Monday, August 22, 2016

The US Dept of Education's new "Dear Colleague Letter" Addressing ADHD

There is a new "Dear Colleague Letter" that was issued by the US Dept of Education on 7/26/2016, which specifically addresses ADHD and the obligations of school districts to evaluate and provide appropriate related aids and services. This is, in my opinion, a very important letter to get out there because many districts are refusing to evaluate students, as confirmed in the letter. A link to the PDF copy of the letter and Resource Guide (42 pages in total) is below. It should also be made clear and kept in mind that parents of the student are members of the child study team.

"The failure to provide needed services to students with disabilities can result in serious social, emotional, and educational harm to the students involved. It can also unnecessarily drain school district and family resources if the school is ineffectually attempting to meet the needs of students with disabilities through failed interventions or disciplinary consequences. 
As outlined in the Department’s regulations implementing Section 504, school districts must conduct individualized evaluations of students who, because of disability, including ADHD, need or are believed to need special education or related services, and must ensure that qualified students with disabilities receive appropriate services that are based on specific needs, not cost, and not based on stereotypes or generalized misunderstanding of a disability. These and other Section 504 obligations apply to all students with disabilities and are discussed in this guidance as they specifically pertain to students with ADHD." 

I also believe it is important to reference the 4/17/15 Dear Colleague Letter, as well as the other 2 prior letters referenced in same ("Letter to Delisle" from 12/2013 and "Letter to Anonymous" from 1/2010), which address children with both disabilities and high cognition ("Twice Exceptional").  Intelligence is also used as an excuse not to evaluate, although it is not a valid one.

"I am writing to draw your attention to the Office of Special Education Programs’ (OSEP) December 20, 2013 letter to Dr. Jim Delisle (Letter to Delisle) regarding determining eligibility for special education and related services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for children with disabilities with high cognition; students who Dr. Delisle terms “twice exceptional students” or “2E students.” Letter to Delisle pointedly addresses children with high cognition who may be eligible for special education and related services as a student with a specific learning disability, but also cites to the broader requirements in 34 CFR §300.304(b)(1) and (2) that state, in part – 
 … in determining whether a child has a disability … the IDEA requires the use of a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information about the child, and prohibits the use of any single measure or assessment as the sole criterion for determining whether a child is a child with a disability and for determining an appropriate educational program for the child.” 
In spite of the guidance provided in Letter to Delisle, we continue to receive letters from those who work with children with disabilities with high cognition, particularly those with emotional disturbance or mental illness, expressing concern that some local educational agencies (LEA) are hesitant to conduct initial evaluations to determine eligibility for special education and related services for children with high cognition.
In transmitting OSEP Memo 15-08, I am requesting that you widely distribute Letter to Delisle to the LEAs in your State, and remind each LEA of its obligation to evaluate all children, regardless of cognitive skills, suspected of having one of the 13 disabilities outlined in 34 CFR §300.8" 

The 12/2013 "Letter to Delisle," which is referenced in the 4/2015 letter, is located here:

The US DOE has the two letters (4/2015 and 12/2013) together in one document here:

Information about the 1/2010 Letter to Anonymous is located here:

The difficult-to-locate DOE copy is here:

The specific sentence in the 1/2010 letter that I really want to draw attention to is this:
"For example, a child with high cognition and ADHD could be considered to have an 'other health impairment,' and could need special education and related services to address the lack of organizational skills, homework completion and classroom behavior, if appropriate."
"In your letter dated October 8, 2009, you specifically referenced students with high cognition and disabilities such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Asperger's Syndrome, and specific learning disabilities related to reading, writing, and mathematics who struggle to timely complete grade-level work and have difficulties with organizational skills, homework completion, affective areas, social skills, classroom behavior, reading and math fluency, writing and math operations.
The IDEA is silent regarding "twice exceptional" or "gifted" students. It remains the Department's position that students who have high cognition, have disabilities and require special education and related services are protected under the IDEA and its implementing regulations. Under 34 C.F.R. §300.8, a child must meet a two-prong test to be considered an eligible child with a disability: (1) have one of the specified impairments (disabilities); and (2) because of the impairment, need special education and related services. For example, a child with high cognition and ADHD could be considered to have an 'other health impairment,' and could need special education and related services to address the lack of organizational skills, homework completion and classroom behavior, if appropriate. Likewise, a child with Asperger's Syndrome could be considered under the disability category of autism and the individualized evaluation would address the special education and related services needs in the affective areas, social skills and classroom behavior, as appropriate."

One would hope that districts would go back and review previous denials when letters such as these are issued, but it is up to the parents to request evaluations if the student is thought to be eligible, even if prior requests have been erroneously denied.

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