November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month (NEAM). Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes recurrent seizures. 3.4 million people in the United States live with epilepsy, including 470,000 children. Epilepsy (sometimes referred to as a seizure disorder) presents differently in different people. Some people experience seizures with motor involvement, also known as tonic-clonic seizures. Other people experience seizures without motor involvement. These are also known as absence seizures.
Given the prevalence of epilepsy in the general population, about 6 students in a school of 1,000 are expected to have epilepsy. Whatever type of seizure a student experiences, schools must provide students with the individualized support they need to safely attend school, learn and fully access their school environment.
Depending on how epilepsy impacts a particular student, a student may qualify for an Individual Education Program (IEP) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or a Section 504 plan under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Schools may also put Health Alerts or Individualized Health Care Plans in place, to include a Seizure Action Plan.
Students with epilepsy may also be protected under state law. For instance, under Virginia law, parents of students with seizure disorders may provide their child’s school with a seizure management and action plan developed by the student’s doctor. The plan would identify needed health care services and specify medication to be administered when the student has a seizure. Virginia law also requires school divisions to train school nurses and other staff in seizure recognition and related first aid.
For more information about creating a school Seizure Action Plan, or accessing support through an IEP or a 504 plan, parents can contact their child’s school nurse, principal or Parent Resource Center. Parents may also wish to consult their child’s medical providers, and consider the resources available through the Epilepsy Foundation, the American Academy of Pediatrics or the CDC. For more information about Virginia’s school seizure management requirements, see Pizer Law’s July 1, 2022 blog post New Virginia Law for Seizure Management in Schools.