Students with ADHD and Section 504 Regulations: Challenges, Obligations, and Opportunities for School Psychologists

By DuPaul, George J.; Power, Thomas J. et al. | National Association of School Psychologists. Communique, November 2016 | Go to article overview

Students with ADHD and Section 504 Regulations: Challenges, Obligations, and Opportunities for School Psychologists


DuPaul, George J., Power, Thomas J., Evans, Steven W., Mautone, Jennifer A., Owens, Julie Sarno, National Association of School Psychologists. Communique


In July 2016, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued two documents to clarify and provide guidance on Federal obligations of school districts to students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) under Section 504. This action was in response to numerous complaints (approximately 2,000 over 5 years) alleging discrimination on the basis of disability in elementary and secondary education programs related to ADHD. Because of the sheer number and consistent nature of these complaints, OCR issued a policy resource guide for school personnel (see http://www2.ed.g0v/ about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-20i6o7-504-adhd.pdf) and a know-your-rights document for parents and guardians (see http:// www2.ed.g0v/ab0ut/0ffices/list/0cr/d0cs/dcl-kn0w-rights-201607-504 .pdf). In particular, OCR provided policy guidance to ensure students are receiving a free appropriate public education (FAPE) as defined in Section 504 especially when (a) conducting appropriate referral, identification, and evaluation of students suspected of having ADHD; (b) completing evaluation in a timely manner; (c) using adequate evaluation procedures; (d) making appropriate decisions regarding services and placement; (e) distributing documentation to staff; and (f ) selecting and providing appropriate related aids and services without consideration of financial cost or administrative burden. The purpose of this article is to highlight key recommendations from OCR and to discuss the challenges, obligations, and opportunities these recommendations pose for school psychologists and school-based mental health professionals.

MAJOR GUIDELINES

First, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendments Act of 2008 broadened the definition of disability by expanding the list of examples of major life activities to include concentrating, reading, thinking, and functions of the brain. The se activities include executive functions that maybe compromised by symptoms of ADHD. Second, if a student is found ineligible for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the school district may still be obligated to evaluate eligibility for services through Section 504. It is important to note that parents have the right to request a 504 evaluation. Third, because every symptom presentation of ADHD (i.e., combined, predominantly inattentive, and predominantly hyperactive-impulsive) presumably impacts thinking, concentrating, and planning, the determination that a student has any ADHD presentation meets the impairment criterion for determining disability under Section 504. Of course, there are other criteria that must be met to determine the need for school-based services, but OCR makes clear that a diagnosis of ADHD of any type meets the Section 504 definition of a disability. Fourth, OCR highlights that school district failure to evaluate under Section 504 may be particularly common for students with ADHD inattentive presentation. Because students with inattentive presentation may not disrupt classroom activities as much as those with combined or hyperactive-impulsive presentations, teachers maybe less likely to notice their concentration difficulties and may not consider referring the student for an evaluation of ADHD.

School psychologists may not be aware that students can achieve a high level of academic success (e.g., obtain above average grades) but still meet the Section 504 definition of having a disability. Students can experience limitations to one or more major life activities beyond academic functioning including behavior, organizational skills, and social relationships. Therefore, disability evaluation should not exclusively focus on learning and must consider impact of ADHD symptoms on other major life activities. Furthermore, it is possible that students with ADHD obtain average or above average grades but must put additional time and effort into learning activities at school or home to achieve this level of success. …

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