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IDEA DISCIPLINE RULES ENSURE CONTINUED SCHOOLING FOR VIOLENT STUDENTS
Sunday, April 19, 2009
WASHINGTON -- Schools can no longer drop educational services for special education students while they are suspended from school for violent incidents, under new regulations approved this spring for the 1997 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This may become a difficult issue for schools that do not have the resources to continue educating a student in an "alternative setting," as prescribed by the law, American Institutes of Research Senior Research Scientist Mary Magee Quinn says.
Outlining the new rules during the American Federation of Teachers' QuEST '99 Conference, Quinn noted the rules require a school district to continue educating a suspended student in an alternative setting if the suspension lasts longer than 10 days. The students must get all services required for them to continue progressing under their individualized education plans, and any therapies prescribed in the IEP must also be provided as scheduled, the rules state.
The continuation of services rule, as well as several other complexities in the new regulations, helped draw dozens of teachers and other faculty members to hear Quinn speak at the four-day teachers' conference. As deputy director of the Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice, Quinn and her staff have studied the new regulations and consulted with government officials and attorneys to clarify the new rules and help school districts implement the changes. The center also offers extensive information about IDEA '97 and other special education issues on its Internet site: www.air-dc.org/cecp/.
Defining the Problem
Among other confusing issues: determining whether the student's conduct is a manifestation of his or her disability and whether the conduct is part of a larger pattern. For the purposes of determining how a school district can discipline special ed. students who exhibit violent behavior, those questions can determine whether the student is treated like a mainstream student or one who is not accountable for his or her actions. For example, if the student's action is deemed not a manifestation of his or her disability, the student can be suspended for as long as school policy says a general ed. student would be suspended. The difference, however, is the special ed. student must receive educational services after the first 10 days of the suspension.
If the student frequently or repeatedly breaks rules, even if they seem like different rules and separate incidents, the student may be exhibiting a pattern of behavior that calls for a change in his or her IEP, Quinn noted. One red flag that could indicate such a pattern is the repeated suspension of the student. While special ed. students may be repeatedly suspended for up to 10 days at a time for various rule violations, they must be reevaluated if those suspensions constitute a pattern of behavior.
Getting to the Root of the Problem
If a special ed. student is removed for more than 10 cumulative days from school, a functional behavioral assessment must be conducted, according to the law. However, IDEA does not specify what the assessment should be, Quinn said. CECP offers what it calls "best practices" or guidelines to reevaluating students. Quinn also argued IEP teams should take the assessments seriously rather than consider it another mandatory set of forms to fill out to keep a child in school. "If you have to do a functional assessment, you might as well do it to the point where you are actually going to get information you can use from it," she told the teachers. "It's a long process, but it does yield very good information that will make your lives as teachers infinitely easier."
In addition to continuing services for suspended special ed. students and reassessing whether their IEPs are appropriate and effective, Quinn said the law requires IEP teams to add a behavioral intervention plan to students' IEPs if they do not already have them. Before IDEA '97, only 8 percent of students with behavioral problems had such intervention plans in place, she said. The intervention plan should be based on conclusions the IEP team draws from the functional behavioral assessment, Quinn said, and should incorporate other people and settings in the child's life besides school. For example, she said, families, peer support programs, speech and language therapists and community agencies, such as religious or community programs, can all reinforce the positive behaviors the IEP team is trying to teach a child.8