Feds issue guidance on schools’ obligations to students with ADHD

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The Department of Education released new guidance [PDF] to educators nationwide July 26, reminding them of their obligations under federal law to accommodate students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, regardless of their level of academic functioning.

“On this 26th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, I am pleased to honor Congress’ promise with guidance clarifying the rights of students with ADHD in our nation’s schools,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, DOE assistant secretary for civil rights, in a news release. “The Department will continue to work with the education community to ensure that students with ADHD, and all students, are provided with equal access to education.”

Some students with ADHD are covered by the Individual with Disabilities Education Act, the nation’s governing special education law, if they are diagnosed with a condition under the categories of a “learning disability” or an “emotional disturbance.” However, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a broader federal law enforced by the DOE’s Office of Civil Rights, covers all students with ADHD and is the focus of the guidance.

Similar to students protected by the IDEA, school districts must take steps to identify students with ADHD, provide timely evaluations and ensure due process rights, particularly in disciplinary proceedings. The guidance, released in the form of a three-page letter and an extensive resource guide, added that schools are barred from considering the mitigating effects of medications when conducting evaluations and that the school may be required to perform medical assessments to fully comply with Section 504.

Even where students with ADHD are performing exceptionally well academically, school districts “must consider all the potential major life activities that may be impacted by the student’s impairment, not just learning.”

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

During the past five years, the DOE’s Office of Civil Rights has received more than 16,000 disability discrimination complaints from the families of students in elementary and secondary education programs. More than one in nine complaints involved a student with ADHD.

Also on July 26, the DOE also released a two-page document titled “Know Your Rights: Students with ADHD,” which can be read here [PDF].