Reauthorization: Challenging Behavior and Students With
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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
Highlights of IDEA Discipline Provisions Current law and
regulations provide key supports to students with disabilities
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
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
'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
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.
Bear, G., Quinn,
M. M. & Burkholder, S. (2001). Interim Alternative Educational
Settings. Bethesda, MD: NASP.
IDEA Practices website:
National Association of School Psychologists:
fact sheets on Positive Behavior Supports, Zero Tolerance, and
NASP recognizes the contributions and suggestions of Russell
Skiba, George Bear and Diana Browning Wright in the development
of this fact sheet.
© 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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