U.S. DOE Releases Guidance On Civil Rights of Students with ADHD

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Students with ADHD and Section 504: A Resource Guide  – (07/26/16) U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issues Guidance clarifying the obligation of schools to provide FAPE for students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).


Over the last five years, OCR has received more than 16,000 complaints that allege discrimination on the basis of disability in elementary and secondary education programs, and more than 10 percent involve allegations of discrimination against students with ADHD. The most common complaint concerns academic and behavioral difficulties students with ADHD experience at school when they are not timely and properly evaluated for a disability, or when they do not receive necessary special education or related aids and services.

This guidance provides a broad overview of Section 504 and school districts’ obligations to provide educational services to students with disabilities, including students with ADHD.

The guidance:

  • Explains that schools must evaluate a student when a student needs or is believed to need special education or related services.
  • Discusses the obligation to provide services based on students’ specific needs and not based on generalizations about disabilities, or ADHD, in particular. For example, the guidance makes clear that schools must not rely on the generalization that students who perform well academically cannot also be substantially limited in major life activities, such as reading, learning, writing and thinking; and that such a student can, in fact, be a person with a disability.
  • Clarifies that students who experience behavioral challenges, or present as unfocused or distractible, could have ADHD and may need an evaluation to determine their educational needs.
  • Reminds schools that they must provide parents and guardians with due process and allow them to appeal decisions regarding the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of students with disabilities, including students with ADHD.

Know Your Rights

In addition to the guidance, the Department also released a Know Your Rights Document that provides a brief overview of schools’ obligations to students with ADHD.


The mission of OCR is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. Among the federal civil rights laws OCR is responsible for enforcing are Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Title IX of the Education Act of 1972; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

More Resources

Is ADHD a Learning Disorder? I’ve Been Told – No, It’s Not!

Wrightslaw’s page on Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD)

Learn about OCR and the anti-discrimination laws that it enforces.

Protecting Students With Disabilities – Frequently Asked Questions About Section 504 and the Education of Children with Disabilities

  1. If a student has a 504 and the parent wants transportation to send the student to a private school? Does the student qualifies for transportation even if his IEP doesn’t state he needs transportation and it’s not a Special Education School?

  2. I was wanting to know the time frame that the school district has to complete an evaluation on a child who has already been diagnosed as having ADHD Combined Type by the pediatrician in order to assess the need for any further disabilities as it relates to education.

    • If the child is already served by special education, there is no timeline, unless the state or district sets one. If he is not, the IDEA timeline starts when the parent gives written consent for the testing.

    • Brenetta: IDEA requires schools to complete initial evaluations and determine eligibility within 60 calendar days of receiving a referral and parental consent, unless the state has laws or regulations that permit longer timelines. Some states have shorter timelines.

      Have you requested – in writing – that the school evaluate your child and signed a consent form for the evaluation? If not, the clock hasn’t started to run.

  3. My child has ADHD and when forgets his medicines is disruptive in class based on this the principal of his school allegated that he was calling the school and making threats last Friday. on Monday of this week he was sent home. I was given papers that stated he was presumed to be the person, but when I involved the Deputy Superintendent and asked to show me physical evidence of the allegations, I was called by the principal and she stated that the investigation is ongoing, but my child may return to school. he allegated he was the person calling the school to make threats because of his disruptive behavior. my point is I want them to apologize to my child and I wanted a letter saying he was not involved in this. she refused to do so but meanwhile he was fully humiliated by her act

  4. What should I do when my son has be restrained numerous times at school. They have restrained him with five people over him. Three at the top and two at the both. Please help me I need help!

    • Vern,

      You need to write letters and they need to be direct and to the point. I would write them to the Principal along with Special Education director asking for a meeting immediately to get to the bottom of what is going on. I would then at the meeting tell them up front that you are disturbed about your son being restrained against his will. If that does not work you can always ask for mediation and come up with a game plan for the school to handle your sons issues. You may even want to look at another placement in which the school could and should pay for. I would also contact your local state and parenting training center as they will have resources available to you to help your son. Remember you are his advocate.

  5. Hi. I am a teacher. If I suspect that a student who shows many signs of ADHD: Difficulty sitting in her seat, difficulty focusing, disorganization, difficulty waiting her turn, barges in while I am helping another student, etc., etc. should be evaluated by her pediatrician….what can I legally say to the parents? This seems to be a slippery slope legally.

    • I am a parent and I would always appreciate the professional observations from a teacher. My suggestion is to say, what I heard from my child’s teacher, “in my experience often these behaviors/symptoms are an indication of something else going on such as ADHD. I suggest you seek an evaluation from a pediatrician.” I think any parent would really appreciate it — school districts not so much because it can lead to a request for special education services which the school district may view as an expense.

    • There is a Child Find mandate. So technically if you suspect a student may have a disability you must refer the student for a school evaluation. Many parents would appreciate you talking to them, so the parents can ask for the school evaluation.

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