Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Education Department Issues Guidelines to Protect Students with ADHD

guest post by the CHADD Public Policy Committee

Today the Office of Civil Rights of the US Department of Education (OCR) issued guidance to every public school district in the country about the implementation of Section 504 for students with ADHD. CHADD provided significant input to OCR as OCR was developing this guidance. CHADD, through its public policy committee and its professional advisory board, had ongoing and active discussion with the OCR. We shared the concerns of our members about the implementation of Section 504 and the effects on their children. We provided scientific research and knowledge about ADHD as well as our recommendations for best practices for educating students with ADHD in school and ideas about how to improve the implementation of Section 504 to benefit students with ADHD.

A 2014 survey of CHADD’s membership reinforced our concerns that the Section 504 process in the schools was clearly not working. Parents reported major violations in every step—from referral, to evaluation, to development of a student’s Section 504 Plan, to its implementation and, unfortunately to the frequent suspension and expulsion that became the outcome. The lack of appropriate referral, evaluation, and eligibility practices was particularly problematic, as it suggested that there are likely many children with ADHD that may need Section 504 protection that were not being referred or found eligible for a 504 Plan. In addition, implementation of these plans was especially troubling, with two thirds of parents reporting the plan was not implemented in the classroom.

The statistics and anecdotal reports from parents were consistent with the concerns that parents and professionals involved with CHADD frequently report. The individual stories, albeit brief, were heart wrenching and provided a painful human dimension to the statistics. These students with ADHD were being denied a free and appropriate public education and an equal opportunity for participation in school. The safeguards of the Section 504 regulations were not providing adequate protection from the problems these children experienced.

CHADD urged stronger action from the US Department of Education to ensure that school staff would understand both their obligations under Section 504 and the symptoms of ADHD and best practices for responding to it. Equally important, we urged stronger guidance and enforcement from the OCR to ensure that appropriate safeguards and supports are put in place for all students with ADHD that are or should be eligible for the protections of Section 504.

In its press release announcing the issuance of this guidance, OCR reported that more than one out of every nine complaints alleging discrimination on the basis of disability in elementary and secondary schools that OCR received in the past five years involved students with ADHD. OCR stated the most common of these complaints concerned “academic and behavioral difficulties students with ADHD experience at school when they are not timely and properly evaluated for a disability, or when they do not receive necessary special education or related aids and services.” This verifies the seriousness of CHADD’s concerns about noncompliance with Section 504.
We applaud the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education for their efforts to make sure that the civil rights of students with ADHD are protected in our public schools. We appreciate the guidance on implementation of Section 504 that they have developed for all school districts nationwide.

CHADD will continue to provide feedback to the OCR about the effectiveness of the new guidance. CHADD will continue to provide science-based research findings that address the educational needs of students with ADHD, and CHADD will continue to be a leader in providing high quality teacher training, so that ADHD students and teachers too, will be partners in education.

Ingrid Alpern, JD, LLM
Matthew Cohen, JD
Jeffrey Katz, PhD
CHADD Public Policy Committee