Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Accommodation and Laboratory Safety

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Accommodation and Laboratory Safety

Article excerpt

As part of a special needs accommodation plan, a mother requested that her son be allowed to listen to music using headphones in the science laboratory as a way to cope with his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The teacher, worried the music would muffle instructions or warnings, said headphones would be unsafe. How can a teacher maintain a safer classroom environment while addressing the accommodation plans of special needs students?


A safer working and learning environment

Two federal laws apply in this case: the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The first law requires that the needs of disabled students be met as adequately as those of non-disabled students, and the second law prohibits discrimination based on disability. Federal law defines a disability as any mental or physical impairment, long-term illness, or disorder that substantially reduces or lessens a student's ability to access learning in the educational setting.

Accommodation in the laboratory, however, should not result in an unsafe working and learning environment. The science teacher has "duty of care" legal responsibilities for students and other employees working in the laboratory. The teacher must make an unsafe lab safer. The nature of lab instruction involves active, hands-on engagement and peer collaboration, making headphones inappropriate. Students must attend to their surroundings, hear and follow specific instructions and procedures, and be aware of safety expectations. In lieu of headphones, projecting a PowerPoint with the lab directions or a video clip of the lab procedures could be appropriate accommodations for the ADHD student. Using a classroom paraprofessional may also be an option.

If the ADHD student has significant impulsivity issues, he may be designated as an observer for the activity. The student could then rejoin peers upon understanding the concepts and completing a written activity. This accommodation permits the student to learn in the regular education environment.

A word of caution: If a special needs student allowed to stay in the lab creates a potentially unsafe situation, the teacher must suspend laboratory activities until a safer alternative is found--even at the expense of curriculum and instruction expectations. …

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