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Doing Your Homework
Behavior Problems & Discipline:
What Parents & Teachers Need to Know
by Sue Whitney and Pam Wright

"Our 11 year old son has autism. His mental functioning is at the level of a very young child. Since he was placed with an aide for most of the school day, his aggressive behavior at school increased. He says the aide hurts him. We discussed these problems with the IEP team. They agreed that the aide was the problem."

"Six weeks ago, he cursed the aide. The school filed charges against him for 'sexual misconduct.' He has been at home since. A teacher comes to the house 2 or 3 times a week for about an hour. He receives little or no instruction and none of the related services (speech therapy, occupational therapy) in his IEP. What can we do?"

Every week, we receive emails from parents and teachers about children who are being suspended, expelled and sent home from school for weeks or months.

An eleven-year old child with autism is charged with sexual misconduct and is suspended from school for six weeks? It is clear that this child's behaviors are symptoms of a larger problem that needs to be addressed. Putting him out of school will not address these problems.

Consult with an Attorney

These parents need to consult with an attorney who has expertise in special education issues.

Contact your state disability rights organization (Protection & Advocacy system) or an education attorney. Describe your situation in detail. Here are some places to look for an attorney:

Attorneys by state from the Council of Parent Attorney and Advocates
Yellow Pages for Kids with Disabilities from Wrightslaw
Special Needs Advocate and Attorney Directory from Education-a-Must

Behavior Issues and Discipline

If you are a parent, teacher or administrator who is dealing with behavior problems or school discipline issues, you need to know about the child's right to a free appropriate public education, the role of the IEP team, functional behavior assessments, and behavior intervention plans.

Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd EditionDiscipline statute, 20 USC Section 1415(k)

Discipline regulations, 34 CFR Section 300.530 - 300.537

Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition

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All Children with Disabilities Are Entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

When Congress reauthorized IDEA 2004, they maintained the child's right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). The law requires the state to have policies and procedures to ensure that a free appropriate public education (FAPE) is available to all children with disabilities ... including children who have been suspended or expelled from school." (20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1), see Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, page 71)

Developing the IEP

In developing the IEP, the IEP team is required to consider:
* the strengths of the child;
* the concerns of the parents for enhancing the education of their child;
* the results of the initial evaluation or the most recent evaluation of the child;
* the academic, developmental, and functional needs of the child. (20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(3)(A), see Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, page 103)

The child's IEP team is also required to consider "Special Factors" that affect the child's ability to learn:

"In the case of a child whose behavior impedes the child's learning or that of others, consider the use of positive behavior interventions and supports, and other strategies to address that behavior;" (20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(3)(B), see Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, page 103)

Child's Rights and Protections (Procedural Safeguards)

IDEA includes safeguards that are designed to protect the rights of children with disabilities and their parents. Read the Procedural Safeguards Notice you received at the last IEP meeting so you understand these rights (you may need to read this Notice several times).

The law about disciplining children with disabilities is in Section 1415(k) (Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, pages 118-123). If you have a child who is being disciplined or put out of school, you need to read this section. Use a highlighter and make notes.

In essence, the school "may remove a child who violates a code of student conduct from their current placement to an appropriate interim alternative educational setting, another setting, or suspension for not more than 10 school days."

If a child is removed from the current placement, the child shall

(i) "continue to receive educational services ... to enable the child to participate in the general education curriculum, although in another setting, and to progress toward meeting the goals set out in the child's IEP ..."

(ii) receive, as appropriate, a functional behavioral assessment, behavior intervention services and modifications, that are designed to address the behavior violation so that it does not recur." (Section 1415(k)(1)(D)); see Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, page 119)

Manifestation Determination

The IDEA requires that "within 10 school days of any decision to change the placement of a child with a disability because of a violation of a code of school conduct ..." the school, "the parent, and relevant members of the IEP Team shall review all relevant information in the student's file, including the child's IEP, any teacher observations, and any relevant information provided by the parents to determine -

(I) if the conduct in question was caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to the child's disability; or

(II) if the conduct in question was the direct result of the local educational agency's failure to implement the IEP.

If the group determines that the child's behavior was a manifestation of the child's disability, the IEP team shall -

(i) conduct a functional behavioral assessment, and implement a behavior intervention plan ...

(ii) in the situation where a behavioral intervention plan has been developed, review the behavioral intervention plan ... and modify it, as necessary, to address the behavior; and

(iii) ... return the child to the placement from which the child was removed ..." (20 U.S.C. 1415(k)(1)(F)); see Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition , page 120)

Publications and Resources: Behavior and Discipline

Disciplining Students with Disabilities

"A child runs, out-of-control, down the busy school hallway and punches another child who is quietly waiting in line outside her classroom. She starts to cry while the disruptive child continues down the hall, not responding to the teacher aide's commands to stop."

"Another adult says, 'He's special ed, there's nothing that we can do. You can't send him to detention. I'll tell his teacher.' The aide is frustrated and upset as she comforts the crying child."

What do you think of this scenario?

As Dr. Kevin Dwyer points out, "Nothing in IDEA restricts schools from disciplining children with disabilities. In fact, some contend that if the school does not address a dangerous behavior, the school is not providing the student with special needs with an 'appropriate' education. Children may need specialized services to change the disruptive and dangerous behavior and to make sure that whatever discipline is used works in preventing a reoccurrence of that behavior."

In Disciplining Students with Disabilities (National Association of School Pyschologists, NASP Communique, Vol 26-2), Dr. Dwyer provides practical ideas about how to improve the chances that the child's positive behaviors will increase and negative behaviors will decrease. These concepts can be applied to children with disabilities who have behavior problems and other troubling students.

Download Disciplining Students with Disabilities from

Functional Behavioral Assessment & Positive Interventions: What Parents Need to Know

Is the child a problem? Does the child have a problem? Is suspension from school "good medicine for bad behavior?"

In Functional Behavioral Assessment & Positive Interventions: What Parents Need to Know, attorney Dixie Jordan describes strategies parents and teachers can use to assess problem behavior and teach appropriate behavior skills to children.

Download Functional Behavioral Assessment & Positive Interventions: What Parents Need to Know from

An IEP Team's Introduction to Functional Behavioral Assessment and Behavior Intervention Plans (2nd edition)

The functional behavioral assessment is a problem-solving process for addressing student problem behavior. The functional behavioral assessment identifies the purposes of a specific behavior and helps IEP teams select interventions to address the problem behavior.

In An IEP Team’s Introduction To Functional Behavioral Assessment and Behavior Intervention Plans, you will learn about:

* IDEA Rights and Requirements; IEP Team Roles and Responsibilities
* Why a Functional Assessment of Behavior is Important
* How to Conduct a Functional Behavioral Assessment
* Identifying the Problem Behavior
* Alternative Assessment Strategies
* Techniques for Conducting the Functional Behavioral Assessment
* Indirect Assessment, Direct Assessment, Data Analysis
* Hypothesis Statement
* Individuals Who Assess Behavior
* Behavior Intervention Plans
* Addressing Skill Deficits & Performance Deficits
* Modifying the Learning Environment & Providing Supports
* Evaluating the Behavior Intervention Plan

Functional Behavioral Assessments: What? Why? When? Where? Who?

In 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.

You can download Functional Behavioral Assessments: What? Why? When? Where? Who?

More Resources

Why Johnny Doesn't Behave: Twenty Tips for Measurable BIPs by Barbara Bateman and Annemieke Golly

Why Johnny Doesn't Behave provides useful, concrete tips to help manage behavior, including:
* Make expectations clear
* Teach expectations
* Minimize attention for inappropriate behaviors
* Pay attention to behavior you want

One section about Functional Behavior Assessments (FBAs) and Behavioral Intervention Plans (BIPs) includes sample FBAs and BIPs. Parents of children with challenging behaviors may want to order two copies of this book - one for them, and one for the school.

Why Johnny Doesn't Behave is available from Amazon and other online bookstores.

Lastest update: 03/13/17

Meet Sue Whitney

Sue Whitney of Manchester, New Hampshire, works with families as a special education advocate and is the research editor for Wrightslaw.

Doing Your Homework, Suzanne Whitney gives savvy advice about reading, research based instruction, and creative strategies for using education standards to advocate for children and to improve public schools.

Her articles have been reprinted by,,, The Beacon: Journal of Special Education Law and Practice, the Schafer Autism Report, and have been used in CLE presentations to attorneys.

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

She also served on New Hampshire's Special Education State Advisory Committee on the Education of Students/Children with Disabilities (SAC).

Sue Whitney's bio.

Copyright © 2002-2022 by Suzanne Whitney.

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