Delaware Online, an online news outlet for Wilmington News Journal, reports that 20% of students suspended or expelled in Delaware are students with disabilities, although they only represent 14% of all students. The article reports that the problem is most reflected in students with "invisible disabilities," like children on the autistic spectrum.
The article also points out that children with disabilities are supposed to be protected by provision in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act that requires a Manifestation Determination Review. The fact that so many are still being expelled probably reflects the fact that districts:
- Ignore the law.
- Browbeat Parents.
I know from first hand experience. My oldest boy has struggled with ADD. He is very, very bright but also very impulsive and has a high need for excitement (you should see him on a snowboard.) He also seems to get trapped in every disciplinary snare. He was suspended for a week when he took a large jack knife on a school camp out (it had been his recently deceased grandfather's.)
He also got scooped up on a witch hunt when the local Dare Officer's daughter got caught with a crib sheet for rap songs with some rather illicit meanings. Initially he was suspended for two weeks, which was changed to two days (Pennsylvania State law requires a due process hearing for a suspension longer than 3 days, which would have been a big disappointment.) We were then called into the local police station and browbeaten by the self same Dare Officer (who should not been involved in any way because of his daughter's involvement.) Zach went into a Juvenile Deterrent Program, although the volunteer counselors for the program did a lot of snorting after stating that it was a simple school disciplinary and not a criminal problem. Today I would get a lawyer and sue both the school district and the police department.
How many parents, like me, just try to get it over with? How many kids become discouraged and give up, instead of learning appropriate ways to express frustration, avoid confrontations and calm themselves down?
The article in Delaware Online also notes that another need is for the state or the districts to provide positive behavior management skills to general education teachers. Amen. A lot of general education teachers are poorly prepared to provide positive behavior supports to students, especially needed by children with disabilities. There is a lot of blaming directed at special educators and their charges by general education teachers. They will say "I was never trained to deal with those children (insert appropriate degree of scorn.)" Sorry, folks. Least Restrictive Environment legally makes most of you legally responsible for the included child, not the special educator.
One of the things I would like to see would be Autism Speaks, the Autism Society of American would set up legal funds to challenge some of the craziness that parents deal with from districts. One reader informed me her district informed her that she should move to a larger district because they would have to send her child away. I wrote her she should have taken them up: my residential program costs a district between $150,000 and $200,000 a child. It would be cheaper to hire a single teacher than to send the child to a residential program. But, once again, districts will try to browbeat parents.
Will they ever learn? I sure hope so. I'm sure going to do my best to remind districts what their responsibility is to help these often difficult children how to succeed in social situations. Enough with the punishment!