R.I.P. Ritalin in Proportion! the Eighth Circuit's Restriction on a Parent's Right to Have Schools Accommodate the Needs of Their Disabled Children: Debord and Davis

By Madhiraju, Praveen | Northwestern University Law Review, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

R.I.P. Ritalin in Proportion! the Eighth Circuit's Restriction on a Parent's Right to Have Schools Accommodate the Needs of Their Disabled Children: Debord and Davis


Madhiraju, Praveen, Northwestern University Law Review


I. INTRODUCTION

A. Alais's Story1

"I sobbed," said Becky after the psychiatrist prescribed Ritalin for her daughter Alais. Becky had many friends who did not believe in ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). She tore up the prescription. "You don't want your kid to personify the rumors, that medication makes them dopey or slow," said Becky's husband Matt. "That's the stereotype. All my coworkers and family had opinions that were antimedication." However, Alais's troubles in school could not be ignored. Although she was in the fourth grade, she could barely read. Naturally, her grades suffered. Her behavior affected other students as well, as she often picked fights in school. Early on in the school year, Alais's teacher called Becky and Matt: "I've been teaching forty years, and I've never seen a child like this." Becky was also spent. "I am totally exhausted! All the time! I love my child, more than anything in the world, but there are times when I wish I had never given birth to her. How could a mother feel this way about her daughter? Why did my daughter have to be born with these problems? How can I keep her safe her whole life? How can I help her to become the best that she can be? How do I overcome the guilt I have about having a child with a disability? How can I make life 'normal' for her?"

Concerned about both the medical uncertainties surrounding the use of Ritalin and its negative social implications, Becky and Matt first enrolled Alais in the University of California-Irvine Child Development Center, a program specializing in behavioral treatments for ADHD. "It was a horrid summer," said Matt. Alais would go on hour-long tantrums and would constantly be unruly. "It made for a no-fun life." Finally, Becky and Matt decided to try Ritalin. "It was like an angel in disguise," she remembers. "By the end of the school year she was reading. By the end of the summer, she was reading at a grade four level. By the end of grade five she was reading the books that I read, and testing at a university entrance level in comprehension .... It was like heaven on earth!"

B. The Problem

In the United States, parents of nearly four million children with ADHD2 have made the difficult decision that parents like Becky and Matt have made-they have put their child on Ritalin. After consulting with doctors, friends, and family, and after suffering much anguish, they have made a deeply personal choice to give their child a chance in both school and in life.3

However, school districts can effectively take this decision away from parents like Becky and Matt. Two districts in Missouri recently faced court challenges to their decision not to administer high doses of Ritalin to students pursuant to policies against administering any prescription exceeding the Physician's Desk Reference's (PDR) recommended daily dosage.4 The two challenges eventually reached the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Citing district concerns over their own liability, their own administrative burden if forced to adjudicate individual waivers of the policy, and the health risks implicated by such prescriptions, the Eighth Circuit held that the school districts were not required to facilitate the administration of high doses of Ritalin to students.5 The Eighth Circuit did so without disputing the fact that the students involved in both cases needed the high doses to benefit from the free education that federal law grants them. Now, many schools have instituted similar policies that would prevent students from taking needed medication.6 Some are even proposing to ban Ritalin from school grounds completely.7 Soon, thousands of students could be denied an appropriate education because of their inability to have Ritalin and other prescription drugs administered to them during school hours by school personnel.

This Comment argues that under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA),8 Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act,9 and Title II of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA),10 disabled students are entitled to the administration of Ritalin at school, by school personnel, even when in high doses. …

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