The Wrightslaw Way

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Can We Hear a Little about What Teachers Have to Deal With?

by Sue Whitney

I’m responding to a request from a special education teacher who asked if I would “tell our side of it.” She wrote:

Teachers are getting more and more students who say “I don’t have to listen or learn or stop harassing or assaulting others.”

We are expected to try and teach students who WANT to learn while attempting to deal with the others who REFUSE to let others learn.

Maybe we should set up classes for Conduct Disordered students. It’s not FAPE for a mild to moderate student to be forced to daily deal with sociopaths.

For every parent concerned about their child, we have ten who say “What do you want from me? I can’t do anything with him, he’s worse at home!”

When every student has to pass Algebra 1 to graduate, can you imagine how difficult it is to bend the Standards to have an SDC student with 3rd grade level abilities pass Algebra? The alternative is a certificate and no diploma, so both students and teachers are crushed between unreasonable expectations.

We’re torn between trying to teach and trying to advocate and sometimes just trying to survive.

Please tell our side of it.

Sometimes teachers do write to me. Here’s what they ask about.

Reading and Retention

Most teachers write about retention.

And reading.

Behavior and Discipline

The Wrightslaw section on Behavior and Discipline has information about functional behavior assessments, expulsion, manifestation of disability, and alternative placements.


The FAPE section on Wrightslaw makes your point that FAPE for a child with mild to moderate needs is not met when they are forced to daily deal with sociopaths in order to attend school.

  • And what would happen to you if you called an IEP meeting to address that issue?


I suspect that the overall most frustrating thing many teachers deal with in order to be able to continue to teach, is that if…

they truly advocated for their students, truly did what they are expected to do under IDEA and Section 504,

…they would risk losing their jobs altogether.

The Wrightslaw Retaliation section contains case law and articles about parents, teachers, and students, who were retaliated against by school districts.

Jury Awards 1 Million to Fired Special Ed Teacher. Oregon jury sends a strong message to a school district that retaliated against a special ed teacher who advocated for her students. This “inside story” includes links to the pleadings in this landmark retaliation case. (Note: Subsequently, the school district appealed. On April 5, 2004, the U. S. Court of Appeals reversed a magistrate judge and upheld the jury verdict for Pamella Settlegoode.)
Download the decision in Pamella Settlegoode v. Portland Oregon in pdf or in html

Linda Sturm v. Rocky Hill Bd of Ed, U. S. District Court of Connecticut. Special ed teacher can bring suit against the school district who did not renew her contract because Section 504 includes anti-retaliation provisions and courts have extended protection against retaliation for those who advocate for the disabled. (2005)

Teachers, Principals, and Paraprofessionals

The Teacher Litigation section of the Teachers, Principals, and Paraprofessionals page has links to court cases and articles about cases where school personnel advocated for students.

Linda McGreevy v. Stroup, Tsosie, Soltis, Bermudian Springs Sch. District – U. S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that school administrators may be officially and individually liable for retaliating against a school nurse who advocated for children with disabilities.

Doing the Right Thing: Court Vindicates School Nurse in Retaliation Case – Linda McGreevy is a licensed professional nurse, a pediatric nurse practitioner, and a certified school nurse. During the first five years when she worked as a school nurse in the Bermudian Springs Elementary School, she received excellent performance evaluations. Suddenly, her evaluations dropped to unsatisfactory levels. What caused her fall from grace?

Pamella Settlegoode v. Portland Public Schools – U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upholds jury award of one million dollars to fired special ed teacher; importance of free speech for teachers. (April 2004)

Retaliation! The Inside Story of the One Million Dollar Verdict

Help for Teachers Who Are Being Pushed Out of Their Jobs – Describes requirements for highly qualified teachers, how teachers can demonstrate competence in subjects they teach, professional development & training, responsibilities, and timelines.

Fales v. Garst: Analysis of Teachers’ Lawsuit Against Principal. Three teachers alleged that principal violated their rights to freedom of speech and association by instructing them not to discuss incidents regarding special education students and their rights to equal protection by lowering their evaluations.

Fales v. Garst. Decision by U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit attempts to balance the teachers’ interest in free speech versus their employer’s interest in efficiency.

Also on that page is a link to an article by Rick Lavoie.  Personally, it makes me a little sick to my stomach as an American to think that this article needed to be written, but I am grateful that it was.

Fighting the Good Fight: How to Advocate for Your Students without Losing Your Job by Rick Lavoie. One of the greatest blessings of my professional life is the opportunity I have to talk with hundreds and hundreds of my Special Education colleagues. These conversations confirm my long-held belief that some of the finest people on the planet are toiling daily in America’s classrooms…and particularly in our Special Education programs! LDonline (2008)

Good luck with your journey.

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2 Comments on "Can We Hear a Little about What Teachers Have to Deal With?"

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02/10/2014 4:01 pm

My 14-year-old son now in 8th Grade is an Aspie, medicated for ADHD, in reg ed classes, has As and a couple of Bs on his report card. It took a bit of butt-kicking, but I think he’s seeing the light. Whenever I have contact with my son’s teachers from school about a behavior problem, they get no argument from me – our son is NOT allowed to act up or out in school and is to follow directions. In fact, I’ve said several times this past year that if he acts up, he is to be removed from… Read more »

02/10/2014 3:17 pm

Wow! I get what she is saying. My son is on an iep. As are most the kids of the kids ipthat were in his math class. Two of the students were so disruptive in their behavior it was causing my sons anxiety to go through the roof. I felt to much time was being spent on telling my son to ignore it…my son has autism so you can imagine how that technique worked! I kept thinking how is my son getting fape in this environment? And why did it take over half the school year before the child… Read more »