Is Epilepsy a Disability in Schools?
Epilepsy may be considered a disability under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, and schools may be required to provide accommodations to students with epilepsy and other seizure disorders. Under legislation passed in recent years, school districts must train their staff and develop individualized health care plans for students with epilepsy. “Paul's Law,” N.J.S.A. 18A:40-12.34 through 12.38, was signed into law on January 9, 2020, requiring training for all New Jersey school staff on epilepsy and seizure disorders and authorizing parents to request the development of an individualized health care plan for their children. An individualized health care plan is developed for each student by the school nurse, in consultation with the parents and student’s doctors. The plan should be driven by the recommendations of the student's health care providers and must detail specific directions about how to recognize and provide care for the student’s epilepsy, when to call for assistance, and what to do in an emergency. These protections are necessary for many students with epilepsy to access their education. If your child has epilepsy or a seizure disorder and is not receiving the interventions they need to attend school safely, our education lawyers can help guide you through the process of securing appropriate plans, support, and accommodations.
The training requirements under New Jersey law extend to staff working with school-sponsored programs outside of the regular school day, like extra-curricular activities and sports, and mandates that the training include instruction approved by the New Jersey Department of Health and provided by a nationally recognized non-profit organization that supports the welfare of individuals with seizure disorders. New Jersey law specifies the training that school districts may use: “Seizure Training for School Personnel” offered by the Epilepsy Foundation, or “T.R.U.S.T. Seizure Recognition and First Aid” offered by the Epilepsy Alliance of America. If your school district is not following appropriate training guidelines, an experienced education attorney can assist you in this process.
Often, students with individual health care plans also require 504 Plans that detail accommodations in school that will allow them to access their education despite the impact their epilepsy has on their school experience. It is important to note that although epilepsy and seizure disorders are considered disabilities for students in New Jersey schools, not every student with epilepsy is entitled to a 504 Plan. If a student’s seizure disorder is well-controlled, for example, that student may not qualify as a student with a disability impacting a major life function. However, if a student requires medical care while at school, may miss class to acquire that medical care, or a private doctor has recommended school-based accommodations, the school district should be providing a 504 Plan. Our education attorneys often see situations where school staff request direct access to a student’s doctor when parents request a 504 Plan or accommodations for epilepsy. Parents are not required to give such unfettered access, but they must be willing to facilitate communication so that individualized health care plans and, if needed, 504 Plans, can be designed and implemented appropriately.
Schools may not force students with seizure disorders to wear helmets, be strapped into their seat, or require the use of any restraint techniques in the name of safety or in response to a student’s epilepsy. If medication is required, the school must administer it. If a student uses a medically implanted device, like a vagus nerve stimulator, the school district must monitor it. School districts may also be asked to record seizures that occur during the school day to assist with medication management and determine if adjustments are needed to the individualized health care plan or 504 Plan. If a specific diet is necessary, the school must ensure the student follows it, although they are not required to purchase specific foods for an individual student. All these services are related services that New Jersey schools are required to provide to students with disabilities when needed to access their education.
If your child has epilepsy or a seizure disorder, and you need help ensuring they have access to their education and can attend school safely, reach out to our education attorneys for a consultation.