After working in special-education law for more than 30 years, I have found that schools don’t always follow the letter and spirit of the law when providing accommodations and services for children protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, the law governing special education) and Section 504. If your special-needs child doesn’t receive some or all of the educational assistance he deserves and is legally entitled to, he may find school hard, and he may even fail.
Here are 10 common myths about ADHD special-education laws that some schools purvey, either through ignorance or in an attempt to discourage parents from requesting the help they should legally receive. Knowledge is power.
Myth 1: ADHD is not a real disorder and does not qualify as a disability.
ADHD is among the most thoroughly medically-researched and documented psychiatric disorders. ADHD qualifies as a disability under the Other Health Impairment (OHI) category of special-education law and as a disability under Section 504.
Myth 2: Students with ADHD who are getting passing grades or adequate achievement scores qualify only for a Section 504 Plan, not an IEP.
Students with passing grades may qualify for an IEP, as well as for a 504 Plan, if their behavior is adversely affecting their performance at school, socially or academically.
Myth 3: To qualify for eligibility under IDEA or Section 504, a student has to be diagnosed by a physician.
While best-practice evaluations of ADHD recognize the importance of comprehensive medical and psychological evaluations, the Department of Education issued a policy statement stating that, if the IEP team includes persons the school believes are qualified to diagnose the condition, a medical evaluation is not legally required.
Myth 4: Schools may require a medical diagnosis of ADHD at a parent’s expense prior to proceeding with an evaluation for special education or a 504 Plan. If a school requires or recommends a medical, psychiatric, or neurological evaluation as part of an evaluation to determine eligibility for special education or a 504 Plan, the evaluation must be at no cost to the parent. The school must pay for it.
Myth 5: Schools may require that students with ADHD receive stimulant medication in order to qualify for special education or for other services or activities.
Schools can’t require a student to take medication as a condition for his being eligible for special education or any school activity. Taking medication is a decision to be made by the family and their doctor. If the student has ADHD and qualifies for special education or a 504 Plan, the school must develop appropriate academic and behavioral supports to meet his needs, whether that student takes medication or not.
Myth 6: Teachers may decide whether or not they will implement an IEP or 504 Plan, or even whether they will teach a student with a disability, such as ADHD.
If a student has an IEP or a 504 Plan, the school staff is required to implement it.
Further, teachers may not refuse to have a student with a disability in their class. It is illegal, just as it would be for them to refuse to teach a student based on race, gender, or religion.
Myth 7: Schools may require parents to sign a waiver of liability before agreeing to administer medication at school.
Schools may require a doctor’s order confirming a prescription and the need to provide meds at school, but cannot make the provision of administering medication conditional on the parents’ signing a waiver of liability.
Myth 8: Students with ADHD may qualify for a positive behavior support plan only if they are exhibiting disruptive or inappropriate behavior toward others.
Under IDEA and Section 504, positive behavior supports can be included in the plan to address academic problems, such as timeliness, work completion, and on-task behavior, as well as to address negative behaviors in the classroom.
Myth 9: Students with ADHD who have a 504 Plan are only entitled to accommodations, like preferential seating or untimed tests, not services.
Under Section 504, students with ADHD (and other disabilities) are entitled to accommodations and may also be entitled to specialized educational services (such as individual instruction or tutoring) and related services (such as counseling).
Myth 10: Students with ADHD do not qualify for one-on-one aides, bus transportation, or other more intensive or expensive services in the classroom.
Students with ADHD are entitled to any services or supports necessary for them to benefit from their education under IDEA, and to have equal access to educational opportunities under Section 504. Any blanket policy limiting access based on a diagnosis or disability label is suspect.