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  • Writer's pictureMarina Diambri

Navigating the Section 504 Plan Process for Students with ADHD in Illinois

Section 504 Plan for ADHD Students with Exceptional Grades
Section 504 Plan for ADHD Students with Exceptional Grades

As a special education attorney in Illinois, I understand the challenges parents face when advocating for their child's educational needs. One common struggle arises when a student, despite excelling academically, still requires accommodations due to conditions like ADHD. In such cases, obtaining a Section 504 plan becomes crucial to ensure their educational success and emotional well-being.


Understanding Section 504:

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in federally funded programs, including public schools. It mandates that schools provide equal access and reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities to ensure they can participate effectively in educational activities.


ADHD in the School Setting:

School districts should not make the assumption that a student's academic success necessarily means that he or she is not substantially limited in a major life activity, and is not characterized as a person with a disability. According to the US Department of Education, published a guide to establish how federally funded programs should address the education of children with a diagnosis of ADHD. This guide states that "students who achieve satisfactory, or even demonstrate above-average, academic performance may still have a disability that substantially limits a major life activity and be eligible for special education or related aids and services because the school district is not meeting their needs as adequately as the needs of nondisabled students are met."


A student's use of mitigating measures can aid the impairment, thereby obscuring the substantial limitations of the impairment. School districts occasionally discount these off-campus, but school-related, mitigation measures. For an example, a student with an ADHD diagnosis might take extra time compared to most students to complete one homework assignment because it takes this student longer to utilize the strategies developed over time to break down a study question, conduct research, and write an essay. This student might be timely with turning in a homework assignment, however, they may still be substantially limited in a major life activity, such as organizing or thinking, due to ADHD. Ultimately, it is important to remember that a student with ADHD is an individual with a disability if, "in an unmitigated state," he or she has a physical or mental impairment that "substantially limits a major life activity," has a record of that impairment, OR is regarding as having such impairment.


According to the US Department of Education, the following are key principles that school districts must consider when educating students with ADHD:

  • Assess and offer assistance to students diagnosed with ADHD. When students undergo thorough evaluation and receive suitable support, they often rise to academic challenges, including enrollment in advanced and honors courses.

  • School districts must customize services to meet each student's unique needs. Placement options for students with disabilities under Section 504 should not be restricted to predetermined choices unrelated to individual requirements or simply because certain options are already available within the district.

  • Students with ADHD eligible for Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) under Section 504 are entitled to services determined appropriate by the placement team, irrespective of cost or administrative complexity. This entitlement extends particularly to services previously provided to students eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

  • The special education aids and services necessary for a student, as outlined in a Section 504 Plan or similar document, should be clearly articulated and sufficiently detailed. This clarity ensures both the school and parents understand the plan's requirements.


Addressing Denials:

When a student is denied a Section 504 plan despite presenting legitimate needs, it can be frustrating and disheartening for both the student and their family. However, it's essential to understand that denials can occur due to various reasons, including a lack of understanding of the student's needs or inadequate documentation.


Steps to Take:

1. Gather Documentation: Start by collecting comprehensive documentation of the student's ADHD, including medical records, evaluations, and assessments from healthcare professionals. These documents serve as evidence of the student's need for accommodations.

2. Request a Meeting: Schedule a meeting with the school's Section 504 coordinator or appropriate personnel to discuss your concerns and provide the documentation. Clearly articulate how the student's conditions impact their educational performance and why accommodations are necessary.

3. Educate School Personnel: Sometimes, denials stem from a misunderstanding of the student's needs or applicable laws. Take this opportunity to educate school staff about ADHD, and the legal obligations under Section 504. Providing resources and examples of effective accommodations can be beneficial.

4. Negotiate: Be prepared to negotiate with the school regarding the specific accommodations needed for the student. Emphasize that these accommodations are not about giving the student an unfair advantage but rather leveling the playing field to ensure equal access to education.

5. Seek Legal Assistance: If initial attempts to obtain a Section 504 plan are unsuccessful, consider seeking legal guidance from a special education attorney such as Marina Diambri. Ms. Diambri can review your case, provide expert advice, and advocate on behalf of your child to ensure their rights are upheld.

6. Appeal if Necessary: In cases where the school continues to deny a Section 504 plan despite compelling evidence, you have the right to appeal the decision. Follow the school district's procedures for appealing Section 504 determinations, and consider legal representation during the appeal process.


Conclusion:

Obtaining a Section 504 plan for a student with ADHD, despite exceptional grades, requires persistence, advocacy, and a thorough understanding of the legal rights afforded under the law. By following these steps and seeking appropriate support, parents can effectively navigate the Section 504 process and ensure their child receives the accommodations they need to thrive academically and emotionally. Remember, every child deserves an equal opportunity to succeed in school, regardless of their disabilities.

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