What do I need to know about my child attending school?
Note: For detailed information about the rights of children with epilepsy in school and childcare settings see “Legal Rights of Children with Epilepsy in School & Child Care” by the Epilepsy Foundation. This publication is posted on the Forms/Documents page.
Federal laws protect the rights of students to receive a public education and to attend schools in their home communities. A law that includes children with epilepsy is called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This law states that children with a disability are entitled to a “free and appropriate public education.” It says children should be placed in the “least restrictive environment” with proper supports. IDEA is related to special education and/or other support services in schools.
Many children with epilepsy have seizures rarely or not at all. They might not have any other disability. They might be at the same level of ability as other children their age. It is easy for these children to participate in all school activities. They might not need any extra supports. Or they may need just a little support.
If parents know or suspect their child needs more help, they can request testing by the school. A request should be made in writing to establish the date of the request. The purpose of testing is to determine if a child is eligible for special education and/or other support services. Under IDEA, there is a time limit for schools to start this process, and a time limit to complete it. They need to share all the results of testing with parents in a meeting. If the child is eligible for services, this meeting might start the process to develop an Individualized Education Plan. This is often just called an IEP.
An IEP is developed by a team. A team includes the child, parents, and teachers. It could include other school staff, medical providers, and other people parents want to include. The IEP is a very detailed plan based on goals agreed on by the team. Some students may not need the detail of an IEP and may have what is called a 504 Plan. This is a plan that defines supports needed in school. For example, a child may need a daily check-in with the nurse for medication or more time to walk from class to class.
Children who have seizures may be isolated from other children at school. It is hard to feel different. They might feel like they are not good at school. A good IEP can help. The teacher and school nurse can learn about epilepsy. They can help children feel better about themselves. They can also help all students understand epilepsy. The family and school can work together. Teachers and parents can watch for how well medication is working. They can all look for side effects. They can send messages to each other about what they learn. By doing this, they help the child do better at school and at home.