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Article of Interest - IDEA Reauthorization

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Bridges4Kids LogoIDEA Reauthorization: Challenging Behavior and Students With Disabilities
Distributed by Awak(e);IDEA-DisciplineNational Association/School Psychologists ( from National Association of School Psychologists at
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The 1997 Amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) greatly enhanced the opportunities for students with disabilities to receive an appropriate education, even when presenting challenging and dangerous behaviors. While allowing schools to take immediate action to protect student safety, these IDEA provisions provide alternative means of addressing dangerous and disruptive behaviors while at the same time continuing the instructional and behavioral supports necessary to help students with disabilities meet their educational goals. Current IDEA law promotes a more proactive approach to student discipline by requiring the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) Team to assess the need for positive behavioral supports (rather than behavior management). It is essential that any IDEA reforms maintain and improve the procedural safeguards and best practice standards of the current law. These provisions not only enhance outcomes for students with disabilities, but also promote a safe and supportive school environment that increases success for all students.

Highlights of IDEA Discipline Provisions Current law and regulations provide key supports to students with disabilities by:

Increasing flexibility in discipline practices.

Allowing school personnel to discipline students with disabilities in the same manner as students without disabilities - with restrictions (IEP review and behavioral assessment; 45-day limit without review).
Allowing the regulated placement of students, without parent permission, in Interim Alternative Educational Settings in certain situations involving weapons, illegal drugs and injurious behaviors.

Guaranteeing a 'Free and Appropriate Public Education' and needed services to assure progress in the general curriculum for students with disabilities who have been removed from school, regardless of the severity of their behavior.

Limiting the amount of time that a child with a disability can be removed from his or her current placement for disciplinary reasons without a change in placement.

Requiring a Manifestation Determination of the relationship of a behavior to a student's disability.

Requiring a Functional Behavior Assessment and 'positive behavioral interventions, strategies and supports' to address behaviors that impede learning and to prevent the behavior from recurring. These key provisions assure that students with disabilities receive services to address challenging behaviors and continue to receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education. Of greatest importance are rules prohibiting Cessation of Services and promoting positive behavioral interventions and supports, and, when appropriate, implementing Interim Alternative Educational Placements.

No Cessation of Services IDEA specifically prohibits suspension or expulsion that results in the 'cessation of services,' including those instructional services and supports specified on the IEP for a student with disabilities. Instead, IDEA provides for alternative educational placements and continuation of IEP supports , thus ensuring the safety of all students while assuring ongoing instruction. These safeguards must be preserved in future legislation. This should not be viewed as a double standard for students with disabilities, but rather as a standard that should be held for all students.

Cessation of services has serious negative consequences for students with disabilities. When important services are discontinued, students are likely to fall further behind, often leading to dropping out of school or failure to earn credits for graduation; students who drop out of school are three and a half times as likely as high school graduates to be arrested. Drop-out rates are higher among students with disabilities, and nearly one-third of these special education students cite discipline issues as the reason for dropping out. Ineffective approaches to discipline problems increase the probability of dropping out more than any other single factor. Further, students with disabilities have significant difficulty readjusting to their school programs following suspension or expulsion, further increasing the probability of dropping out. Each year's class of dropouts drains the nation of more than $200 billion in lost earnings and taxes every year. Billions more are spent on welfare, health care and other social services.

'Zero tolerance' policies refer to the expulsion or suspension of students as a consequence of serious acts of misconduct, particularly the possession of weapons or drugs. Although zero tolerance policies were developed to assure consistent and firm consequences for dangerous behaviors, broad, automatic application of these policies has resulted in a range of negative outcomes with few if any benefits to students or the school community. Rather than increasing school safety, zero tolerance often leads to indiscriminate suspensions and expulsions for both serious and mild infractions. Studies have shown that minorities and students with disabilities constitute a disproportionately large percentage of expulsions and suspensions. Yet, 95% of students in special education who are suspended or expelled do not exhibit the violent or aggressive behaviors that are the intended targets of 'zero tolerance' policies. Serious dangerous behaviors require consistent and firm consequences to protect the safety of students and staff; however, for many offenses addressed by zero tolerance policies, more effective alternative strategies are available. Systemic school-wide violence prevention programs, social skills curricula and positive behavioral supports lead to improved learning for all students and safer school communities.

Positive Behavioral Interventions, Strategies and Supports IDEA includes provisions for the implementation of 'positive behavior interventions, strategies and supports' when a student's behavior 'impedes his or her own learning or that of others.' Regulations further require that such supports be based upon Functional Behavior Assessments (FBA). FBA provides data about the relationships of challenging behaviors to various child and situational factors. This allows for the development of an effective Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) to prevent serious and repeated disciplinary infractions.

IDEA's regulations apply not only to direct implementation of supports for individual students, but also address the broader issues of school safety and climates conducive to learning for all students . There are a number of research-based approaches to providing proactive, school-wide systems of behavioral support, including Positive Behavior Supports (PBS), violence prevention programs, social skills instruction and school-based mental health services.

What are proactive behavioral support systems? Positive behavioral interventions, strategies and supports focus on increasing desirable behaviors instead of attempting to decrease undesirable behaviors through punishment. They emphasize the importance of making positive changes in the child's environment in order to improve the child's behavior. Such changes may entail the use of positive reinforcement, modeling, supportive teacher-student relations, family support and assistance from a variety of educational and mental health specialists.

Are proactive behavioral support systems effective? A large body of research in psychology and education has demonstrated the effectiveness of such proactive systems of support in preventing or reducing school violence and disruptions and improving instructional outcomes. Systemic changes that result in a more positive approach to discipline and behavioral intervention can significantly impact school climate and student learning. All students, both disabled and non-disabled, can benefit from proactive behavioral support systems:

Research conducted over the past 15 years has shown that PBS, social skills instruction and violence prevention strategies are effective in promoting positive behavior in students and schools. Strategies that effectively maintain appropriate social behavior will make schools safer. Safer schools are more effective learning environments.

Schools that employ system-wide interventions for problem behavior prevention report reductions in office discipline referrals of 20-60%, resulting in increased academic engaged time and improved academic performance for all students.

A review of research on PBS effectiveness showed that there was over a 90% reduction in problem behavior in over half of the studies; the problem behavior stopped completely in over one-quarter of the studies.

Appropriately implemented, proactive behavior support systems can lead to dramatic improvements that have long-term effects on the lifestyle, communication skills and problem behavior of individuals with disabilities. Interim Alternative Educational Settings Not all significant behavior problems can be adequately addressed through positive behavior interventions, strategies and supports. The IDEA provisions for Interim Alternative Educational Settings (IAES) allow school personnel (through the IEP Team process) to quickly intervene and remove from the classroom or school a student with disabilities who engages in behavior that seriously threatens the safety and well-being of self or others. The rules specify that, for certain dangerous behaviors (e.g., possession of a weapon or drugs, the threat of injurious behavior), school personnel can treat the student with disabilities the same as any other student, with certain restrictions.

IDEA stipulates that an IAES must:

Enable the student to continue to progress in the general curriculum , although in another setting, and to continue to receive those services and modifications that will enable the child to meet the goals set out in the IEP; and Include services and modifications to address the behavior and prevent its recurrence. IAES are intended to serve short-term, transitional purposes. With few exceptions, IAES serve as temporary settings pending either a return to the student's current educational placement or a more permanent change in educational placement. IAES are not intended to serve as educational placements in which the long-term educational and mental health needs of students are adequately met. However, planning and progress toward this goal must begin during the interim alternative educational placement. It is critical that IAES provisions are maintained in IDEA and further clarified to assure implementation as intended.

Maintaining and Expanding IDEA Discipline Provisions The 1997 Amendments to IDEA were major steps forward in providing positive learning environments for all students, and particularly for improving social as well as academic learning opportunities for students with disabilities. Current regulations focusing on positive behavior interventions should be highlighted and strengthened, recognizing their benefits to the entire student body. The law should also assure that such interventions, strategies and supports are always linked to assessment, including Functional Behavioral Assessment. While current law emphasizes safeguards and positive support provisions when students with disabilities are involved in disciplinary actions, a current, comprehensive assessment (including FBA) should be required for any student suspected of having a behavioral disability and prior to the development of all IEP behavior intervention plans. Schools and districts should be strongly encouraged (through funding incentives) to develop proactive systems of behavioral supports at the classroom, building and district levels.

2002, National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway, Suite 402, Bethesda, MD 20814, (301) 657-0270, fax (301) 657-0275,


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