Department of Education funding includes funding grants to states for educational purposes and the federal guaranteeing of student loans, OCR is able to exert authority over every educational institution and every pharmacy program in the United States. The laws that are the subject of OCR's enforcement activities include: Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; the Age Discrimination Act of 1975; and Title II (public entities) of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. (6)

The OCR's duties include the provision of technical assistance to educational institutions to help them comply with civil rights laws and the resolution of discrimination complaints that are filed against educational institutions. The rulings and case decisions that are issued by OCR in response to claims of discrimination provide educational institutions with valuable insights into what OCR considers to be discriminatory behavior and what steps institutions can take to avoid being found in violation of the OCR enforced civil rights laws.

This article will focus on two OCR enforced laws: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (7) (hereafter referred to as Section 504) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (8) (ADA). …

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