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

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. Department of Education, DOJ, and OSEP / OSERS Guidance on Discipline

New! 08/01/16: Schools are required to provide positive behavioral supports to students with disabilities who need them. Repeated use of disciplinary actions may suggest appropriate behavioral interventions and supports are not being used. Failing to consider and provide for needed behavioral supports in an IEP is likely to result in children not receiving FAPE..

08/23/16: Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support / U.S. v. Georgia (N.D. Ga. 2016): The United States filed a lawsuit against the State of Georgia in federal district court to remedy violations of the ADA pertaining to the State’s failure to provide thousands of public school students with behavior-related disabilities with appropriate mental health and therapeutic educational services and supports in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. DOJ Find GA Violates ADA by Segregating Students with Disabilities (07/15/15)

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 Federal School Climate and Discipline Resources.

Online Catalog - Compendium 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 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.


Articles About Behavior and Discipline

National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI). The National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI) is funded by the Office of Special Education Programs to improve and support the capacity of state systems and local programs to implement an early childhood multi-tiered system of support to improve the social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes of young children with, and at risk for, developmental disabilities or delays.

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.

Parent Center for Information and Resources (CPIR) Behavior Suite. The CPIR connects you with sources of information for helping children who have behavior challenges and focuses on where to access Behavior Expertise.

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.”

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.

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.

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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

Keeping Students with Disabilities in School: Legal Strategies and Effective Educational Practices for Preventing the Suspension of Students with Disabilities. Resource Manual (2014) from The Southern Disability Law Center (SDLC) that addresses legal strategies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as well effective educational practices for preventing the suspension of students with disabilities.

Preventing Challenging Behaviors in Young Children with Autism. Download 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)

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.

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.

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

Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports

Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions

Council for Exceptional Children

Center for Parent Information and Resources: Behavior Suite

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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