Can Schools Force or Recommend Medication?
Can Schools force medication? Can a teacher ask a student if they took their medication? Can a school tell you to change your child’s medicine? Is it illegal for a school to recommend medication? Do I have to tell the school about my child’s medication? All of these questions and more come up frequently in the group.
There are many different tangents to this issue. Hopefully, I can give an overview of all of them. I also am including helpful links at the bottom for further reading.
IEP and Medicine
The decision to medicate or not medicate a child is a personal one. I would always maximize a child’s input in this discussion, conceding that many children often do not see the big picture or have this decision-making ability. They at least need to be heard. The decision to medicate a child is NOT an IEP team decision. Nor should a teacher or IEP team member ever suggest medicating a child.
Keep in mind, someone’s obnoxious statements on medicating your child are not exclusive to being an IEP team member. I have complete strangers approach me in public to make all kinds of suggestions, knowing NOTHING about our situation. I think it’s just in some people’s nature to want to try to be helpful when they are not helping.
My response to these “helpful” suggestions varies depending on my mood. I can be short and polite “Thanks, but I’ll stick to letting his team of physicians choose what we do” to snarky “Oh, I had no idea you’re a neurologist, congrats!” So navigate these conversations as you think appropriate. Keep in mind, it is not against the law or in violation of anything (except maybe your school district’s policy) to ask about medication.
They can ask all day long. That’s not against the law.
However, a school cannot demand or require that you medicate your child. Nor can they withhold an IEP if your child is “better” on medication.
The law is very clear about both of those issues.
Back to our discussion.
So, do you have to tell them?
Do you have to tell the school about medications?
IDEA does define this. Sort of. They talk about Mandatory Medication.
300.174 Prohibition on mandatory medication.
(a) General. The SEA must prohibit State and LEA personnel from requiring parents to obtain a prescription for substances identified under schedules I, II, III, IV, or V in section 202(c) of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812(c)) for a child as a condition of attending school, receiving an evaluation under §§300.300 through 300.311, or receiving services under this part.(b) Rule of construction. Nothing in paragraph (a) of this section shall be construed to create a Federal prohibition against teachers and other school personnel consulting or sharing classroom-based observations with parents or guardians regarding a student’s academic and functional performance, or behavior in the classroom or school, or regarding the need for evaluation for special education or related services under §300.111 (related to child find).
Last modified on May 2, 2017
Short answer, no. You don’t have to medicate your child if you do not want to. Nor do you have to tell them about it, if you choose to use medication. There are no medicine police and no one from ATF or FDA is going to come to hunt you down.
“Great!” said moms everywhere. “Then I won’t tell them!”
Well, let’s hold on a minute. Why don’t you want to tell them?
FAQ about Medications at School
- Can Schools force medication? No. IDEA is very clear about that and I’ve posted it above.
- Can a teacher ask a student if they took their medication? Yes. There is nothing in IDEA that prohibits this. If it is announced in front of a class or group of people, there may be privacy concerns and discrimination. However, unless the situation is particularly egregious, I wouldn’t waste my time pursuing it. Instead, I would arrange a conference with the teacher and speak with them about it.
- Can a school tell you to change your child’s medicine? Is it illegal for a school to recommend medication? If you want to get into the nitty gritty, I suppose you could pursue legal action for “practicing medicine without a license.” However, you likely won’t get far, and there won’t be any financial compensation or anything. A curt “thank you, his medical team and I frequently monitor my child and their situation and he is in good hands” should send the message.
- Can a school force you to medicate your child? No, same as above.
Reasons I don’t want to tell IEP team about Medication.
- It’s not their business.
- I’m worried about the stigma of mental illness/ADHD and medications.
- He doesn’t take it at school, so why should I?
- I don’t want people to think I’m a bad mom.
- They will try to take away services if he does well on medication.
- What if they will try to change his placement or IEP based on this new knowledge?
- Can they “hold it against me” (or the child)?
- The fear they won’t keep this information private.
And you know what? Those are all very good reasons. But here’s some other food for thought.
Reasons your child’s school needs to know about medications
- If there is an accident, EMS personnel may need to administer emergency meds, so they need to know.
- What if it’s a new med and your child starts to experience side effects?
- Side effects such as frequent toileting, increased thirst, drowsiness that you do not want your child punished for (IE-you go to the bathroom too much!)
- If your child gets into something or eats something, what if it reacts with the meds? (some meds react with something as simple as grapefruit or kale)
- What if it’s a blood thinner?
In a perfect world, parents and all school personnel would have continuous open dialogue, without judgment or reservation, designed only to better the child’s school experience. However, those of us in special needs land know that our world is far from perfect. Every day, school personnel do demand that parents medicate children, they do hold it against you, and I recently heard a story where a mom had CPS called on her and since she misunderstood the Rx instructions, she was found to have a justifiable case for investigation, for improperly medicating her child! And it all originated by the school calling CPS. (and that’s retaliation, I’ve covered it before)
So what can you do? You do have the safety concerns and think that the school should know. But, you also have all those other concerns.
Child’s Medication Options
Tell the nurse.
Yes, it’s that simple. You can tell the nurse so that he/she is aware and it’s in their file for an emergency. You can also ask her to sign a confidentiality agreement/release form that she is only authorized to release that information in case of an emergency (and define emergency!). Keep in mind, your child’s medical records, as far as what the school nurse has, is not covered by HIPAA. It is covered by FERPA.
Many days FERPA isn’t worth the paper it is written on, but there are some things you can do if the nurse violates your child’s privacy. Check with your state’s licensing board and practice act and see if there is a clause about privacy and confidentiality and if you can prove it was violated. File a complaint. Yes, this is a dramatic response and should only be done in worst case scenarios. I’m telling you just so that you know you have options.
Medication really has no role in the IEP process, other than as an accommodation (such as a water bottle at their desk, or unlimited bathroom trips). It certainly has no place on the front page of the IEP, so if it’s there, remove it!
And, if any of those other issues come up. Suppose your child is discriminated against, they try to withhold services or remove the IEP. Then you fight like hell, knowing that the law is on your side. Find an advocate, or join our Facebook group for assistance.
Medication in lieu of services?
But I thought of a different scenario this morning. My son is non-verbal. He’s been attending speech therapy for 10 years, still doesn’t talk. For argument’s sake, let’s say that is his only disability. In every other way, he is normal. If there was a pill, that was proven to work and proven safe with limited side effects, that would enable him to talk…I would start it today. And, let’s say every time I forgot to give him a pill, or we ran out…boom, back to no talking. I would still give it and try my hardest to not forget. And I would rip up that speech IEP and never look back.
But that’s not a choice everyone would make. Some kids do really well on meds and need little to no assistance. Still, parents want them to be able to cope and adapt for when they are not on meds. Like I said, it’s a personal and parenting choice.
Medication management is a life skill. A child/young adult must be able to manage their own medications if they are ever going to live independently. Make sure it is added to your child’s transition plan if they need it.
My personal opinion and situation: My son is on many medications for seizures. And if you know anything about seizure management, meds are always being adjusted and changed. So yes, his teacher and school nurse know. The nurse knows which ones, and she helps me with day to day stuff. The teacher merely knows he is on meds. I assume she doesn’t bother memorizing which ones since they always call the nurse if there is an incident. And, I always inform the nurse and the teacher when we are doing med changes. I need their input on behavior, mood and seizure frequency when we are adjusting his meds.