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Can the School Require My Child to Take ADHD Medication?

By Lindsay Jones, JD

Question: My child has ADHD and is having problems at public school. We haven’t tried ADHD medication, but I’m worried the school will say we have to in order to attend. Are schools allowed to do that?

Answer:

Public schools aren’t allowed to require any student to take ADHD medication. The special education law IDEA specifically covers medications that are controlled substances, and ADHD medication falls into that group.

The law is very clear. Public schools (along with districts and states) may not require any student, whether or not they get special education services, to take this class of medications.

That means schools can’t make students take medication in order to attend. They also can’t make it a requirement for getting an evaluation and special education services.

Schools are allowed to share concerns with parents about a child’s behavior or performance in school, however. Teachers might describe what they’ve seen, or how a child’s behavior is getting in the way of learning. They can even suggest or request that a child be evaluated for special education.

There’s nothing in the law that prohibits teachers from suggesting medication, either. But it’s very bad practice, and they should avoid doing it.

If your child’s teacher or an IEP team member pressures you or says medication is required, there are steps you can take. You can speak to a school administrator about the situation. You can also go directly to the district’s special education director. Explain what you were told, and document it in writing.

The special education director should be very familiar with this requirement in the law and put a stop to it. You can also speak with the superintendent. But if these steps don’t work, you can consider filing a complaint with your state’s department of education.

So far, we’ve been talking about public schools. Private schools are different. They aren’t required to follow federal special education law.

There’s no specific law preventing a private school from requiring students to take ADHD medication. A private school can’t refuse to admit your child just because your child has ADHD—that’s disability discrimination. But private schools aren’t required to serve all students. They can refuse to accept students for a variety of reasons.

Hopefully this won’t be an issue for you, though. The best results for your child come from being able to work closely with the school to find the support that meets your child’s needs.

Learn more about the laws that protect kids with learning and thinking differences. And get tips for talking with your child’s teacher about ADHD.

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