After the long break, I want to take a step back from specific legal rules to talk about big picture issues that confront special needs education. Specifically, I want to confront the strange idea that one hears from time to time – that there is a conflict between educating children with special needs and educating typical children.
Some school districts assert that diverting limited resources from regular education to service children with special needs hurts regular education. This is mostly a deflection by the school district, trying to divide various groups that the district serves. If different interest groups attack each other, the school district can avoid discussing the ways it falls short of the education goals society has set for it. This deflection should be resisted on the general principle that distractions from important issues should not prevent us from addressing those issues.Moreover, it's almost always a false conflict. Special education generally requires training teachers to be better and more effective at overcoming difficulties in teaching. If teachers can learn skills to be more effective at teaching special needs children, they can apply those skills when teaching regular education students as well. For example, the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) requires a Manifestation Hearing when a school district is considering serious discipline of a special needs child. Part of the hearing process is an evaluation called a Functional Behavorial Assessment (FBA). Further, the district must create and implement a Behavorial Intervention Plan (BIP) if the misconduct is determined to be a manifestation of the disability. What are FBAs and BIPs? An FBA is an evaluation of behavior, often performed by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. By looking at the context of the behavior, including what was happening before the behavior and what happened after it, an expert is able to draw conclusions about why a particular behavior occurs – formally speaking, the function of the behavior. Once the function of a behavior is determined, it is easier to plan interventions to reduce the frequency of problem behavior, perhaps trying to replace it with more socially appropriate behavior. For example, a child who misbehaves to avoid a task should receive extra attention in order to redirect the student back to the task. By contrast, a child who misbehaves to get attention or some other reward – the proverbial tantrum in the store to bet the candy - should be ignored. Obviously, that is very vague analysis, and an expert would be able to give much more concrete advice after examining a particular situation. A BIP is the plan of what interventions will be done, and how they will be implemented. Thus, a BIP describes the modifications, accommodations, or support services that will support the child in whatever placement is appropriate – preferably the placement that the child was in before the behavior problems led to consideration of school discipline. If the school district does not follow the BIP, then the district is violating its legal obligations, just as if the district did not correctly implement the IEP. Further, the principles for reducing the frequency of misbehavior can be applied to all students, not simply those with skill or cognitive deficits. An FBA or a BIP is not legally required when a typical student misbehaves, but teachers who use the perspective of “purpose of behavior” will likely be more effective at dealing with problem behaviors of typical children. In general, the more sophisticated techniques teachers are able to use, the more effective they will be in dealing with students. And the source of these perspectives and skills is usually the training and research that exists to help serve children with particular problems. In short, a clever school district can draw from the expertise its personnel have developed in dealing with specialized problems in order to solve more generalized problems. Becoming more effective at solving a type of problem frees the district to focus on the core mission – educating the students. That’s why there’s not really a conflict between special education and regular education. *** Upcoming Events: I will be giving a free presentation on the basics of special education law on January 19 at 10 am at the Art It Out Therapy Center. Please call 770-726-9489 to RSVP. If you can’t make that meeting, Talk About Curing Autism is hosting a similar presentation by Christy Calbos, another special needs attorney here in Georgia. More information here. January 27: Kids Enabled Resource Fair. Register here. February 1-2: 23rd Annual “Dimensions of Dyslexia” Convention. Info here. Today (January 11) is the last day for an early bird discount. February 27-28: “Across the Spectrum” Autism / Asperger Conference and Expo. Info here. Have your own event for children with special needs? Submit it here for inclusion in future events lists.