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Children with special needs whose behaviors may disrupt the classroom can sometimes find themselves on the wrong side of their school’s disciplinary code. In fact, twice as many children receiving educational services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) receive out-of-school suspensions than students without disabilities.1
That’s why teachers, special educators, and children with special needs and their parents must be familiar with their school’s disciplinary code. For the child with special needs, an individualized education program (IEP) can supersede the disciplinary code, offering exceptions and behavior-appropriate interventions. Special education teachers are the most frequently called-upon professionals to evaluate, assess, and create behavior interventions, whether a student is in a self-contained classroom or an inclusive setting.
Students earning an MS in Education with a specialization in Special Education or a Master of Arts in Teaching with a Special Education specialization learn the roles the disciplinary code and IEP play in helping to ensure that students with special needs receive a free and appropriate education (FAPE), and that classroom disruptions don’t impede learning.
These are among the topics in the Walden University master’s in special education course Creating Effective Behavioral Interventions. “Disciplining Students with Disabilities” by Kevin P. Dwyer from the National Association of School Psychologists is required reading for Walden’s MSEd candidates. Read along to learn more about the code of discipline: 2
Schools have the responsibility to make sure that all children attending, including those receiving special education and related services, are familiar with the discipline code and that their families also have the opportunity to know and understand the code. Parents of children with disabilities should be given the opportunity to discuss the discipline code when it is a concern for their child and to be partners in finding effective ways of assisting in maintaining the code and its intent. Parents are allies in helping predict problems related to codes of conduct and their individual child’s strengths and needs. Such discussions can generate IEP goals as well as necessary exceptions that may prevent the child from meeting a requirement of the school’s code.
Children who have disabilities that prevent them from understanding or responding appropriately to components of a discipline code or school rule should have those exceptions incorporated and addressed in their IEP. IEPs are designed to address both traditional academic needs and to meet “each of the child’s other educational needs that result from the child’s disability.” The law also says that schools shall consider, when needed, “strategies, including positive behavioral interventions, strategies, and supports to address that behavior” that impedes learning.
Examples of IEP discipline issues: A student with Tourette syndrome may repeat vulgar, obscene words or bark over and over. Obscene language may violate the discipline code, but in this case is out of the child’s control. Working with the child, family, and physicians, the special education and related service program should determine the best possible plan to reduce and compensate for the disruption that this syndrome causes. Another child may be extremely cognitively challenged and need very concrete examples of what the school discipline code means, just as a child who is deaf or visually impaired needs special accommodations. Children with Attention Deficit Disorder, generally, should not be suspended for inattention, but their IEP should contain goals, support, and specialized help to increase attention and sustained effort. The same can be true for a child who is severely depressed or withdrawn and therefore inattentive. This behavior should also be comprehensively addressed to increase learning and productivity.
A child with autism who bangs her hand on her desk over and over cannot be treated the same as a child or group of children who are doing the same thing to deliberately disrupt the class. A child who cannot speak clearly or communicate feelings or ideas can become extremely frustrated and may stomp out of the class or toss his pencil across the room. Training in finding alternative methods for communicating and for coping with frustration must be in place before the disruptive behavior becomes routine and results in disciplinary action, which may only increase the disruptive behavior.
All of the above examples require an effective individualized intervention plan documented in each child’s IEP. If such a plan did not exist and a disciplinary action was taken resulting in a suspension, expulsion, arbitrary change in placement, or illegal removal from FAPE, it would be a violation of the child’s civil rights.
There’s a saying that goes, “Where some see disabilities, special education teachers see possibilities.” If you’re called to this rewarding profession, an online master’s in education can take you there. Walden’s MSEd and MAT degree programs are designed for working professionals who want to advance their education while continuing in their careers and fully participating in life’s activities.
If you have a bachelor’s degree or higher, Walden’s online Master of Arts in Teaching degree program with a specialization in Special Education (K–Age 21) can be your gateway to becoming a first-time teacher. And if you’re already a teacher, you can earn your MSEd with a specialization in Special Education (Grades K–12) in as little as 12 months. Let Walden’s online teaching degrees show you the possibilities and point you toward a future where you make a difference in the lives of children with special needs.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online MS in Education degree program with 17 specializations. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
2Walden MSEd curriculum source: http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/discipline.stud.dis.dwyer.pdf
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.