Saturday, August 24, 2013

Discipline of Children With Disabilities: More Fun With Numbers

Handicap sign
Handicap sign (Photo credit: MattGrommes)

According to a series of reports by UCLA's Civil Rights Project, there may be some serious issues pertaining to the discipline of children with disabilities. For example, about one in five secondary school students with disabilities was suspended, more than three times the rate for students without disabilities.  Also 36% of all African-American students with disabilities were suspended at least once. The information was compiled from  the 2009-2010 school year Civil Rights Data Collection by the DOE's Office of Civil Rights.

Our friends at the Council for Exceptional Children pointed out this problem, and they have called for changes in the way that the CRDC collects data. 

IDEA imposes special rules regarding discipline of students with disabilities.  The reason why disciplinary actions are regulated by the special education law is that before passage of the law's predecessor, it was common for school officials to exclude children with disabilities by expelling them and giving them long suspensions. This series of abuses was reflected in the legislative history of the law, and it is discussed in detail in the seminal Rowley decision.  We have discussed this matter in more detail in our previous series on Special Ed Law 101.

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  1. I am a college student at APSU majoring in special education and this blog has given me some very helpful and useful information. I believe it is important to keep up to date with the laws and regulations concerning children with disabilities. It is more important that we make sure these special children are being treated fairly, as if they did not have a disability(s).
    -Ms. Cox

  2. Thank you Ms. Cox,

    Please keep studying and reading this blog!


  3. Disproportionality in discipline is a hot-button issue right now, in terms of both race and special education status. My district is currently working closely with a state-funded advisor to solve issues of disproportionality. The number of suspensions and expulsions of our African-American and special education students far outweighed the enrollment numbers of these same students. The superintendent is holding monthly Saturday trainings for every school’s leadership team, who then take the information back to their school sites and share with the rest of the staff. While I fully believe this is valuable information of which all teachers need to be aware, as a special education teacher I have personally felt the repercussions of these efforts. I take care of nearly all my students’ discipline issues within the walls of my own classroom, but there was one instance in which a student who committed a serious assault did not receive the suspension I believe was warranted. My principal commented about not being allowed many suspensions for special education students. I believe if a general education student had committed the same assault, s/he would have been suspended without hesitation.

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  5. The history of student suspension has stayed relatively the same with not much change. There seems to be disproportionality such that African American students with a disability are the most likely candidate for being suspended within the school district. This creates a huge issue in special education. State and federal laws regarding due process and compliance require school districts to treat each student equally and thereby assist in resolving the issue of disproportionality. The disproportionality of students related to suspension rates comes in part from some educators lacking knowledge on how to effectively discipline a child with a disability and a lack of willingness and desire by some educators in attempting to resolve the problem.

    I think that as educators, it is important for us to know, understand, and remain up-to-date with the current laws, regulations, and educational codes which pertain to upholding the legality of being a professional leader and educator for our students. In so doing, we will be following the rules of IDEA and helping to minimize the disproportionality suspension rates by students with linguistic, racial, and cultural differences. One method that can help us as educators achieve this is by demonstrating the necessary classroom management skills and using them on a consistent basis with every student, thus treating each student equally. If educators show favoritism towards a student regarding classroom management, we could be promoting the disproportionality of student suspensions. Best practice research demonstrates that educational leaders need to be aware of and work to resolve student suspension disproportionality. By setting and incorporating standards and expectations that all students are to be treated fairly and equally, educational leaders and teachers can collaboratively work together to prevent the disproportionality that exists related to student suspensions.

  6. Disproportionality can be a huge struggle for schools. It is something that many schools nationwide are struggling with and hoping to change. However, this change cannot come overnight. I feel that it is important to note all that is being done prior to the suspensions such as behavior support plans, positive reinforcement, and teaching of replacement behaviors.

    Working at a school where disproportionality has become an issue, the educational staff is working to change the school climate to one that is more positive and teaches students how to behave while at school. Code-switching is the term used that entails teaching students to switch their behavior from what is common in their own house, or neighborhood, to a school appropriate behavior. Lesson plans have been developed to teach students in both general education classes and special education classes how to speak in the classroom, and move within the halls of the school. Change takes time, and with data being analyzed now more than ever before, I believe that the disproportionality can be changed.

  7. First off, I agree that suspending a student, especially one with a disability, does not solve the issue at hand in most cases. On top of that, it gets the student even further behind in his/her classes and the student loses out on crucial opportunities to work on their problem behaviors.
    I had a student last year who was mildly intellectually disabled,and he had some language issues that made it difficult for him to express himself properly. In one instance I asked to see his pencil so I could transcribe his verbal response for him and he stabbed me between the fingers when handing me the pencil. He then laughed and did so until I asked him to leave the classroom when he then finally apologized for his action. He was eventually taken to the office and suspended for two days.
    Now this was very frustrating to me because I was attempting to help the student and to help make things easier for him when he did this, but I know looking back on things that he was just messing around. He was frustrated with the work and I think in his head he kind of wanted to stab me with his pencil, but he knew that would be wrong. He just had no idea how to properly react after the act actually occurred and that made it a worse offense to me. I was really just making sure that the event was documented just in case this type of thing continued to happen. I believe that he would have benefited more if he would have just stayed in school and met with his teachers. He obviously had trouble with social norms and basic communication. These are things that could have been addressed at school; probably not so at home.
    The kicker to this story is that when he did come back and we implemented a BSP (behavioral support plan), I could not find an appropriate award for positive behavior. He wanted to play shooting games or listen to very offensive rap music. Candy and free time worked for a couple of weeks, but those soon lost their ability to satiate the student. When I finally broke down and asked the student explicitly what he liked, he said, "I just like to do bad things". At that point I was at a loss on what to do with him.
    Though all stories are not like this, I figured I would share this one to illustrate the large gray area involved when dealing with some of the students with disabilities. I do not think suspension should be the first mode of discipline, but I can definitely see the times when it may be the most appropriate for the safety of the majority.

  8. Thnk you for your thoughts Anthony

  9. Thanks also to Kristin, Kelly and Lisa


  10. I am currently an instructional aide in a Autism specific Special Day Class, working on my Master's in special education and I have a son who is labeled Emotionally Disturbed. I have so much to say about this topic, more so from my view as a parent, but partially as an educator too. I think number one it is important to understand the function of the behavior before suspension. If a student is having negative behaviors because they cannot communicate, then we as educators need to work on helping them communicate versus suspending them. If a student is acting out to avoid a task then suspending them is possibly going to increase the problem behavior. I feel that a suspension is only necessary if the offence was out of malice.

    In the classroom I work in there are many behaviors that happen that in a normal classes would be grounds for suspension. However, most of the time a suspension would do nothing to help the problem behavior. As educators in the classroom we work hard to plan and change the classroom environment accordingly to prevent the problem behaviors. For instance, on student in the class targets one particular student in the class when he is angry. He will hit scratch and throw things at the other student when anything agitates him. The first week of school we had an incident almost daily until we learned the predictors of the behavior. We have worked with the aggressive student to help communicate their feelings without physical violence and we have moved the target student across the room from the aggressive student. We also make sure that they are not grouped together during small groups and if we notice signs of agitation we are close proximity of the aggressive student. The student was never suspended because we handled it within our classroom. If he were to be suspended then he would have missed out on valuable instruction time to learn the social skills not to react with physical aggression.

  11. Continued from my last post: I had the opposite experience however with my son when he was in the first grade. Where he was suspended the maximum amount of days allowed (10) and was sent home early 3 out of 5 days a week. At the time I had no clue about special education law and just went along with what the school said. This was the same year that he was assessed and qualified for special education services under emotional disturbance. The sad part about most of these suspensions is that he was never physically aggressive towards other people, but towards property when he was really angry. He was suspended for various things such as pushing his desk over, throwing a handful of pencils and running from teachers. All of those times he was sent home early were due to things like hiding under his desk, screaming non-stop, and ripping up his paper refusing to work. He did not have a BSP and the function of his behavior was clearly task avoidance and the school helped him achieve the task avoidance again and again. As a parent I feel that the school completely failed my son. They made a rule for my son that if he was not picked up within 15 minutes of a call to us that he would be suspended instead of just sent home. Basically it was a nightmare and an extreme case I hope other children and families are not treated this way.

    Now fast forward 3 years and my son is now in 4th grade. I feel stupid for letting that school treat him and us that way, but I have learned from that experience. We moved to another district in the 2cnd grade and he has flourished. He has a BSP and is never sent home just for crying. We were clear in our IEP meetings that this does not work. Every year he has improved and he is now at a point that he can come out of throwing a fit and get back to work. He is able to go to the principal's office to calm down and has much more control over his situation. I still remember his 2cnd grade teacher saying to us a month into the year that she couldn't believe our son was the same boy she read about it all of the paperwork from the other school. She was thinking his behavior was going to be way out of control. I felt this was proof at the other schools abuse of suspension.

    Again what I have learned from this as a parent is to stand up for things that you don't feel are right and as an educator to understand the function of the behavior to find appropriate discipline.