Nothing upsets me greater than when a child is continually disciplined at School when the behavior is obviously a manifestation of their disability. The Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) has set up specific discipline rules to follow when this occurs. My problem is when these ruled aren’t followed and the child is thus denied their right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Before I expand on how I have seen schools skirt their legal responsibility with regard to discipline in the United States, I’m going take a moment to address what is happening elsewhere in the world regarding this issue.
I came across this article yesterday from the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, “Parents of disabled children rebel against suspensions”. The first thing that jumped out at me from the article was:
One boy from Wagga Wagga, with a mild intellectual disability and emotional disorder, was suspended three times for a total of 80 days as an eight-year-old.
Since students in Australia attend school for approximately 200 days an 80 day suspension means the child missed 40% of the School year. There is no way this boy is receiving an education if he missed 40% of the School year.
The article went on to discuss the plight of Julie Black and her family. Julie Black’s daughter a 15 year old with a disability had been suspended 6 times. Julie had managed to get 5 of the suspensions overturned through appeals but was still struggling with the school district every day.
I was able to connect with Julie on a Facebook via a fan page for Autism Mothers. Julie wrote:
Since this article was in the paper, my 15 year old daughter has been suspended two more times including right now. She has had 17 days suspension (so far) in the last two months (and there was a 2 weeks school holiday in the middle of that). I have had many meetings with the school but it achieves nothing. They decide on some strategies (which they then fail to implement) and then she goes back to school for a few days and then they suspend her again.
I am taking this matter to the Federal Court and to the Australian Human Rights Commission etc. I want to get national attention to this issue.
I applaud Julie and the other families in Australia for taking on this fight and I wish them all the best. It makes me realize that while IDEA isn’t perfect if you understand the rules and the process regarding discipline, it can be an effective tool to safeguard children with a disability and provide positive intervention strategies.
With that being said, here are some tips to remember when dealing with negative behaviors and discipline:
1. In the case of a child whose behavior impedes the child’s learning or that of others, consider the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports, and other strategies, to address that behavior;
2. Before writing a behavior plan first conduct a functional behavior assessment; Starting behavior interventions strategies without first figuring out the function of the behavior can makes things worse;
3. Parent input into the behavior plan is crucial;
4. Parent training is crucial so that the behavioral interventions strategies can be carried over to the home environment as well.
5. If the child is sent home from School for negative behaviors without a suspension, this is still considered a removal from the educational setting. IDEA requires an IEP be held to determine if the behavior is a manifestation of the child’s disability when the child has been removed for more than ten consecutive school days or the child has been subjected to a series of removals that constitute a pattern for more than 10 days;
6. Removals from the classroom for an extended period of time SHOULD NOT be part of your long term behavior intervention plan. If the child is not in the classroom they CANNOT learn;
7. Last but not least, you may have to consider the current school or class placement is not appropriate for your child.
Behavior and discipline for Children with a disability is extremely complicated but it is the obligation of the School to assess, structure, and execute positive behavior interventions and supports. It is also important that to the extent that the current behavior plan isn’t working that it is reviewed and modified to address the ongoing behavior so that it does not recur.