Teachers, Service Providers and Others Have a Right to Advocate for Students with Disabilities

California Education Code Section 56046 (“Section 56046”) is a rarely discussed statute with powerful implications.

Section 56046 prohibits local educational agencies (LEAs) from intimidating or retaliating against various school employees and contractors for advocating or assisting a parent of a student with disabilities to obtain services or accommodations for the student.

Specifically, the statute states that LEA employees cannot use their official authority or influence to threaten or coerce a person for the purpose of interfering with that person’s advocacy or assistance of a parent to obtain services or accommodations for a student with disabilities. The statute prohibits LEA employees from promising to confer any benefit, threatening any reprisal, or taking or approving any personnel action such as appointment, transfer, assignment, performance evaluation, suspension, or other disciplinary action as a result of an individual’s advocacy on behalf of a student with disabilities.

Section 56046 protects a wide variety of employees and contractors, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Teachers;
  • Providers of designated instruction and services;
  • Paraprofessionals;
  • Instructional aides;
  • Behavioral aides;
  • Health aides;
  • Educators or staff of the LEA;
  • Subordinates of the LEA; or
  • Private individuals or entities under contract with the LEA.
  • The activities that are protected under this statute include good faith advocacy on behalf of a student with special needs as well as providing information that would assist a parent in obtaining a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the IDEA, services or accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and/or the Americans with Disabilities Act, and any state laws regarding individuals with exceptional needs. However, the statute makes clear that an individual’s assistance to a parent shall not interfere with the individual’s regular duties for the LEA.

Section 56046 authorizes an individual who believes an LEA to have violated these rights to file a complaint under the Uniform Complaint Procedures in addition to any applicable LEA grievance procedures.

Despite the strong protections Section 56046 provides to employees and contractors, this statute does not do any of the following:

  • Limit or alter the right or duty of a public school official to direct or discipline an employee or contractor;
  • Prevent a LEA from enforcing a law or regulation regarding conflicts of interest, incompatible activities, or the confidentiality of pupil records; or
  • Diminish the rights of a public-school employee under any federal or state law or under an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement.

Overall, Section 56046 provides teachers, contractors, and other service providers with the right to engage in good faith advocacy for students with disabilities unless they are in violation of a directive, school policy, or other law or regulation. Thus, prior to taking any adverse action against an employee or contractor related to disagreement over what to do for a student, LEAs should ensure that their action does not interfere with that employee or contractor’s right to engage in protected activity.