For many school children with disabilities—especially those with an IEP or a 504 plan—the ability to get up and move around the classroom is a common (and practical) accommodation. Be it standing, walking, jumping, or getting the wiggles out in general—for these kids, the freedom to engage in physical activity throughout the learning day is critical to their success. Read more
We are often asked here on the East Coast if the instruction lost from snow days for students who receive special education should be made up by the school district. While snow days certainly don’t happen in all parts of the country, there are lessons to be learned for other cancellations of school due to weather events or unforeseen closures of school. The question really is this: if school is cancelled for everyone, regardless of the reason, should lost instructional time for student who have IEP’s (Individualized Education Programs) be made up?
Let’s break it down. Here in Connecticut, for example, too many snow days cause many school districts to go under the number of instructional days required by the State. Each state has its own number of required instructional days. When this happens, school districts are forced to borrow days back from the winter or spring vacations or add them onto the end of the school year. In this case, everyone’s snow days are being made up and there should be no issue for students who receive special education.
But what about snow days that aren’t made up for everyone? Students with disabilities are entitled to receive the same benefits of their school system that all students receive, otherwise it would be discriminatory. In a situation in which ALL students have missed school, the child with a disability is being treated the same as his or her non-disabled peers. In fact, there is no mention of make up days for student’s who have IEPs anywhere in the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).
That said, the loss of instructional time can certainly have a different impact on a student who has an IEP, so I suppose one could make the argument that the loss of instructional time could result in a denial of FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education). If the loss of instructional time truly resulted in the denial of FAPE, then the reasonable request would be to ask for compensatory education. Compensatory education is truly make-up instructional time which “compensates” for a loss. If this is the route that you choose as a parent, proceed with caution as the denial of FAPE must be demonstrated and documented.
Our analysis boils down to this: generally speaking, school cancellation which effects all students equally would be hard to argue as having a discriminatory effect on students with disabilities. However, whether the impact of significant absences from school would pose great harm to a student with a disability in a way which would impact that child’s IEP must be reviewed, as with all IEP considerations, on an individual basis, and based on that child’s unique needs.
When I learned the news about Avonte Oquendo’s disappearance, I reacted as a mother of a teenage son who has an autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability and is non-verbal. I reacted as a mother whose own child had gone missing on the way home from school. I also reacted as a special education advocate who has worked with hundreds of families who have children who are similar to Avonte and mine. When you have a child who needs supervision to be safe, Avonte’s story is a parent’s worst nightmare.
I shudder for Avonte’s parents and wonder, “how could this happen?” The fact is it shouldn’t happen. It is unconscionable and unjustifiable. I’ve followed the news about Avonte and I hope changes will come as result of this tragic, tragic course of events.
It took a frightening event with my son for me to realize that I could have his IEP (Individualized Education Program) reflect protocols to address safety issues. In my son’s case, his van was a half hour late coming home from school, which never happened. I know my situation can’t compare to what the Oquendo family has gone through, but it was the event for me that made me realize I must put safety first in my son’s IEP. So on that day, when the van was 10 minutes late I called my son’s aide on his cell phone. His aide was a wonderful grandfather who cared for my son like his own. He informed me that the driver deliberately took off without him and he was furious about it. I immediately called the police to see if there was traffic on the route they traveled. There was not. I alerted the police about the situation. Twenty more painful, panic-filled minutes passed. When my son finally arrived home, I was furious with the driver. I asked him why he left the bus yard without my son’s aide. He said, “I didn’t know he had to come with me.” I knew he was lying as he had driven with my son and his aide for the entire previous week. He had deliberately left without him, which I imagined was to get my son alone. Needless to say he was fired. So many things had gone wrong that should have never been allowed to happen.
All I knew was that my son was alone with this man for a half hour which could not be accounted for. My son could not tell me what happened. What an awful feeling it was when I had to check my son’s private areas. To this day, I will never know if anything happened. But I’ll tell you what, I was a mother on fire!
From that day forward, his IEP included detailed instructions for the transportation company and his school. The driver is to never leave the bus yard without the aide, the driver and aide are assigned to my son’s route and follow the protocol, and there is a plan in place for when either one of them is sick and can’t drive that day. My son’s school has a protocol which details that he should never be released from school if the driver shows up alone. This safety plan is a part of my son’s IEP.
I do also worry about wandering off and elopement at school. Thankfully, a safety plan for wandering isn’t something I had to incorporate into his IEP as his school follows strict, school-wide procedures.
Wandering and elopement is a common challenge for many children and adults who have autism and other developmental disabilities. When your child is at risk for elopement at school, I want you to know that you can meet with your IEP team and request a written plan or protocols to address behavior that puts your child at risk. You can request ongoing staff training on the written protocols. I’ve been involved with many IEP teams over the years in developing and incorporating safety plans into the IEP. Also, ask to see your school’s written, school-wide protocols for elopement.
Whatever puts your child at risk, please, please know that you can address it through your child’s IEP.
This is a text synopsis of a powerpoint presentation that Attorney Jennifer Laviano and Special Education Advocate Julie Swanson present on Bullying & Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Other Developmental Disabilities
Jennifer and Julie are available to present this presentation for your group.
Bullying is a pattern of repeated aggressive behavior, with negative intent, directed from one child to another where there is a power imbalance.
– according to leading Norwegian researcher Dr. Dan Olweus
Bullying can take many forms…….
- Physical (hitting, kicking, shoving)
- Verbal (teasing, name calling)
- Emotional (Intimidation through gestures, social exclusion or shunning)
And the newest form of bullying – Cyberbullying:
- Sending mean, vulgar, or threatening messages or images;
- Posting sensitive, private information about another person;
- Pretending to be someone else in order to make that person look bad;
- Intentionally excluding someone from an online group
- Cyber-bullying… E-mails, Instant messaging, Text or digital imaging messages sent on cell phones, Web pages, Web logs (blogs), Chat rooms or discussion groups, and Other information communication technologies.
The challenge is that research supports that kids with disabilities are at greatest risk to be bullied by their peers, but we don’t know the precise correlation between someone’s disability status and their risk for victimization.
- We only have research that tells us how kids with disabilities are at risk to be victimized by adults
- We don’t have good empirical research to make the connection between the adult statistics and whether this same behavior is true for children abusing other children by bullying
Further challenged by the fact that many states keep disciplinary data on reportable offenses at school. Here in In Connectictut, the data does not include victim demographics or identify the type of bullying
- Reportable offenses include:
- Racial slurs
- School threat
- Bullying (without identifying the type)
In other words, most states don’t keep data on bullying and kids with disabilities
Therefore, we don’t have a finger on the size and shape of the problem.
So where does that leave us?
By Special Education Advocate Julie Swanson and Attorney Jennifer Laviano
Today’s headlines are filled with news about bullying at school. The latest phenomenon “bullicide” is when kids who are being bullied commit suicide. Let’s face it, bullying can be pretty scary and should concern most any parent who has a child attending school. However, it is especially worrisome for parents who have children with disabilities, because research shows that kids with disabilities are more likely to be targeted. This is especially so for kids with developmental disabilities like autism, because they are less likely to be able to navigate their way around social situations by the very nature of their disability.
As professionals who represent children with special needs, we help parents obtain appropriate special education services for their children with disabilities. Both of us have a particular interest in the rights of children with autism spectrum disorders. Julie is not only a special education advocate, but the parent of a 14 year child with autism whose practice is largely devoted this disability. Jennifer has dedicated her law practice entirely to the representation of children and adolescents with disabilities whose families are in disagreement with their public school districts, and the majority are families whose children have autism spectrum disorders.
Almost every family we work with that includes a child with ASD reports that their child has been affected by bullying. Unfortunately, we both work with parents who tell us that their school team tells them that bullying can’t be addressed through the special education IEP (Individualized Education Plan).
We are here to say it most certainly can! Here are a few practical tips as you tackle the problem:
1. Ask for your school district’s bullying policy and procedures.
2. Screen your child at home. Talk to him or her and explore what’s happening at school and with peers. Set up a data collection system at home that tracks any changes in behavior.
3. Screen your child at school. Have a team meeting with your child’s special education team (examples: the special ed teacher, regular ed teacher, case manager, social worker, guidance counselor, school psychologist, speech pathologist, principal) and make them aware of the situation. Ask the school team to monitor your child over a period of time and set up a data collection system among the team to track any changes. Make sure that monitoring takes place across all structured and non-structured school settings (the classroom, hallways, lunch room, bathroom, school bus and at recess).
4. Document the issue and request that the documentation be placed in your child’s educational file.
5. Determine if what is happening is a reportable offense in accordance with school policies.
6. Put a (written) plan in place with the school team.
7. Recognize the difference between a school-wide approach to bullying and a child-centered approach. School-wide approaches include getting other kids involved in resolving the bullying issue like pairing the student with an ASD with a peer buddy. A child-centered approach involves the child with an ASD gaining a skill or learning to change their own behavior like recognizing a bully or having a bank of responses to say to a bully.
8. Consider what is making your child vulnerable to being bullied. If you don’t identify the specific problem your child is having then it is more difficult to address it and help remediate it through the IEP. For example, is it your child’s Inability to read / recognize social cues (shunning, teasing, gesturing, etc.), inability to respond effectively (lack of a strategy bank), or inability to self-advocate. Once you’ve identified these type of issues, you can argue that these social skill deficits should be addressed as social skill goals and objectives in the IEP.
9. Develop a plan targeting your child’s level of ability. Set up a buddy system in unstructured set tings (schoo l-wide). Develop incentives for other kids to participate as buddies (school-wide). Develop classroom lessons to raise awareness of bullying, that will be taken seriously and there will be consequences when students bully (school-wide).
10. Develop IEP goals to address each individual social skill deficit (student-centered). Develop IEP goals to address each individual pragmatic language deficit (student-centered.)
11. From a legal perspective, one of the most difficult challenges in addressing bullying in our public schools is that, while many states do have laws on the books regarding bullying, they generally do not include what is called a “private right of action.” In Engli sh, and summarizing a very complicated legal premise, this means that while the law exists, there is no right to sue someone who violates it under that specific statute. Therefore, parents whose children are being routinely tormented at school who are faced with an administration who elects not to properly address the situation are left to utilize other state or federal laws if they want to find justice in our courts.
Therefore, when a parent is considering what rights their child has if their child with autism is being bullied, first and foremost they should ask themselves whether changes need to be made in the IEP. Be prepared to hear your IEP Team grumble that bullying is “not a special education issue,” but indeed it is. If a student’s disability is causing them to exhibit behaviors which are making them particularly vulnerable to harassment by their peers, or to fail to understand appropriate social interaction in the “mainstream” (as is often the case with autism spectrum disorders), then absolutely this needs to be addressed in the student’s special education program.
Without appropriate special education support and instruction for students with disabilities within our public school settings, we are setting our kids with autism up for being targeted, humiliated and excluded within the regular education environment, in direct contravention of one of the key purposes of the IDEA, which is to include children with disabilities in their public schools. Wh at is happening as a result of our failure to adequately scaffold special education programs and instruction for students whose autism spectrum disorder places them at even greater risk for bullying is that we are returning to the days of segregation of children with disabilities, as a matter of fact, if not as a matter of law.
In my experience talking with parents who have special education concerns, it is disturbing for me to learn about misinformation often given to them in hallway conversations with teachers or other school staff.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not about teachers or other school staff and placing blame on them. Most teachers are worth their weight in gold. But, ultimately most teachers are not experts on the IDEA (Individual with Disabilities Education Act) and your rights under this federal law.
Here’s an example. I had a parent insist that he couldn’t refer his child to special education because his child’s teacher said that only teachers could make the referral. After I took a couple of deep breaths, I explained that the teacher’s explanation was not entirely true. Teachers can make referrals to special education, and so can you! Please know that you, as a parent or guardian can refer your child to special education. The referral can trigger initial evaluations in all suspected areas of disability by your school team or other professionals.
In another example, a parent explained to me that the school speech and language pathologist reported to him that his son was going to be exited from special education at the next IEP team meeting because he was doing so well. O.K., I would consider that predetermining an outcome at it’s best. So hold on right there, this type of decision can only be made in an IEP team meeting where many things are taken into consideration when exiting a child from special education.
So whether your child is not currently in special education or already receiving special education services, you would be well-served to request an IEP (Individualized Education Program) team meeting to discuss all of your questions and concerns.
So while it’s tempting to put all your stock in what you’ve discussed casually in the hallway, don’t.