kings-adhd-letterThe U.S, Department of Education is “on it” as they say, this time taking on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, commonly referred to simply as ADHD. One reason: Per the CDC, it affects 11% of our 4- to 17-year-olds, and that not only adds up to some 6.4 million children, the numbers are on the rise.

Know, too, though, that two federal laws are already in place to protect them:

  • Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), which covers ADHD under the category of “other health impairment.” Originally passed in 1975, it “ensures students with a disability are provided with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that is tailored to their individual needs.” As stated, it’s designed “to provide children with disabilities the same opportunity for education as those students who do not have a disability.”

    Says, “IDEA requires that special education services be made available to every eligible child with a disability.”

  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 addresses children with “a physical or mental disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities”—in this case, learning. This is a “civil rights law that protects children with disabilities from discrimination for reasons related to their disability.”

    Here FAPE means special education placement or regular education classes with aids and services that meet a student’s individual needs. However, says the National Education Association, “It does not ensure a child with a disability will receive an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)…”

However, to clarify a school district’s obligations and responsibilities under the law and to avoid further discrimination, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) first issued its guidelines and then went one step further by posting a “Know Your Rights” document for parents on its website.

Included is the reminder that, “Signs that a student may need an evaluation could be: considerable restlessness or inattention; trouble organizing tasks and activities; communication or social skill deficits; or significant difficulty related to beginning a task, recalling information, or completing assignments.” It then informs parents that:

  • If, for any reason, a school district suspects “a student has a disability and requires special education and/or related services because of that disability,” it is obligated to conduct an evaluation at no cost to them.
  • Parents can also request an evaluation, if ADHD is suspected by them or someone outside of school.

The Department also issued a “Dear Colleague” letter clarifying its position and advising school districts of their obligation under Section 504 to provide “an equal educational opportunity to students with disabilities,” including those with ADHD.

That’s because, of the 16,000 school-related discrimination complaints the Department’s Office of Civil Rights fielded, about 2,000 of them—one in nine—involved such grievances as denied services, failure to protect, and incidents of bullying against ADHD students.

And because many of these kids still struggle in school, King stressed that, “… Policy guidance is needed to ensure that those students are receiving a free appropriate public education (FAPE)…” Among the ongoing issues:

  1. Students never being referred/identified and evaluated for special education or related services;
  2. Long waits for said evaluations after referral/identification;
  3. “Inadequate” evaluations;
  4. Once so identified, failure to provide required special education or related services.

His conclusion: “The failure to provide needed services to students with disabilities can result in serious social, emotional, and educational harm to the students involved. It can also unnecessarily drain school districts and family resources if the school is ineffectually attempting to meet the needs of students with disabilities through failed interventions or disciplinary consequences.”

And that’s the bottom line…