A child who suffers from a disability may struggle to engage in standard classes and activities at school. They may need an adult to assist them with activities, and they may need regular access to medication or a service animal. To take their needs into account, the federal government has enacted several laws prohibiting discrimination against students with disabilities. Schools need to meet the medical needs of students not only when they are attending classes but also when they are participating in school-related activities outside the classroom. Administrators are not allowed to make assumptions about the scope of a student’s abilities based on speculative impressions of their condition. Schools cannot prevent a student with a medical condition from participating in certain activities in order to avoid providing them with necessary accommodations.
Rights of Disabled Children
Students with disabilities have legal rights under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Improvement Act (IDEIA), as well as a separate law known as Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Together, these laws cover all schools in the U.S. except schools that are operated by religious organizations and do not receive federal funding. IDEIA, which is also known as its precursor IDEA, sets out the requirement for Individualized Education Programs for children who have disabilities that affect the learning process. An IEP is meant to provide a child with a free and appropriate public education. Often, a section of an IEP covers the health needs of a child. You can read more here about setting up an IEP.
Meanwhile, Section 504 prohibits discrimination against students with disabilities at public schools and private schools that receive federal funds. If a child is covered by Section 504, even if they are not covered by IDEIA, the school must create an Individual Health Plan (IHP) for their health-related needs. Any child who is covered by IDEIA also will be covered by Section 504.
The ADA is the only law that covers children in private schools that do not receive federal funds. This law requires schools to provide reasonable accommodations to children with disabilities so that they can participate in school programs and activities. In other words, they may need to make exceptions to some of their policies and procedures to take a child’s disability into account. However, a school does not need to craft a specific plan for each disabled student under the ADA.
Working with a School to Develop Accommodations
To make sure that they can accurately explain their child’s condition to school administrators, the parents must understand its details thoroughly. They should consult their child’s doctor and keep up with any changes in the child’s diagnosis and symptoms. This may involve changes to the health care needs of the child, which the parents will need to communicate to the school. For example, the parents will want to tell the school if the child will need access to medications at some point during the class schedule or during school activities. The parents also should make sure that the child understands the nature of their condition (to the extent appropriate for their age) and can recognize their symptoms. Thus, they can alert the school when a medical need arises.
Parents should ask school administrators about who is responsible for the health needs of disabled children. The school may have a designated coordinator for that purpose. The parents then can talk to the coordinator about creating an IHP or developing a health section for the child’s IEP. If neither Section 504 nor IDEIA applies, the parents can discuss the child’s ADA rights with school administrators. They may ask the school to provide a certain accommodation, while explaining why the accommodation is tailored to the child’s specific disability. Sometimes the child’s doctor can bolster a request for an accommodation by writing a letter to the school. The doctor may need to provide a copy of the child’s medical records as well.
If the school does not agree to your requests or does not appear to be following the law, you may want to ask an attorney for advice. You also can explore the resources offered by the Office of Civil Rights for the Department of Education, which contain information for filing a complaint against a school. If you are looking for more information about rights related to a specific type of condition, you can consult the websites of national organizations that are dedicated to that condition.