Discipline & Special Education
Parental Appeals - Discipline Plans - Pitfalls
Disciplinary Appeal Process
A hearing officer is in charge of running the due process hearing and ultimately making a determination. The officer can return the child to the previous placement he/she was removed from OR the officer can put the child in an alternative placement for no more than 45 days, if he/she feels that the child is a risk to others. While the appeal process is going on, the student must stay in the alternative setting until the determination of the hearing officer, or until the 45 day time period expires, whichever comes first.
What happens if a student is disciplined, but was not yet receiving special education services, but a disability was suspected? According to IDEA, a school has a "basis of knowledge" if the parent, in writing, said something to the school about their child possibly needing special education services, a parent requested an evaluation, or if any school personnel requested testing or had suspected the child had a disability. The school is considered to not have a "basis of knowledge" if the student had already been tested and did not qualify, or if the parent refused testing in the past.
If it is determined that the school did NOT have a basis of knowledge, the child is subject to disciplinary action according to the rules and regulations used for students without disabilities. If someone requests an evaluation during the time the student is being disciplined, the evaluation must occur quickly. The student must remain in the placement determined by the school until the evaluation results are made available.
If the student is determined to have a disability, then the school district must comply with the rules for disciplining a child with a disability as well as place the student according to what is best for that child.
While it would be nice to believe that all districts implement IEP's perfectly or follow the law to the letter, the reality is that not all districts do. The appeal's process is to protect the rights of students and their parents when it comes to disciplinary action.
I have not ever had to be a part of a due process hearing, but I have had to be a part of a manifestation hearing. In my case, the evaluation process had started, but had not been completed, prior to the behavior in question. In this case, the student was suspended up to the 10 days, and during that 10 days we were able to complete the evaluation process. The evaluation determined that the student was ODD. The manifestation hearing determined that the problem behavior was a manifestation of his disability. An IEP meeting was scheduled immediately and a behavior plan was written. In this particular instance, the behavior plan never came to fruition, because the student committed a crime the night after the IEP meeting, and was put into the juvenile detention center. I immediately had to hold another IEP meeting and have a change of placement. Shortly after that meeting, the judge ordered him back on probation and he returned to school. Another IEP and change of placement took place, and within one week, he was back in the juvenile detention center. And of course, that meant another IEP and change of placement.
Sometimes being a special education teacher can be a trying experience, but through it all, it is so important to keep the student and his/her family first. It's not about us and how much paperwork we have. We all knew that going into this field. It is about the student and what is best for him/her. When it comes to discipline, it is important that the right action is carried out for the student. Sometimes it just so happens that the district is the one that needs to change things, and they need to be held responsible for their actions as well.
Effective Assessments and Plans
This student's plan started out by implementing a check-in/check-out program. Our counselor greeted the student at the door everyday as he got off of the school bus. Our counselor wanted to build a better relationship with this student and thought this was a great way to have positive interaction with him. The counselor would hand him a blue sheet. On this blue sheet was written every period of his day including before school, lunch, and after school. The student needed to hand the paper to each of his teachers at the end of each period and they would mark, on a scale of 0 - 3, if the student was safe, responsible, and respectful in class that day. They would then initial beside it, give bonus points if applicable, and write comments if necessary. At the end of the day, the student would "check-out" with me. He would hand me the blue-sheet and we would add up his points for the day. If he earned enough points to reach his daily go, he would be congratulated and sent on his way. If he did not earn enough points, I would ask how he thought he could improve for tomorrow, and the interaction was always positive and ended on a positive note.
This check-in/check-out program worked perfectly for this student. He was OBSESSED with that blue sheet, always concerned about where it was, and if a teacher forgot to sign it, he would immediately take it back to them, and ask them to fill it out. Once he reached his goal 3 days, he was given the honor's cart. On this cart were various fun activities for him to choose from. He also chose the opportunity to have free-time on the ipad.
If the student did something undesirable, his blue-sheet would be zeroed out for the rest of the day. For example, one day, between 3rd and 4th period, he swore at his para. That immediately earned him the boring room and a zero-out, where he had to do work in folders, and where he could not earn anymore points on his blue sheet, which negated the opportunity to earn the honor's cart. The work was at his level so that he did not need to interact with anyone in order to do it. Once he was done, he apologized to the para, and then was able to return to class.
In the behavior plan we put into place safe zones for this student. On the stage in the big gym, in the little gym, and in his locker. He preferred his locker, but depending on where he was in the school, the other places were options. These zones were for times he felt his anger getting out of control. He knew that he could go to these zones and not be confronted by anyone until he felt comfortable speaking with someone.
There was not one aspect of his day in which he was unsupervised. Over lunch, we allowed him to eat in the cafeteria with everyone else, but I was always nearby, observing, so that I could intervene if it looked as if something might get out of control. Once I saw him dump his try, I would meet him at the cafeteria door and walk him to his locker, where I would stay throughout the lunch break to ensure peaceful interactions with his classmates. Once the bell for class rang, I would walk with him to his next class, and make sure that his teacher was in the room.
For P.E., he changed in a separate locker room by himself. This was requested by his mother, after there were incidents involving theft and bullying. A para walked with him to the room, then waited outside while he changed. The room was cleared out of anything and everything that could possibly, in any way, be deemed a weapon. After P.E., he would change and the para would ensure that he made it onto the bus safely.
All of this was written into the behavior plan. It was an intense plan, I'm not sure I have remembered to include everything that we did, but it worked. It was very successful. Some teachers fought us on it, felt it was unfair, that he was not being truly "punished," for the things he did wrong. These teachers did not, even though I discussions with them frequently, that if this student was confronted immediately about a behavior, it would only escalate his anger and further problem behaviors. While, we did receive some backlash from staff, in the time that we had him on this plan, he only had 1 incident, and this incident involved his sister. It was highly successful. In fact, his mother was very impressed at how well he was doing at school, and she was wondering our secret because home was so difficult. I believe it was because we had his day so structured and so routine that there was no free time for him to be "bored" or to get any ideas. Sadly, in the end, over a 4-day weekend, he had an incident at home, and his mother had to turn him into authorities for his siblings protection as well as his own.
Each behavior plan needs to tailored to each student's needs. While I hope that the plan we created for this student might help give some ideas, I know it is not for everyone. If anything, I hope that it shows the amount of time and detail that needs to go into planning a behavior plan for an entire school day. There are MANY factors that need to be considered beyond just class time. Bus rides, extracurricular activities, and field trips to name a few. While I did not write about those aspects, we had those written into the plan as well.
Pitfalls to Avoid
I alluded to it in the assessment section, but it's important to reiterate. Not all teachers in the building are going to see eye to eye with how you do things. They are not going to see what you see. If there is one thing that I have learned throughout my 10 years of teaching is that many teachers have tunnel vision. I used to be one of them until my husband became an administrator. It's easy for teachers to complain about how students are taught or are disciplined, but usually it's because they do not see the big picture. If they did, they would understand that what is being done is best for the student. Open communication with teachers can help this along, as long as you do not burn bridges with them. Understanding they do not have all of the information can help you keep your cool, if they would ever come to you with complaints. Sometimes doing the right thing is a lonely way to live, but in the end, you will be able to sleep at night knowing you were the student's advocate, when many times, they do not have one at all.
When it comes to parents, a huge pitfall to avoid is a lack of communication. An easy way to avoid a due process hearing, is to be in constant communication with parents. I would rather inundate parents with news, good or bad, so that in case something does happen, they have all of the information up to that point. Also, through communication they get to know you, and understand that you do have the best interest of their child at heart. Hearing from you once a year at the IEP, will not go very far in building trust and a relationship with that parent.
You can find the final pitfall for special education teachers in the details. When writing a behavior plan it is imperative that you are as thorough as possible and as specific as possible, yet not too specific. Confused yet? Let me give you an example. Let's say that in the behavior plan, which is in the IEP, it is written that the student will have Second Step social/emotional training. Now let's say about 2 weeks into the curriculum, you decide that another curriculum would be better. You are now holding another IEP meeting, just to change the name of the curriculum, even though it is still social/emotional training. If for some reason a manifestation meeting was held, and it comes to the point where you have to ask about the implementation of the IEP, and you did not hold another IEP meeting, but you had changed curriculum, you would be in violation of not appropriately implementing the IEP. In other words, THE DETAILS MATTER!
Finally, if you are ever in doubt about any part of the discipline process, please consult your special education director immediately. You would rather ask too many questions than find yourself in a due process hearing.