Is there a storm on the horizon?
Will it be as strong as the one 50 years ago?
In January 2022, multiple organizations concerned about the rights of children with disabilities to a free and appropriate public education reported that those rights may have been violated. Students, especially those who have substantial behavioral problems, may be “informally” suspended, placed on home-bound instruction, or otherwise excluded from schooling.
To me, this echoes concerns that I remember from the time I was transitioning from the role of a teacher to that of a graduate student. Legal cases from a little before that time (e.g, PARC; Mills) were the sources of extensive discussion around the coffee (and beer) tables as the drumbeat for PL 94-142 grew more insistent.
Kids were being denied access to education back then! Bum-bum-bum. Come on! Bum-bum-bum. These were our kids, the kids we taught. Bum-bum-bum. Let’s let them have what their peers get! Bum-bum-bum, bum-bum-bum.
That was “inclusion” in those days. We just wanted “our kids” to get to go to school. And, as idealists, we wanted them to get educational opportunities that eliminated barriers to their educational success. Bum-bum-bum.
Now, 50 years later, I’m learning that access to education (let alone “appropriate” education) is apparently still being denied to children with disabilities. There’re many people expressing concern about this matter.
Am I surprised? Of course not. Educational institutions have competing contingencies. They have to operate within financial constraints. They have to weigh issues of equity. Lots more…. Do I agree with those counterpoints? Should we generally advocate for LEAs or for kids? Well, I think that’s a mistaken dichotomy.
An important part of “the rub” is that state and local education agencies must act within a set of rules about keeping kids out of school. Most readers will have heard about many of these: “10-day rule,” “change in placement,” “manifestation determination,” etc. But what if a school could technically comply with those rules, but still exclude a student because of, for example, behavior issues. Hmmmm...that seems worrisome.
A lead horse in this stampede, if it indeed turns out to be a movement, may be the The National Disabilities Rights Network. NDRN (2022) published a report in January 2022 that outlined its case. Although it runs 40 pages, I recommend interested people read it. Related groups are on the ride, too.
The NDRN provides descriptions of multiple cases illustrating its concern about informal suspension:
The case summaries that follow are redacted examples from P&A [protection and advocacy] case work, which illustrate the nature and extent of the problem:
1. Three students with diagnoses of autism, from the same small town, were repeatedly sent home because the LEA didn’t have sufficient paraprofessional (teacher’s aide) coverage and they were considered “too hard to handle.” One child was not in school for almost a year. The other two students were repeatedly sent home for shorter lengths of time. All three children experienced significant disruption and delay in their education because they simply weren’t receiving an education.
2. AA is a 10-year-old child who has a diagnosis of autism. He was placed in over 100 restraints at school during his kindergarten and 1st grade years. In the beginning of his 2nd grade year, he was placed on homebound services due to disability related behaviors.
He was not allowed to attend school events or to participate in extracurricular activities. He did not have a seat in a classroom or a locker for at least 3 school years (2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade.) When asked, he cannot describe a typical school day.
3. BB, a junior high school student with a disability, committed a series of minor, non -violent acts that added up to a potential expulsion over the course of years. In lieu of a school administrative hearing (which might have cleared him of some of the violations or reduced the severity of his punishment) and without protections against punishment for his disability the LEA offered the parent a written agreement to sign.
a. If they had signed this agreement, BB would have been placed on homebound instruction for 12 months and his parent would have been required to waive all legal claims, in addition to withdrawing him from all schools in the LEA for 12 months. It is unclear if any education or tutoring services would have been provided to him during his time out of school. In addition, BB would not have been permitted to attend any extracurricular activities in the district or enter onto school property.
b. After consulting with the P&A attorney, the parent did not sign the agreement and he received behavior services in school, after which he did well.
4. CC was 15 years old and in the 9th grade at the time the P&A represented her. She was diagnosed with a seizure disorder at 6 months and then with autism in her teens. Except for a few words, CC is mostly non- verbal. The LEA contacted her mother many times per month to pick her up from school: whenever her behavior began to escalate or when the teacher or her assigned aide would be absent. This resulted in the equivalent of weeks of missed school.
5. DD is a six-year-old boy with complex medical needs who lived in a foster home. He had disruptive behaviors at school, such as throwing items and flopping on the floor while refusing to do work. As a result of these behaviors, he was only permitted to attend school for one day per week, from 7:30 to 12:30 PM. He was at risk of being moved from his foster home into a group home because his foster parents became increasingly frustrated by the shortened school days. The P&A arranged for an independent behavior consultant to review the case. Almost immediately upon the consultant’s intervention, his behaviors drastically improved. He was returned to a full school day and stayed there, successfully. (National Disability Rights Network, 2022, p. 13)
One of the problems with examining the issue of “informal suspensions” is that there do not seem to be strong studies of the problem. There are cases...cases...cases. For some of us, the cases promote awareness of a problem. For others, cases amount to evidence of an absolute conclusion. For others, cases are an invitation to systematic analyses. Despite my own views that these cases merit further analysis, I hope we can all agree that reported cases should elicit concern.
There are subscribers to SET who may be especially concerned about this matter. People who have more knowledge than I or a particular instrument to grind may differ with my characterizations in this post. It’d be great to have an airing of the different views in the comments. Let’s discuss!
National Disabilities Rights Network. (2022, January). Out from the shadows: Informal removal of children with disabilities from public schools. Author.
Diament, M. (2022, 27 January). Schools use off-book suspensions to push out student in secial education report finds. Disability Scoop. https://www.disabilityscoop.com/2022/01/27/schools-use-off-book-suspensions-to-push-out-students-in-special-ed-report-finds/