The U.S. Department of Education has issued guidelines aimed at preventing schools from discriminating against the growing numbers of students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
In a letter to school districts and a “know your rights” document to be posted on its website Tuesday, the department said schools must obey existing civil rights law to identify students with the disorder and provide them with accommodations to help them learn.
The guidelines come in response to years of complaints from parents who say that their children have been denied needed services and that schools have failed to protect them from bullying. The Education Department, which has received roughly 2,000 such complaints over the last five years, said schools have requested clarification of their responsibilities under the law.
“Many … [teachers] are not familiar with this disorder,” Catherine Lhamon, the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights, wrote in the letter. “The failure to provide needed services to students with disabilities can result in serious social, emotional and educational harm.”
The number of children being diagnosed with ADHD — a neurobiological disorder characterized by impulsivity, hyperactivity or inattentiveness — has soared over the last decade.
The failure to provide needed services to students with disabilities can result in serious social, emotional and educational harm.
— Catherine Lhamon, Department of Education’s assistant secretary for civil rights
As of 2011, 11% of children ages 4-17 were diagnosed with the disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Boys were more than twice as likely as girls to be diagnosed with ADHD.
California does not specifically track the number of students with ADHD, instead grouping most of them in the broader category of “specific learning disability.” As of Dec. 1, 2015, 288,294 students were in that category.
The rising rate of diagnosis has been controversial. There is no biological marker for the disorder. Kids can be diagnosed after showing symptoms such as carelessness or distraction over six months. But the line between quirky and disability can be fuzzy.
The rise of ADHD can be expensive for school districts, as the services for a single student can cost several thousand dollars a year. Some research though has found that there are hidden costs to not treating the disorder.
Under a 1973 federal law, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, schools are responsible for identifying students with the disorder and supporting them by recording lectures, highlighting passages of textbooks or giving them extra time on tests.
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