Your Child's Asthma and Your School
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1997, schools are required to promote the health, development, and achievement of students with asthma. Asthma is classed as a disability under the “Health Impaired” category of IDEA, if it adversely affects a child’s educational performance or interferes with learning.
Schools are also required to remove “disability barriers” under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“504”). This law prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities in education or employment. While having asthma is not considered a disability in itself, school conditions (such as poor IAQ) may be considered “disability barriers” which bar equal access for those with asthma. Schools are obliged to inform parents and students whom to contact if they perceive discriminatory situations, conditions, practices or policies within the school. Further, “504” requires schools to follow certain procedures to protect the rights of parents, students, and school staff, and to ensure that decisions made regarding a child’s needs, and their implementation, are fair and appropriate. It stipulates that schools and parents should act as partners in the planning and decision making involved in the child’s welfare.
Both IDEA and “504” outline student evaluation procedures and stipulate the creation of individual health plans—an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and a “504” accommodation plan, respectively. In addition to a student’s asthma-related information, these plans include environmental modifications, physical education planning, and provision for studies during asthma-related absences from school. “504” ensures access to federally funded services for any handicapped person; IDEA provides funds to help schools serve these students when specific requirements are followed (IDEA grants.)
Maurice Watson, an attorney with Blackwell Sanders Peper Martin of Kansas City, MO, and a specialist in education law, notes that in disability cases the courts increasingly look at the severity of the impairment. Thus, if the asthma can be reasonably managed by medication, he continues, that individual might no longer have protection under IDEA and other federal statutes. “The court might say there is no “need” for further accommodation. On the other hand, parents might respond that if there was higher compliance with IAQ, the child could use less medication.”
A school’s best protection against liability is having policies and procedures in place and being proactive. In the event of a lawsuit against the school district, it is important to be able to demonstrate that a school maintained its duty of care to students and staff by responding to complaints, dealing with problems (establishing or disproving causation between, for example, poor IAQ and health complaints), and foreseeing potential problems.
Reprinted with the permission of the American Association of School Administrators. © AASA
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