Behaviorial problems and Suspensions of Children with Disabilities

The topic of suspensions of children with disabilities has been heavy on my mind lately. Apparently it’s common practice for teachers and principals to treat children with disabilities, with IEPs in place, as if they had no disabilities or IEPs.  By that I mean they simply read the education code about discipline procedures and apply it immediately, with complete disregard to legal protections in place for this student population. In doing so, they demonstrate once again, their non-exposure to federal or California law about processes that apply to children with disabilities who require discipline.

Don’t let this happen to your child! Know what IDEA and California codes say about what a district must do when behavior problems are such that suspension (or expulsion) are real possibilities.

From the Community Alliance for Special Education (CASE) book titled, “Special Education Rights and Responsibilities,” chapter 8 “Information on Discipline of Students with Disabilities”, we see clear guidance that is not well known by administrators, principals and teachers. Print it out and give it to them – you’re doing them all (and your child) a favor!

Question 24. My child has behavior problems that may put her at risk of suspension and/or expulsion. Are there any special services or protections that apply to her?
In 1990, the California Legislature enacted Assembly Bill 2586 (Hughes). This bill, and especially its accompanying regulations at Title 5, California Code of Regulations (5 C.C.R.) Sections 3001 and 3052 have substantially changed the way school districts must serve special education students with serious behavior problems. These regulations do not apply to students who are only identified as “disabled” under Section 504 or to any other students. [*Grace’s note: yet another reason to ensure with child with a disability has an IEP, not a Section 504 plan!]
If your child is enrolled in special education and exhibits a serious behavior problem, the district must provide a functional analysis assessment by a behavior intervention case manager — who must have training and experience in positive behavior intervention. The behavior intervention case manager must develop a positive behavior intervention plan which:
(1) Identifies the function of the negative behavior for your child and
(2) Teaches him positive replacement behaviors that accomplish the same objectives but in a socially appropriate way.
A “serious behavior problem” is a behavior problem which:
(1) Is self-injurious or assaultive;
(2) Causes serious property damage; or
(3) Is severe, pervasive, and maladaptive and for which instructional/behavioral approaches specified in the student’s IEP are found to be ineffective.
[5 C.C.R. Sec. 3001(aa).]
When agreed upon by the IEP team, the positive behavior intervention plan becomes part of your child’s IEP. It must contain goals and objectives specific to the targeted behaviors, and it must describe the services to be provided in order to achieve the goals and objectives. [5 C.C.R Sec. 3001(f).] The behavior interventions selected by the case manager must be positive. That is, they must respect your child’s dignity and privacy, assure her physical freedom, social interaction, and individual choice, help her learn to interact effectively socially, assure her access to education in the least restrictive environment, and result in lasting positive change. [5 C.C.R. Sec. 3001(d).]
Positive behavior interventions shall be used only to replace specified negative behaviors with acceptable behaviors and shall never be used solely to eliminate maladaptive behaviors. [5 C.C.R. Sec. 3052(a)(2).] In other words, districts should not use techniques that simply contain or suppress maladaptive behaviors — they must simultaneously try to teach appropriate substitute behaviors.

Additionally, there is clear language in IDEA 2004 on what school districts are required to do when children with disabilities exhibit behavioral problems. It’s especially important to be aware of this language and your child’s rights, long before the child is started down the path of suspension, manifestation determination and expulsion.

Wrightslaw maintains an excellent depository of information specific to Behavior Problems & Discipline. You may want to start with this Frequently Asked Questions Document from the Office of Special Education.

Be sure to read the information about Functional Behavior Assessments (FBA) and Behavior Intervention Plans (BIP).

You and your child would be well served to request, in writing, a Functional Behavior Assessment at the very first sign of behavior trouble in school. From that a BIP is developed, with specific intervention strategies based understanding the root cause of the behaviors.

From that, the child can be taught appropriate behavior substitutions so that the behaviors are nipped in the bud and do not escalate. To reverse and minimize these types of behaviors requires these intentional, methodical steps. You as a parent must lead the IEP team down this path with your knowledge to save yourself and your child years of hard times in school.

Otherwise, there’s a high potential for escalating behaviors that are never understood, leading to suspensions and beyond because the people in your child’s school simply do not understand what the law requires them to do. Here’s your chance to become the expert, bring information to the IEP team, and help them avoid a non-compliance situation later.

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