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Doing Your Homework:
Behavior Problems: It Isn't Okay Just to Teach the Easy Kids
by Sue Whitney, Research Editor, Wrightslaw

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boy playing gameboy My son Josh is in the 7th grade. He is very popular and very bright. He also has an anxiety disorder and has been labeled with "Oppositional Defiant Disorder." Josh didn't have an IEP until 6th grade when he entered Middle School and began having problems at school. He has an IEP under the classification of "ED."

Josh has always been in mainstream classes. Some teachers love him and have no problems with him. Teachers who are prone to power struggles have problems with him. They complain that he doesn't take his book out and begin his work when requested.  Some teachers find this extremely disrespectful and problems begin.

My Question

One month after school began, his Spanish teacher decided he didn't want to deal with Josh. He didn't like his attitude.  I never received a phone call or email from the teacher or anyone at the school to advise me that there was a problem.

The teacher never mentioned any problems to me. I even sent an email to the teacher. When he didn't reply, I thought all was well.

I ran into the principal, and she said that there would be a meeting the next day to change Josh's schedule because he was no longer allowed in his Spanish class. I pulled Josh out of class and questioned him. He didn't know anything about this change either. He was devastated.

At the meeting, the special ed staff said that this was legal, that “the teacher has a contract and he is not required to teach a student who exhibits behavior of not wanting to learn."

With no warning, the school changed Josh from Spanish to Computers. He is doing well in all his other classes now.

What will prevent another teacher from doing the same thing?
What can I do to prevent this from happening again?

From Sue

Your son is either misbehaving and the school should follow the rules for kids who misbehave, or he is behaving like a kid with anxiety and ODD, so the school staff need to deal with this as an educational issue.

It is okay for the school:

  • to provide a teacher who is able to teach your son.
  • to expect all teachers to follow the steps in school policies for disciplining students.
  • to get teachers more training in classroom management and discipline when they need it.

It is not okay:

  • just to teach the easy kids.
  • for a teacher to take his personal issues into the classroom.

Do Your Reading First

Reread Josh's Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Reread the school handbook or policy manual. Copies of discipline reports are usually mailed home to parents.

Read these articles:Disciplining Students with Disabilities and Functional Behavior Assessments: What, Why, When, Where, and Who? You'll find more articles about behavior issues here.

Make sure your son sees his outside therapist as often as recommended.

Get the Correct Process in Place - Right from the Start

You attended a meeting where the rest of the IEP team told you that unilaterally moving your child out of Spanish and into computers was "totally legal." It doesn't look like that to me and it doesn't look like that to you, but we are not attorneys. If Josh plans to go to college, he probably needs that foreign language.

Josh is just beginning
high school. I think you will get your money's worth by talking to an attorney now, getting the correct letters written early on, maybe filing a civil rights complaint early on, depending on the attorney's advice. You want to get the correct process in place right from the start.

The longer Josh is out of Spanish, the harder it will be to get him in and up to speed.

Today - Read the IEP, the handbook, and the articles about behavior problems.

Tomorrow - Call an attorney who has expertise in special education issues. (see directories of attorneys below)

What may be a solution is to take the transfer to computers now, and let the attorney work on getting compensatory education, or another teacher, in another year, for Spanish. The Spanish teacher does not seem emotionally stable. I would be careful about fighting for the right to spend a year with this Spanish teacher as the prize.

But if you plan to consult with an attorney, do this before you make decisions and take action, rather than after the fact.

I don't suggest going into a school meeting with a 500 pound shouting attorney.

I do suggest that you get an attorney involved now, when you need legal advice, as opposed to trying to find an attorney when you realize you that really needed legal advice several months/years ago. The attorney may be interested in obtaining a copy of the teacher's contract that supposedly allows him to pick and choose whom he will teach, to see if this provision really exists.

If you:

  • Take the right steps
  • Respond in the right way
  • Document the right things at the right time

this will save you and your son much stress in the future. And right now your son not only needs a good solution, he needs a good solution soon.

Directories of Education Attorneys Who May be Able to Help

Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA)

Wrightslaw Yellow Pages for Kids

National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems (NAPAS)

Good luck,

Sue Whitney

To Top

More Articles about Behavior and Discipline

Behavior and Discipline. Today, schools continue to suspend and expel students with disabilities for behavior caused by their disabilities. If you are advocating for a child with behavior problems, the articles and resources collected on this page will help.

Behavior Problems and Discipline: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know by Sue Whitney Heath.

Functional Behavioral Assessment & Positive Interventions: What Parents Need to Know by Dixie Jordan. Is the child a problem? Does the child have a problem? Is suspension from school "good medicine for bad behavior?" Article describes strategies parents and teachers can use to assess problem behavior and teach appropriate behavior skills to children.

Functional Behavioral Assessments: What? Why? When? Where? Who? Dr. Stephen Starin describes problem behaviors, functional behavior assessments, environmental manipulation, and qualifications and training of evaluators.

What are the School's Obligations to a Child with Severe Emotional and Behavior Problems? by Pete Wright.

IDEA 2004: What You Need to Know About IEPs for Children with Behavior Problems - IDEA 2004 and the special education regulations include specific requirements for IEPs of children whose behavior impedes their learning or the learning of others -- including the training of teachers to use positive behavioral interventions and strategies.

To Top

Created: 12/10/07
Revised: 02/10/13


Meet Sue Whitney

Sue Whitney of Merrimack, New Hampshire, is the research editor for Wrightslaw.

Sue is the co-author of Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind (ISBN: 978-1-892320-12-4) that is published by Harbor House Law Press.

In Doing Your Homework, she writes about reading, research based instruction, No Child Left Behind, and creative strategies for using federal education standards to advocate for children and to improve public schools. Her articles have been reprinted by SchwabLearning.org, EducationNews.org, Bridges4Kids.org, The Beacon: Journal of Special Education Law and Practice, the Schafer Autism Report, and have been used in CLE presentations to attorneys. Sue Whitney's bio.

Sue has served on New Hampshire's Special Education State Advisory Committee on the Education of Students/Children with Disabilities (SAC) and has been a volunteer educational surrogate parent. She currently works with families as a special education advocate.


Copyright © 2002-2014 by Suzanne Whitney.

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