Improving Your Child’s IEP Month by Month
A monthly article series by Jacqueline Lembeck, Esq. of McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.
In talking to parents of children with disabilities, I’ve realized that answering the question, “where do I begin?” is sometimes the hardest part. Navigating special education can feel like drowning in a sea of acronyms (IEP, RR, PTRE, NOREP, LEA . . .) or climbing an endless mountain of paperwork, or both! For those of you who have a resolution to make 2017 a more organized, successful, and peaceful year, this article series is for you! Month by month, I’ll discuss a way to improve your child’s IEP and give action items to focus your journey. It will still be a mountain, but I hope these tips will provide some trail markers along the way.
Addressing Behavioral Difficulties and Discipline
The beginning of the school year can be a tough time for many students with disabilities. Adjusting back into the rigor and routine of school takes time. Many students go through a difficult transition period when academic task demands are placed upon them again or when adjusting to a new school or classroom. For some students, there is a rise in behavioral and disciplinary incidents at the start of the year which gradually will decrease as the student grows more comfortable in the program. Below are tips to address behavioral difficulties and discipline as they come up.
You should start by analyzing the severity of the incidents. There is a huge difference between receiving a few behavioral point sheets that show your child did not have a great day and your child missing instructional time due to suspensions. I recommend that you consult an attorney for any suspension of 10 or more days or if your child is subject to multiple suspensions. Removing a student with a disability for more than 10 days is considered a change in the student’s placement. Similarly, a pattern of consecutive removals is a change in placement. In addition, Pennsylvania students diagnosed with Intellectual Disability should not be suspended at all except in a few very particular circumstances. Similarly, if your child is being restrained a school, you should be notified, a meeting should be held, and many times an updated Functional Behavior Assessment should be conducted. If the removal is a change in placement or if your child should not be getting suspended in the first place or is being inappropriately restrained, it may be important to have legal representation to protect your child’s right to a Free Appropriate Public Education.
If incidents are not severe, you should then consider how well-supported your child is in his/her program. If the behaviors are interfering with your child’s educational progress, there should be a plan for how to address the behaviors and teach positive replacement behaviors. Your child may require a Positive Behavioral Support Plan, a break card, instruction in coping skills, or time with a counselor, for example. If you feel that there is sufficient home to school communication about the behaviors and the plan in place is a good one, it may be OK to monitor the situation for a few weeks and see if the behaviors decrease after the initial transition period. If, on the other hand, you do not believe that your child is set up for success or that his/her plan does not adequately address the behavioral difficulties, you should speak with your child’s teacher for recommendations. Alternatively, consider requesting the IEP check-in meeting (discussed in previous months’ articles) right away to ensure that your child does not miss too much time.
It is important to keep in mind that not all students who are struggling with transitioning back to school demonstrate outward, or “external,” behaviors. Some students may become withdrawn or depressed and may avoid school by complaining of physical ailments (“somatic complaints”) or refusing to attend school. If your child is missing school for these reasons, you should immediately notify the school team and request supports/services to help your child overcome these barriers to his/her education.
September Action Items:
- Keep a record of all behavioral reports including point sheets, detentions, suspensions, and restraints.
- Consider contacting an attorney if your child is missing educational time due to long or multiple suspensions or if your child is being restrained at school.
- Review the behavioral supports in your child’s program to see if they are adequate.
- Decide whether to a) wait out the initial transition time or b) request changes now.
- If changes need to be made now, contact the school team and/or request an IEP meeting.
- If your child is missing school due to school avoidance or is struggling emotionally, contact his/her school team and fill them in and ask for support.