Knowledge and expertise counts and Jennifer’s vast professional experience lends her a unique skill set to navigate IEP meetings. Jennifer Lesher has extensive behavior experience advocating for children with disabilities, including her own elementary school aged son who is diagnosed with ASD and ADHD. She obtained an M.Ed. in Behavioral Analysis from the University of Cincinnati which allows her to understand behavior plans and she can assist in creating one that will work for your child. Her MBA and executive level Human Resources experience gives her an advantage in negotiations and difficult conversations.
If your child is struggling with behavior issues or challenges with attention due to ADHD, there is no one better to assist you than Jennifer.
Please review for rights any student has when facing school discipline.
Right to a Manifestation Determination Review Hearing (MDR)
Before a student who is eligible for Special Education services can be expelled or suspended long-term (more than 10 days), a meeting must be held to determine if the punishable behavior is related to the child’s disability. For example, if a child is eligible for Special Education because s/he has Attention Deficit Disorder, s/he cannot be expelled or long-term suspended for behavior that is caused by poor impulse control.
An Individual Education Planning Team (IEPT) must hold an MDR to discuss the following:
Specifically, the team decides:
Questions to determine if the behavior “was caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to the child’s disability”:
During the course of the MDR, the student must “stay-put” in his/her school placement until the hearing is over, unless there are “special circumstances” (34 CFR §300.530).
Right to Stay-Put Protection
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA ‘04) lays out a stay-put provision that temporarily protects Special Education students from unjustified suspension or expulsion. The provision requires that while a school or law enforcement agency is reviewing the case or filing proceedings, a Special Education student has the right to remain in his or her “then current educational placement” unless the parent and school agree otherwise. Under “special circumstances”, if a weapon, drug or serious bodily harm is involved, the school can move the child to a 45-day temporary placement (an “interim alternative educational setting” or IAES) without parental consent. Obtaining a stay-put may seem difficult at first (See Sample Letter for a Stay-Put). However the only way a Special Education student can be kept out of school, if the district secures a court injunction.
Considering Supports and Services Prior to Long-term Suspension
Multiple suspensions of a Special Education student that total 10 days (combined, or all at once) over the academic year may result in a re-evaluation of the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). Out-of-school suspensions that total 10 days may be considered a “significant change in placement,” meaning the student is not getting an education in the conditions described by the IEP. This reconvening process is intended to encourage the school to work out an IEP and/or a Behavior Plan to accommodate the student’s needs, so that s/he can succeed in school.
Services During Long-term Suspension or Expulsion
If the school board expels a Special Education student, or gives him/her a long-term suspension, the district must still provide a “free and appropriate education” (FAPE). FAPE is required for Special Education students, and should include instruction, as well as other support services listed in the IEP.
Strategies to Protect Special Education Students from Aggressive Disciplinary Actions
In general, all behaviors serve some function. Although you can’t always know exactly what function a particular behavior serves, you can often uncover the meaning behind it by examining the information collected through the assessments and asking strategic questions. Building on the previous example, was Jill getting attention from her peers through her behavior? Was she able to get out of a difficult assignment? Does she know how to do long division? Answering questions like these helps to determine if the behavior is linked to a difficulty in learning, like being unable to perform a skill (long division) or to some other reason, such as being embarrassed that she doesn’t understand a skill that may seem easy for other students.
After the data is gathered from the ABC chart, scatter plot and interviews, this information can be condensed and recorded on a data triangulation chart. This chart can give clues to the function of the behavior and will be used in the FBA meeting. Note that these specific tools are being used here as examples of what a quality FBA will consider; there is no provision in the law that requires a school or school district to use them.
As the FBA team discusses the data that’s been collected, it forms a hypothesis about possible deficits and causes for the behavior. It then puts this hypothesis to the test by creating variations in the learning requirements and environment to see if and how the student responds.
For our example, you may help Jill develop an indiscreet way to signal her teacher when she is frustrated with her work and needs help. If Jill’s disruptive behavior stops after using this intervention, nothing more needs to be done; however, if Jill’s disruptive behavior does not subside or even intensifies, the team may create a behavior intervention plan (BIP).
The BIP targets one to three of a student’s undesirable behaviors with interventions that are linked to the functions of the behavior; each intervention specifically addresses a measurable, clearly-stated targeted behavior. A BIP can include prevention strategies, which stop the behavior before it begins, as well as replacement behaviors, which achieve the same function as the disruptive behavior without causing disruption. The environment is considered, and the FBA/BIP team may determine that a change in a student’s schedule or in the arrangement of is or her classroom is called for. In addition, the BIP provides a plan for responding to the old behavior that is being replaced and promoting the new behavior.
For students without disabilities, the BIP can be adjusted as the student improves without another meeting; however, frequent monitoring is still required. For students with disabilities, the BIP is a legal document that is a part of an individualized education program (IEP). It must be followed both inside and outside of the classroom and it can’t be adjusted without calling a meeting of the admission, review and dismissal (ARD) committee. (Not every state refers to this team as an ARD; a number of states simply call it an IEP team. These terms are generally interchangeable.) This committee reviews the BIP each year and can change it at that time. An ARD meeting can also be called by a teacher or parent any time there is a concern. If the disruptive behavior leads to a student being removed from class a total of 10 or more days, the law requires that the IEP or ARD team meet and conduct a manifestation determination (determining if the behavior being disciplined is a part of the child’s disability or not), which may require a change in the BIP.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), schools are required by law to use functional behavior assessments when dealing with challenging behavior in students with special needs.1 As a parent, you may need to specifically push for an FBA if you see a direct need.
An FBA is usually done by a behavioral specialist. It then becomes the basis for a Behavior Intervention Plan, which is designed specifically for your child to counteract a particularly challenging behavior.
The process typically involves documenting the antecedent (what comes before the behavior), the behavior, and the consequence (what happens after the behavior) over a number of weeks. This is done by interviewing teachers, parents, and others who work with your child.
The FBA also evaluates how a child's disability may affect their behavior. Further, it may involve manipulating the environment to see if a way can be found to avoid the behavior.
There are many instances when an FBA may be needed, but let's take a look at just one example.
A student who acts up frequently in class may be sent to stand in the hallway. A functional behavior assessment may find that the student acts up only during times when a lot of writing is required in class. It may also discover that he has documented difficulty with fine motor skills. Therefore, the misbehavior serves the function of getting him out of written work.
The FBA may recommend adding supports to reduce the amount of writing needed and give the student tools to make writing easier. This may eliminate the behavior in a way that escalating punishments never will. After all, sending the child to the principal's office, making his parents come to get him, and suspending him is equally as effective in meeting the goal of getting out of class when it's time to write.
Ideally, an FBA would be started soon after the behavior becomes a problem. This allows the behavioral specialist time to observe the behavior and implement a change in a timely manner.
However, given the realities of school staffing, the gap between the recognition of a need for assessment and the actual assessment taking place may be weeks or even months. Meanwhile, the behavior continues to occur. This means that the student keeps being disruptive and it interferes with their learning proper behavior. It can really be a challenge for both teachers and parents.
The information contained on this website is not intended as legal advice but to provide a general understanding of the process from a purely educational perspective, as it pertains to special education for students with disabilities, parents of students with disabilities and attorneys who are new to special education practice.
This website or links to articles is not intended to and should not be substituted for legal advice of any sort and should not be relied upon as legal advice. The information on this website should not be relied upon with the expectation of an automatic or even an improved chance of a prevailing party decision in a special education due process hearing, nor does it promise or warrant any particular result if the educational tips contained herein are followed whether they are used as written or used as modified by you or an attorney .
To attain legal advice as to the individual circumstances of your individual case, please consult with an attorney of your choice who is licensed in your state and knowledgeable about special education matters and the individualized history and facts of your particular case.
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