School Discipline and Your Child with Special Needs

If you have a child with a Section 504 Plan or who receives special education services under an IEP, it’s important to know that your child may have some additional rights to either address helping him behave more appropriately in school, or when he does not, help ensure that the responses to his inappropriate behaviors are productive rather than punitive.

One such right for children with disabilities who have behavioral issues is the right to a positive behavior plan, which is a specific guide to help staff and the child.  Too often such plans are thrown together and focused solely on how to react to inappropriate behaviors.  Such plans can and should address much more.

A well crafted behavior plan is based on a Functional Behavioral Assessment, which should help identify the reasons for the behaviors.  Such assessments should be conducted by a psychologist or a Board Certified Behavioral Analyst who will take data over at least several days and across types of settings (academic, lunch, etc.).   It is generally not possible to create proper planning without having a reasonable grasp on the underlying causes of the behaviors.

The Plan itself can and should address all of the following:  should modifications in curriculum or delivery be made to reduce the triggers of the behaviors; when triggers occur, what can be done to redirect the Child’s responses into something appropriate before inappropriate responses take control;  and how exactly to respond when inappropriate responses do take control.  Most important, but often overlooked — what can we be working on now with the Child so that the need for the Plan will eventually be reduced?  In other words, what can we do to train the Child over time so that he or she can modify their behaviors on their own?

Remember too that your Child’s Plan can override what would otherwise apply under the Student Code of Conduct if you can get specific alternatives written into the plan.  One rather simple example that Districts often agree to is to have someone from the CST or otherwise familiar with your child and his issues called into any disciplinary decision making that will impact your child before the decision is actually made.  Having the school psychologist in the room with the Assistant Principal can often alter the consequences that the administrator would otherwise impose.  The Plan can also require that certain steps in consequences take place before application of the consequences in the Code.

The time to request a plan or to revise your child’s plan for next year is coming close, and it’s certainly not too soon to start considering the above issues and to make your own agenda for the upcoming meetings.   The more specific the written document, the more accountable the staff will be.

Your child also has other rights with respect to school discipline — such as the right to a manifestation meeting under certain circumstances.  That and other rights will be discussed in other blogs.

Keep up the advocacy for your children!Student Advocate Lawyer