Category Archives: middle school
Posted by askecac
Columbine, Newtown and now Parkland. We knew this would happen… again. The tragic shooting at the high school in Parkland, Florida was bound to trigger heightened sensitivity to anyone and anything that seems to be even remotely threatening. While we should all be thinking about what can be done to keep our schools safe, we have to be careful that we do not react in a way that produces, rather than prevents, harm to students.
Some students with disabilities are at particular risk of becoming victims of hyper-vigilant policies and practices. Recently, a distressed parent called because her son’s school was planning to conduct a “threat assessment” on her son after he drew pictures of guns during class. My guess is that this was not a new behavior for that child, but it was now considered to be a potential threat after being viewed through post-Parkland “school safety” lenses. This child had been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the parent was (rightfully) worried about what he might say when questioned by the school’s guidance counselor and principal. There are several things about that situation that raise questions, but I will approach the topic at hand with recommendations rather than criticism.
The very first thing to do is talk to your children about school safety concerns and how the behavior of individuals can be seen as a sign of problems or threats. We want them to recognize danger when they see it. We also want them to avoid doing things that others may see as dangerous. Even if the child does not fully understand why someone would consider their comment, joke, writings or drawings to be threatening, you have to give them specific examples of behavior to avoid. Mention or representations of guns, knives, bombs, explosions, killing, etc., are topics to be avoided just about every place except home. Even if the child is studying a particular time of war in a history class, they should limit their comments to the specific questions being asked. For example: DO NOT speculate about what could have happened if the good guys had a super hand-held weapon that could wipe out hundreds of people with the press of a button). We can encourage other forms of imagination, as well as broader interests for those children who seem preoccupied by violent themes.
If you have a child that likes to carry or use a pocket knife, sticks, rocks or anything else that could be considered to be a weapon, check their pockets and backpacks frequently to make sure that they don’t accidentally or intentionally end up bringing something to school that will get them in trouble. Keep in mind, when weapons, drugs or serious bodily injury are involved in a disciplinary situation, a student can be moved into an interim alternative educational setting even when the behavior is found to be a manifestation of the child’s disability! Such removal is not required though, and school administrators have the authority to look at each incident on a case-by-case basis. You may need to remind them of that.
Be proactive! Review your school system’s Code of Conduct and disciplinary/school safety policies. If you see glaring problems with the policies, address them with your School Board. If the policies include the possibility of a required “threat assessment”, make sure that the assessment must be done by qualified individuals with expertise in mental health and any identified disabilities that a child may have. Even if your school system’s policy does not clearly state such a requirement, you should raise the issue if your child becomes involved in this type of situation. Some disabilities can impact the child’s ability to truly understand the questions that will be asked during this type of assessment, and how his answers might be interpreted by others. The disability may also have contributed to the behavior itself.
Those making decisions about how to respond to a potential threat should have enough knowledge and experience to understand all of the factors involved, and take actions that are appropriate to each specific situation. One-size-fits-all does not work for special education, and it also does not work for discipline or school safety!
Posted in Behavior and discipline, child and youth mental health, high school, middle school, Parent Education, Parenting, social skills, special education, special education law and rights, students with disabilities, Uncategorized
Tags: ASD, Discipline and students with disabiities, mental health assessment, rights of students with disabilities, school disipline, school safety, school safety policies, school threats, social skills and children with disabilities, student rights, teaching social skills, threat assessment, what is a threat?
Posted by askecac
When IEP teams plan for a student’s transition from elementary to middle school, many parents are surprised to find out that their child’s special education services are going to be quite different. Children who have had pullout resource services for years may suddenly be expected to survive in general education core courses without any dedicated special education support time. It is a challenge to explain this reality to parents, while still making them aware of the IDEA requirement that a full continuum of services be made available so that IEP teams can decide what is most appropriate for each child.
There was a time when middle schools had sections of core academic subjects that were taught by special education teachers. These classes typically followed the standard course of study, but the smaller class size allowed the teacher to move at a pace that students could handle, and to explain concepts in a variety of ways. This worked for a lot of children.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) changed all of this with its definition of “highly qualified teacher” and requirement that core courses in middle and high schools could only be taught by a teacher who was highly qualified in that specific academic subject. Before NCLB, North Carolina, as did many states, certified special education teachers in “special education” and not each separate academic subject. Under NCLB in-service teachers had to take specific steps in order to be declared “highly qualified” in a core subject. To make matters worse, one of the options that North Carolina had developed to accomplish this was rejected by the U.S. Department of Education after many teachers had completed that process. All of this led to a shortage of special education teachers who were available to teach core subjects at the secondary school level.
The solution that most school systems came up with was to have general education teachers serve as the “teacher of record” for these core courses, while having a special education teacher also in the room to provide extra support for students who needed it. These courses are generally referred to as “co-taught” or “inclusion classes.” Most middle schools offer such courses in English Language Arts and Math. Some schools also include Science and Social Studies.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to special education. The inclusion classes meet the needs of some students, while others continue to need additional support. Many schools also offer “curriculum assistance” or “resource support” classes as elective courses. (The actual class titles vary from one school district to the another.) These classes are taught by special education teachers who often introduce study skills, along with other content and strategies that are useful for most of the students to know. However, the chief benefit of these smaller classes is that they provide an opportunity for students to get extra help with their general education coursework as well as their IEP goals.
No Child Left Behind is no longer the law of the land, yet many schools continue to deliver special education services the same as they have for years. Schools and parents should be aware that the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides room for a wider variety of ways that special education students can be served.
As parents begin to think about their child moving on to middle school, they should consider making contact with staff at the middle school to discuss the existing options. However, they should also keep in mind that if those options do not meet their child’s needs, they can challenge the IEP team and the school system to create additional options. With more choices, IEP teams have a much greater opportunity to create an educational program that will meet each individual student’s unique needs. At the end of the day, that is what special education is all about.
Tags: exceptional children in middle school, IDEA, middle school courses, middle school IEPs, middle school options, moving to middle school, parent advocacy, planning for middle school, special education in middle school, students with disabilities in middle school, transition to middle school