Deciding where a child will receive services is one of the most important decisions in which parents will participate. Special education services are to be provided in the child’s least restrictive environment (LRE). This means that a child must receive services in the regular classroom whenever possible. The team will consider moving a child to a different setting only if that child cannot succeed in the regular classroom with services and supports. Whenever a placement is proposed that is not in the regular classroom, parents should understand why their child is unable to be successful in the regular classroom.
When Placement is an Issue
The following is a checklist for parents as they think about where services will be provided.
- What are the reasons my child is not in the regular classroom or school? Do I agree?
If not, is it clear what steps I should take to resolve the disagreement?
- What options are available, both inside and outside of the regular school?
- What placement is recommended?
Were day treatment or hospital-based programs considered? Why or why not?
If my child is placed in a special school or setting:
- How many other children are in this setting?
- Does the program provide good behavior models?
- Will my child receive the same academic program (books, homework, etc.) as is available in the general education classroom?
Why or why not? It is difficult to move back to a school program when there are differences in the curriculum.
- Will my child need a positive behavior intervention or support plan?
This plan should list ways for my child to manage his or her behaviors before serious concerns arise.
- Who will develop the plan?
Will it include strategies my child can use when he or she has a problem? Will the positive behavior plan be used in all classrooms? Who will inform the teachers about the plan? Will my child need help using the plan?
- Will support services or accommodations be needed in the general education classroom?
These services may include special books or materials, a classroom assistant or an individual aide, or a behavior support plan. Who will make sure the services are in place?
Transportation can greatly affect a child’s school day. If a bus ride is stressful, the child may arrive at school anxious or angry. Transportation can be challenging for children who are impulsive, anxious, fearful, easily angered, or teased or bullied by others. The IEP team should discuss whether transportation needs to be included as a related service in the IEP.
A child’s difficulties and resulting behavior on the bus may lead to not being allowed to ride the bus. If a child is unable to attend school because of no other transportation option, being suspended from the bus should be treated as a removal from school. Ultimately, it is the school’s responsibility to ensure a child’s safe transportation to and from school.
A removal for more than 10 consecutive school days is considered a “change in educational placement,” according to IDEA. A series of removals, including removals from transportation if the child is unable to attend school, that add up to more than 10 school days may become a change in placement. The IEP team must meet to discuss any changes in educational placement. Parents must have the opportunity to disagree with any proposed change in their child’s placement (see “Suspensions and Expulsions”).
Parents may ask for an IEP team meeting to discuss how their child should be transported if suspension from the bus is a problem. Questions to consider are:
- Will special transportation be necessary?
What is the evidence that it is necessary? Could services be provided on the regular bus? If not, why not?
- Will my child need an assigned seat?
If so, who will tell the bus driver? Who will enforce this right?
- Will my child need a bus aide?
Who supervises this person? What is their specific role?
- How long is the bus ride — longer, shorter, or about the same — as for other children?
- How are discipline issues handled on the bus?
- How will the school transport my child if he or she is unable to attend school because of a suspension from the bus?
- Who should I contact to resolve bus problems?
Appropriate transportation is the school district’s responsibility.
Each state has transportation regulations, as well as special education rules. Both are available from your state’s Department of Education. They may also be available through your state’s Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) or Community Parent Resource Center (CPRC). Find your state’s parent center at parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center.
School Rules and Policies
A child with disabilities is expected to follow the same discipline policies as any other child, unless the IEP states otherwise. Most parents want their child to follow school policies. However, the consequences for not following the rules may sometimes be unreasonable for a particular child. It will be important to have an IEP meeting about strategies to implement if a child is likely to exhibit unwanted behaviors.
Questions to think about include:
- Does the school have policies that will be difficult for my child to follow because of a mental health, emotional, or behavioral disorder?
For example, a rule that all children remember their pencils and books or risk suspension may be appropriate for most students. For a child with a short-term memory deficit, however, it is unreasonable to assume that punishment will improve memory.
- Are the consequences reasonable for all rules? If my child forgets to bring materials to class, what is the consequence?
- Will my child actually learn from the planned consequences?
How will the school and I know if my child learned?
Not all children have the same ability to control behaviors. It can be difficult to decide meaningful consequences for some children. It is important to think about whether the child’s behavior is likely to improve as a result of the consequence.
Most children with mental health, emotional, or behavioral disorders spend much of their school day in the general education classroom. Children with difficult behaviors often have problems in the classroom and may need accommodations in the environment, teaching strategies, or school work to be successful. The following are examples of accommodations:
- A child is not able to complete the general education classroom work. The teacher provides individualized assignments related to the work or reduces the amount of work.
- A student with severe attention or memory problems cannot listen to a class lecture and take notes at the same time. The teacher provides a copy of lecture notes, another student’s notes, or provides an assistive technology device that can record the lecture.
- A student forgets to carry books home or to class. The IEP team decides to provide two sets of textbooks, one for home and one for school.
- A child writes much more slowly than the rest of the class. The teacher provides a print copy of information written on the blackboard or extra time to complete written work or tests.
A simple and clearly written positive behavior intervention and support plan that is developed before problems arise can help. Positive reinforcement, ignoring behaviors, or providing choices are examples of this. Because parents and schools do not always agree on which behaviors are problems, this area should be discussed at the IEP meeting. The IEP team can then think about how a student’s disability affects the entire school day and write any needed accommodations into the IEP.
Suspensions and Expulsions
Short-term suspensions are one of the most widely used punishments for children or youth with mental health, emotional, or behavioral disorders. Most suspensions are for behaviors that are not dangerous. There are many other ways to help a child learn to manage his or her behaviors before suspension is used. Suspension often places students at risk both academically and emotionally.
With suspension, struggling students fall further behind when they are not in school. Suspension does not solve behavioral or emotional problems. In fact, some children would rather be suspended than be in school. This is true even when they have to do extra chores at home during suspension.
As mentioned in the section on transportation, a school may suspend a child for up to 10 days at a time, as long as such suspensions do not discriminate against the child based on his or her disability. After the child has been suspended for 10 school days in the same school year, during any additional suspensions, the school must provide any services that are needed for the child to continue to participate in the general education curriculum and to progress toward meeting IEP goals.
Removal for more than 10 days at a time constitutes a change in educational placement and a manifestation determination is required. A new IEP must be developed before changing a child’s placement as a result of suspension. Sometimes, due to certain violations of the student code of conduct, schools may decide to change the student’s placement. Prior to that placement change, special education law (IDEA) requires schools to hold a “manifestation determination” review. The purpose of that review is to determine if the child’s behavior that led to the discipline and change of placement is linked to his or her disability.
The meeting must be conducted within 10 school days of the decision to change the placement of the child because of the violation of the code of student conduct. It is a team process and the team — the parent(s) and the local education authority (LEA) meets to determine:
- Whether the behavior was caused by the child’s disability, or
- If the LEA failed to appropriately implement the IEP
If the answer is “yes” to the first consideration, the LEA must complete a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA), unless one has already been completed, and include goals and objectives that are focused on improving the child’s behavior. If a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) already exists, the IEP team must review the plan and modify it, as necessary, to improve the behavior. Additionally, a BIP must be written, or revised as necessary, to address the behavioral concerns.
If the answer is “yes” to the second consideration, the LEA must immediately remedy the lack of implementation of the IEP.
If the answer is “no” to either of the considerations, the child is subject to the disciplinary rules that would be used for a child without disabilities, except for whatever special education and related services the school is required to provide for the child with a disability.
In the following instances, school personnel may remove a student to an Interim Alternative Educational Setting for up to 45 school days, if the child:
- Carries a weapon to (or has a weapon at) school, on school premises, or at a school function
- Knowingly possesses or uses illegal drugs, or sells or solicits the sale of a controlled substance at school, on school premises, or at a school function
- Has inflicted serious bodily injury on another person at school, on school premises, or at a school function
Parents should discuss suspension at their IEP meeting if it is a concern for them. While school staff may suspend children who present a clear danger to themselves or others, children should not be repeatedly suspended for behaviors that are part of their disabilities. The IEP team should meet to determine an appropriate response to the behaviors of concern.
In-school suspension (ISS) is an alternative to out-of-school suspension. In ISS, students are given school assignments to complete in another room rather than being sent home. There is a risk that in-school suspension may be overused, simply because it is readily available. The use of in-school suspension is really a question of educational judgment. If a student is repeatedly sent to in-school suspension under the general education school discipline policies, the practice may be found to discriminate against a child based on his or her disability. This is especially true if the student does not receive high quality instruction from a licensed teacher while in the in-school suspension room.
The following questions about suspension may be useful for families to consider when developing their child’s IEP:
- What is the purpose of suspension?
When will it be used? Will my child be suspended for behaviors that are part of his or her disability? If so, does the team believe that suspension is appropriate in teaching new behavioral skills? How will suspension help my child learn?
- What will be taught during suspension?
- What will be done if my child’s behaviors do not improve as a result of suspension?
- What alternatives to out-of-school suspension can be used?
Frequent in-school suspensions signal to both parents and school staff that the student’s program is not meeting his or her educational needs. It is important to reinforce several key points:
- Punishment does not teach desired behaviors
- Suspension is punishment from the perspective of the school
- Someone must teach and reinforce the desired behaviors
- Learning is a continuous, long-term process, not a one-time demonstration or lecture
- Schools should teach behavior skills, which are just as important as math and English skills