A month into my son’s kindergarten year a new little boy was moved into his classroom. This little boy had been causing problems in his original classroom and the teacher couldn’t handle him so he was moved into my son’s class. During his time in kindergarten this little boy got suspended over and over again for various violent misdeeds. My son tries very hard to avoid trouble and managed to stay out of his way for all of kindergarten. The school administration did nothing more for this child then to continue to discipline the little boy. The parents were not aware of special education laws and the school administration did nothing to help this child. Turns out he had Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) which is defined as a pattern of disobedient, hostile, and defiant behavior toward authority figures and others.
When first grade started this little boy was again assigned to my son’s classroom. My son being a special education child is obsessive about following the rules and trying to keep things calm and orderly. My son and this other little boy were seated next to each other but with an empty chair in between because he could not be trusted to sit next to anyone. Unfortunately, without help his violent outbursts were getting worse. The teacher passed a box around the room and asked each child to remove one piece of paper and one pencil from the box and pass it down. When the other little boy sitting next to my son took two pencils from the box all hell broke loose. My son in his best rule following voice told the other little boy that he was only allowed to take one pencil. This is about the time my son was attacked and punched. Physically he was actually fine after the incident but emotionally my son was a wreck. He doesn’t understand violence at all, and would never hurt a fly, so why would this other child want to hit him. Within the next few weeks this other child got suspended three times for hitting my son, choking another child and threatening to kill another child.
I had mixed emotions about what was going on in the classroom at this point. First, I had to protect my child from an increasingly dangerous situation and second, this other child needed help and the school was not doing their job. My wife and I also used the incident at school as a learning tool for our son. He learned that it is not his job to police the classroom and that is why the teacher is there. Even though he desired order and structure it doesn’t mean he needs to make sure everyone around him follows the rules. When he doesn’t like what is going on in a situation he can always walk away and do something else or if he thinks it’s necessary go find a teacher and tell them what is going on.
We did two things to try and remedy the situation at this point. First, my wife spoke to the Mother of the little boy and explained to her about special education laws and that it was time to have him assessed. His ODD was affecting his ability to access the curriculum because he was always suspended, couldn’t follow directions in class and had no friends because they were all afraid of him. The School has an obligation to assess any child they feel might have a suspected disability but they dropped the ball. Discipline alone was never going to change the behavior of this child. What he needed was counseling, a functional behavior analysis, and then a behavior intervention plan that would start molding his behavior in a positive manner. What the rest of the children needed was immediate relief from his violence in the form of adult supervision. The second thing we did, with the teachers help, was have the parents of the victimized children write letters to the principal. These letters put the school on notice that they were responsible for these acts of violence because they let them continue and did nothing to stop them. Our letter in particular went on to explain that my son is a child with a disability and that as Principal, and someone with the authority to stop the harassment, if it continued they could become personally liable for a civil lawsuit under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the American Disabilities Act. This letter, known as a Gebser letter, has ten elements that should be included. You might want to consult with a special education attorney if your child with a disability is being harassed or bullied in school to make sure the letter is written correctly.
After the letter writing campaign and the parents request for a special education assessment the child was finally approved for special education services. He received an aide in the classroom and on the playground for the immediate protection of the children around him. He was also given the services needed to start helping the disability rather than just continuing to suspend him. It was very difficult for me to separate my feelings as a parent whose child got victimized and what was best for the other child. At the end of the day, special education laws are there to protect all children with a disability and I can’t ask the School to protect my child without also asking for them to help all children with a disability.