“I am having a difficult time getting my son’s high school on board with helping him to get accommodations for his bipolar diagnosis. He has had issues with substances at the same time. The school blames his school performance on that issue, instead of helping him with the bipolar issue. Do I have any recourse? What kinds of accommodations should I ask for?”
The first thing you should ask for is an I.E.P. (an Individual Education Plan). For a proper definition you can go here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individualized_Education_Program. Basically it’s a plan tailor made to fit an individual’s education needs in order for him/her to succeed. Once you request one of these the school by law under the disability act has to evaluate him for one and they only have a set number of weeks to start it. The evaluation will in tale getting documentation from his teachers on his behavior and his grades, advisement from others who come into contact with him, and most importantly documentation from his doctor explaining what is going on with him on a medical level.
As far as the substance abuse is concerned most people with bipolar at one time or another have had some type of addiction, whether it be drugs or alcohol. This is what is called a duel diagnosis. It is also referred to as self-medicating. The drugs do (or seem to do) what most of our prescription medications are supposed to do. They numb the pain. Unfortunately with street drugs the numbing is short lived and we always end up going back for more and more. Hence the addiction. We don’t stop to realize the trouble or problems the addiction is causing ourselves or the loved ones around us.
Once the school does their evaluation and looks at all the doctor’s notes they will have a conference with you to go over everything they have decided. At that time you will get to put in your two cents worth too. I must warn you it is possible for a school to decide an IEP is not necessary. At that point ask for a 504 plan. You can find the explanation for a 504 plan here http://specialchildren.about.com/od/504s/f/504faq1.htm . Basically It states that no child will be left out of any federally funded activity (school) due to disability or impairment and it lists the accommodations that will be necessary for said individual in order to participate with his/her peers. Its not as strictly written or well versed as an IEP, but it will keep him out of trouble.
Fight for your IEP. I went thru three schools and a year and a half before I finally got my daughters IEP in place. (there were extenuating circumstances). But she was going downhill fast without it and now that she has it in place she is practically on the honor roll. Another option is while you are waiting for your IEP go ahead and get a 504 plan in place just to cover all your bases. That’s what we did with my daughter. Your son is protected under the Americans with disabilities Act. Don’t let that school push you around. They will try. They will try to act like they know best or more, educate yourself. Search the internet. Look up IEP’s and 504 plans. Come at them armed to the teeth. But remember you catch more flies with honey.