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Behavior Problems & Discipline
FAQs l Articles l FBAs & BIPs l Law l Cases l Free Stuff l Resources l References

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Discipline is a hot topic. When the federal special education law was passed in 1975, Congress found that most handicapped children were not receiving an appropriate education - and that millions of children were excluded from school altogether.

Students miss classes every day because of suspensions and expulsions, sometimes for only a minor infraction. Office for Civil Rights data shows that minority students and students with disabilities are disproportionately impacted.

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.

U.S. DOE and DOJ Release School Discipline Guidance Package (January 2014) including:

Dear Colleague letter describing schools legal obligations.
Publication about best practices.
Directory of Discipline Resources.
Online Catalog of School Discipline Laws and Regulations.

The Transformed Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) data about discipline in schools. Get a good visual summary of all kinds of information about: suspensions, expulsions, arrests, restraint and seclusion, student retention, and the disparate rates between disabled and non-disabled kids.

OSEP Q & A on Discipline

OSEP Publishes Revised Q/A on Discipline. In June 2009, OSEP published a revised series of question and answer (Q&A) documents prepared by OSERS to address some of the most important issues raised by requests for clarification on a variety of high-interest topics.

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Articles About Behavior and Discipline

Center for Evidence-Based Practice: Young Children with Challenging Behavior

Behavior Problems - What Is the School Obligated To Do? - Pete answers questions from school personnel about obligations to "students who may be dangerous to us".

Handling a Manifestation Determination Review. Based on practical experience, attorney Bill Brownley provides a “how to” guide attorneys (and parents) can use during a Manifestation Determination Review.

Defusing Violent Behavior in Young Children: An Ounce of Prevention (PDF) - The cost of prevention strategies is lower than the cost of remediating or containing more serious problems down the road. This article, published by the National Association of School Psychologists, includes Prevention and Problem Solving Strategies.

What Do You Mean by "Behavior?" This article, by Leslie E. Packer, PhD, is an overview for parents and teachers when considering behavior modification.

Is Behavior Modification Appropriate? This article, by Leslie E. Packer, PhD, talks about how to decide whether and how to use behavior modification.

Getting Help for a Child with a Behavior Disorder. Many kids with learning disabilities develop behavior problems. If the school doesn’t teach them the skills they need, they become angry, frustrated, and depressed. Then the school labels them as “behavior disordered” or “emotionally disturbed.”

Practicing Restraint. Restraint and seclusion were once considered acceptable, even valuable tools in maintaining control of unruly children in residential group homes. But the call for alternatives is growing louder.

Crisis! Emergency! Help! If you are in a crisis, this article is a "must read" for you, and for parents who want to avoid school crises. Learn how parents damage their child's case by assuming that they must DO SOMETHING!

Discipline and the ADHD Child. "If we can teach elephants, lions and tigers to behave, we can teach our ADHD children to behave." In response to a grandmother's plea for help, Pete shares four rules of discipline; what he did, never did, and why.

FAQs: Can School Suspend or Expel a Child with ADD and LD? What can you do if the school suspends or expels a child who has a disability who has not been found eligible for services and IDEA protections?

Discipline: Suspension, Expulsions and IEPs. A child with a language impairment who receives special education is suspended; school does not provide special ed services. Parent attorney Bob Crabtree describes school's responsibilities under IDEA including provision of FAPE, alternative educational placements, functional behavioral assessments and behavior intervention plans.

Disciplining Students with Disabilities Dr. Kevin Dwyer of the National Association of School Psychologists provides practical advice about increasing positive behaviors and decreasing negative behaviors.

Learning and Behavior Problems: Who Fault is It? - Why do children have learning and behavior problems at school? (Answer: Five causes) Who is to blame?

Original "Letter to the Stranger" by Janie Bowman and Peter Wright - This is the original "Letter to the Stranger" about child who was suspended from school. (This article later became part of a Smithsonian Exhibit about online culture and communities.)

Misuse of "Zero Tolerance" Policies - Harvard Civil Rights Project Issues Scathing Report of by School Districts. (July 6, 2000)

Prevention Research & IDEA Discipline Provisions: A Guide for School Administrators - This article from the U. S. Dept of Education describes research-validated practices that use positive behavioral intervention and supports; outcomes include reduced discipline referrals and improved academic performance; includes IDEA legal requirements re: discipline.

Reinventing Our Schools - Thought-provoking article by Thom Hartmann, author of several best-selling books about ADD/ADHD and education. Describes two "world views" of ADD, discusses low stimulation and high stimulation classrooms.

Alternative Placement for "Assignment Refusal" - a Helpful Strategy? Why do you think removing the kid from his current school placement and transferring him to an alternative school will be helpful?.

Child is Aggresssive. Will Special Ed Help? Behavior is a way to communicate, especially for young children. What is your child trying to communicate? What is causing his aggressive behavior? You can’t make rational decisions about his education until you know what is causing the aggression, what needs to be done, and if the school can help.

Bullying, Discipline, and Confidentiality. A special education teacher asked a question about a student’s right to confidentiality after being disciplined by the school.

4 Year Old with Behavior Problem: Eligible for Special Education Services? The law doesn’t allow a school to opt out of the child find requirements, nor the requirement to provide all qualified children with a free, appropriate public education because the child has behavior issues.

It Isn't OK Just to Teach the Easy Kids. Sue Whitney answers questions for a parent whose son is either misbehaving or he is behaving like a kid with anxiety and ODD. The school staff needs to follow the rules for kids who misbehave and deal with this as an educational issue.

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Functional Behavior Assessments & Behavior Intervention Plans

Behavior Management and Appropriate School Response: FBAs, BIPs, & IEEs. Angela Ciolfi, Esq. & William Reichhardt, Esq. describe the purposes of Functional Behavioral Assessments (FBA) and explain what a Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP) should look like.

An IEP Team's Introduction to Functional Behavioral Assessment and Behavior Intervention Plans - Describes the IEP team's responsibility to do a functional behavioral assessment to identify the cause of the child's behavior and develop positive behavioral interventions and supports to address problem behavior. From the Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice (1998). (For more info, see Free Pubs section below)

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.  Back to top

Caselaw About Discipline

Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305 (1988). Decision from U. S. Supreme Court in discipline case that involved two emotionally disturbed students who had academic and social problems. Clarifies that schools may not expel children for behaviors related to their handicaps; stay put; procedural safeguards are designed to protect children and parents; describes parent role.

Community Consolidated Sch. Dist. #93 v. John F. (IL) Excellent decision in discipline case; includes procedural violations, prior written notice requirements, manifestation determination review, suspensions for more than 10 days, expedited hearings, special education and related services under IDEA, "passing grades" are not evidence of FAPE, homebound instruction violated LRE, more.     Decision in Word    Decision in pdf

9th Circuit Blocks Isolation Room Lawsuit. A Washington school placed D.P., an autistic child, in a locked isolation room pursuant to an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that allowed him to be placed in a “safe room” for “timeouts.”

open bookFree Publications About Behavior & Discipline

Preventing Challenging Behaviors in Young Children with Autism. A recorded on-line presentation and discussion from the Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention for Young Children (TACSEI) entitled "Preventing Challenging Behavior: A Model for Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder" with Glen Dunlap and Phil Strain. The session presents a three-tiered framework for organizing prevention and intervention strategies that is appropriate for home, community and preschool applications. (November 2009) Watch the presentation l Listen to the Teleconference l Handouts (pdf)

Bullying Prevention in Positive Behavior Supports. Giving students the tools to reduce bullying behavior through the blending of school-wide positive behavior support, explicit instruction, and a redefinition of the bullying construct from the National Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS)

Discipline Flow Chart
Protections in the IDEA apply to students who have been found eligible for special education. They also apply to students for whom the school is deemed to have knowledge that the child might have a disability. These are students who have not yet been found eligible, but the school had a basis of knowledge of a disability, including students who have been referred for initial evaluation.

Positive Behavior Support: Evolution of an Applied Science
Carr, E. G., Dunlap, G., Horner, R. H., Koegel, R. L., Turnbull, A., Sailor, W., Anderson, J., Albin, R., Koegel, L. K., & Fox, L. (2002). Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 4(1), 4-16. Copyright (2002) by PRO-ED, Inc. Adapted with permission. You may download this article to make single a copy for your own use.

Facilitator's Guide, Positive Behavioral Support
This guide is made available through the Bureau of Instructional Support and Community Service, Florida Department of Education, and was developed by the staff of the Positive Behavior Support (PBS) Project at the University of South Florida. This guide is designed to build capacity of school districts in positive assessment based approaches to support students with significant behavioral challenges.

Free e-Book Download: Achieving Better Outcomes for Children and Families
The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), in collaboration with the Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health (FFCMH), serves as the Coordinating Center for the three-year Best Practices in Behavior Support and Intervention Project. The project is designed to reduce the use of restraint and seclusion in seven demonstration sites across the country by improving the training and supervision of staff who work directly with children and youth.

An IEP Team's Introduction to Functional Behavioral Assessment and Behavior Intervention Plans. If your child has behavior problems, this publication will help. Describes need to identify the underlying causes of child's behavior (what the child "gets" or "avoids" through the behavior); that the IEP team is responsible for developing proactive instructional strategies, including positive behavioral interventions and supports, to address behaviors that interfere with learning. From the Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice (1998).

Interim Alternative Educational Settings for Children with Disabilities (National Association of School Psychologists) This 54 page publication includes useful information about discipline and interim alternative educational settings.

Alternative Schools and Students With Disabilities: Identifying and Understanding the Issues. This information brief shares responses of state directors of special education to a telephone interview about major issues regarding students with disabilities and alternative schools in their state.

Opportunities Suspended: The Devastating Consequences of Zero Tolerance and School Discipline Policies (Harvard Civil Rights Project). Under Zero Tolerance Policies, children from kindergarten through 12th grade receive harsh punishments, often for minor infractions that pose no threat to safety. Compelling research indicates that these "get-tough" disciplinary measures fail to meet sound educational principles. In many cases, their application defies commonsense.

Parents, Even "Good Kids" Need This Guide. This guide contains information about your child’s basic legal rights, common crimes, and how to avoid becoming the victim of a crime.

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Useful Websites

Student Rights Alliance. If you've been suspended or expelled from a DC public school, learn what you can do.

Families & Advocates Partnership for Education (FAPE). Good source of information about special education topics; connected with PACER Center.

Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice.

National Association of School Psychologists publishes Communique, a newsletter about school topics, including discipline and behavior issues.

Education Law Resource Center

Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports

Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions

Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotion Intevention for Young Children

Council for Exceptional Children

National Information Center for Children & Youth with Disabilities

IDEA Partnerships

Legal References

You will find the full text of the discipline statute, 20 USC Section 1415(k), along with extensive commentary, in Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition (2007)
Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition by Peter W.D. Wright, Esq.


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