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Is Your Special Education Child on the School to Prison Pipeline? 5 Things You Can Do About It!
I was recently contacted by a parent of an autistic child from out of state for advice on advocacy. The mother is educated, knowledgeable in advocacy skills and a passionate fighter for her child! She is extremely concerned that her school district is setting her child up for failure (because of his behavior) so that he can be removed from school. I have seen many special education teachers escalate a child’s behavior, call the police and have the child arrested. That’s how it goes from school to prison — and it can happen to your child.
According to a recent article, a survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics says experts attribute the high percentage of people with disabilities in the nation’s bloated prison population — which has grown 700 percent since 1970 — in part to deep problems in educating children with disabilities. Here’s another shocking statistic: Nationwide, at least 73 percent of emotionally challenged youth who drop out of school are arrested within five years, according to a federal study.
What should a parent do?
1. Learn about behavior in general and some of the causes: a. A child’s behavior could very easily be related to his disability. b. Every behavior is a form of communication. c. Children often have behavioral difficulties if they are frustrated. d. Note that there is a strong correlation between academic difficulties and behavioral difficulties. In other words, many children who have behavioral difficulties in school also have difficulties with their academics. e. Reacting to a child’s behavior will either improve the behavior or make it worse. This includes at school and at home! Untrained special education staff may escalate behavior (make it worse), rather than de-escalate behavior (make it better). f. The earlier the behavior is addressed, the easier it will be to change the behavior.
2. Ask the special education teachers to look for the ABC behaviors and monitor the behavior for one week (recording their results). A stands for antecedent (what is happening in the classroom when the behavior occurs), B stands for behavior (exactly what the behavior is), and C stands for consequence (what happened because of the behavior—for example: your child screams and yells and avoids school work).
3. Advocate best practices for dealing with negative behavior (appropriately developed Functional Behavior Assessment (FPA) used to develop positive supports/behaviour plans). Make sure the plan is “positive” because studies have shown that punishment only works in the short term to positively change behavior.
4. Educate yourself about federal and state special education laws related to the discipline of children with disabilities. In my 25 years of advocacy, I have found that many school districts exaggerate child discipline laws, and few parents question their ability to do so.
5. Ask for a behavior diary (to be filled out and brought home daily) so you can use positive reinforcement at home for good behavior. When teachers fill out the sheet, they should write only positive comments. The daily behavior sheet can be used in a dispute with the special education teacher (for example: they state on _________ days that your child did __________ and the sheet does not reflect this). The sheet can be created by the teacher or the person leading the FBA. Make sure all sheets are dated for future reference.
If your school district calls the police on your child and arrests him, you may be able to get help from special education services judges. I have seen parents who can help their child get the services they need if the criminal justice system is involved. If this happens to your child, proactively advocate for needed special education services. Ultimately your child can end up in a free appropriate public education and the school district must provide the services the child needs! Good luck!
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