Student drug users may qualify for 504 services

Lisa Yates

In many cases, alcohol or drug addiction is a symptom of an underlying mental or physical impairment. With the new designer drugs, mental and physical impairments are being created anew.

Mental health professionals warn that designer drugs (synthetic drugs with street names like spice, bath salts, Hurricane Charlie and Mojo) are highly unpredictable with dangerous side effects. In fact, recent headlines tell of a man who ate a face of another man while on bath salts; and, several teen suicides have resulted from teenagers hallucinating on bath salts.

Ken Ducote, a licensed psychotherapist in Baton Rouge, said he’s seen a number of young people using designer drugs admitted to the hospital ER where he works.

“There have been documented cases of permanent psychosis, brain trauma, suicidal and homicidal reactions to the ingestion of these substances,” he said. “Before law enforcement banned the sale of some of these substances, we were seeing two to three cases each weekend in the ER.”

He described these patients as “psychotic and violent.”

“A lot of kids never recover and get back to their normal baseline of behavior,” he said. “There’s usually some kind of cognitive deficiency associated with these types of drugs.”

As a result, he said some of these young people may qualify for special services under Section 504 and ADA.

What is section 504?

Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that prohibits discrimination based upon disability. Section 504 is an anti-discrimination, civil rights statute that requires the needs of students with disabilities to be met as adequately as the needs of the non-disabled are met.

As defined by law: “An individual with a disability means any person who: (i) has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity; (ii) has a record of such impairment; or (iii) is regarded as having such an impairment.”

This may include conditions such as specific learning disabilities, diabetes, epilepsy and allergies. Even so-called hidden disabilities such as low vision, poor hearing, heart disease or chronic illness may be considered a disability under the law.

What about student drug users?

Tammy Blanchard, school counselor at Dutchtown High School in Ascension Parish, said Section 504’s definition of a student with a disability does not exclude drug users, unless the student is caught with or using drugs while at school.

“If there is a problem in the classroom where the child is using drugs at school, then it becomes a disciplinary issue and referred to one of the principals,” she said.

Blanchard said the disciplinary action is necessary for safety in the classroom. She said disciplinary action involves notifying the parents and suspending the student, no matter what kind of drugs are involved.

“If drugs are involved, we can provide parents with information about resources in the community – programs and facilities where they can go for help,” she said, noting counseling professionals take a disease approach to drug and alcohol abuse.

When it comes to Section 504, Blanchard said there’s an evaluation procedure. She said there’s a building level committee that does the screening and it’s usually a 60-day process to determine if special education modifications are needed.

“Anybody can be referred for anything,” she said. “There’s no guarantee of an outcome. But during that time, the teacher will try to make accommodations to help the child even without more formal documentation.”

Even though designer drugs are relatively new, Blanchard said the Ascension Parish School Board is providing information to teachers making them aware of this growing threat to children.

“Linda Lamendola’s office provides us with professional development as far as substance abuse is concerned,” she said. “It gets cumbersome keeping up with all of the new drugs that are out there. We try to keep updated on everything all at one time, usually once or twice a year.”

She added Linda Lamendola is Coordinator of Student Services for Ascension Parish Schools.

Parent involvement is critical

Blanchard said the best drug treatment program is prevention. She said parental involvement is the key to prevention.

“Stay involved in your child’s life,” she said. “Know who their friends are and get to know their parents. Make sure that you share the same values. That’s made things easier for me as a parent.”

She said create positive peer pressure.

What disturbs her is hearing reports of parents providing liquor to teenagers at parties. Blanchard said that’s definitely not good parenting, but someone who wants to be their child’s friend instead of a parent. She said children need strong parents and other good role models in their lives.

“It’s important to surround yourself and your child with a strong support system,” she said. “The old saying is true. It takes a village to raise a child.”