Don't Delay!

  • September 5, 2017

Addressing Discipline Issues for Students with Mental Health Issues

by Cathy Brooks, DRT Advocate

Students with disabilities often face behavioral issues that interfere with success in the school setting. If those behaviors are related to the child’s disability, schools serving students in special education and through 504 plans have responsibilities to provide positive behavioral supports. 

Our agency often receives calls when behavior-related situations have escalated to the point that students are facing serious disciplinary consequences and are even being removed from their home schools and placed in alternative settings.  Sometimes inappropriate restraints or isolations are reported.  As an advocate, the best advice I can give is, “Don’t Delay”!

If your child has a mental health diagnosis, including anxiety, depression, ADHD or other psychiatric diagnoses, and they begin to exhibit behaviors which result in disciplinary actions or lack of academic progress, be proactive in making sure the school is providing the required supports.  If you need assistance in obtaining these supports, always know that you can contact DRT.

What should I know about addressing behavior issues for students with disabilities?

  • Functional Behavioral Assessments (FBA) – When students exhibit behaviors that interfere in the school setting, a FBA should be initiated. The purpose is to determine WHY the student is exhibiting that behavior.  The WHY must be answered before a plan to address the behavior can be successfully developed.
  • Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) – Once a function has been established, a positive plan to modify or change that behavior can be established. This becomes part of the student’s IEP or 504 plan.
  • Students who receive special education services must not be suspended or removed from their school for more than 10 days without holding a manifestation determination to decide if the behavior is a “manifestation” of the child’s disability.  There are exceptions for zero tolerance actions. A BIP should be developed if the child is exhibiting a pattern of behavior that is a manifestation of their disability.

The key to success is addressing these behaviors before a pattern is established.  FBAs and BIPs should be initiated early on to prevent situations from escalating and to support the child in being successful. 

Intervening early is crucial. Don’t delay! 

Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) is a nonprofit legal services organization that provides free legal advocacy services to protect the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities.

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