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Department of Education Issues Letter Demanding Schools Support Students with ADHD

The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) sent a letter telling noncompliant schools — in no uncertain terms — that it is a violation of the law to fail to provide proper support for students with ADHD.

August 23, 2016

On July 26, the Department of Education (DOE) issued a strict letter demanding schools step up and provide support for any student with ADHD who requires it to succeed in school — or lose federal funding as a result. With this move, the DOE is taking concrete steps to ensure that all students with ADHD get the supports they’re entitled to — taking a stand against outdated stereotypes and unjust discrimination in the process.

The letter, which was signed by Catherine E. Lhamon, the DOE’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, states that since 2011, the Department of Education has received more than 16,000 complaints alleging discrimination on the basis of a disability. Of those, approximately 2,000 have been regarding a student with ADHD. The most prominent of these complaints were 1) failure to properly identify a student who needed extra help, 2) failure to evaluate an identified student in a timely manner, and 3) making “inappropriate decisions” about what services and accommodations a student with ADHD might require or benefit from.

The letter concedes that as the definition of “disability” has expanded with our understanding, it hasn’t always been easy for schools to adapt and create the environments that students with ADHD need to thrive. But that’s no excuse, the letter goes on to say, since “The failure to provide needed services to students with disabilities can result in serious social, emotional, and educational harm to the students involved.”

And though their needs are by far the most pressing, students aren’t the only ones who benefit from proper accommodations, 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,” Lhamon writes. In other words, providing smart services not only helps students learn — it actually saves schools money in the long run.

The letter includes a full resource guide for schools, including guidelines for identifying students who are struggling, evaluating students who show signs of ADHD, and setting up a system of accommodations and services that guarantee any student’s right to free and appropriate public education. Further information is available on the DOE’s website.

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