THOMPSON: Constructive Criticism of IDEA
It was at the funeral of my Seriously Emotionally Disturbed student when his father, who had repeatedly insisted that his son had no future, walked out of the services when I decided I could not leave the classroom and turned down a prestigious opportunity in Denver that would have tripled my salary, so please do not take this wrong. Most special educational students are delightful and have too much dignity to abuse IDEA protections. And the Progressive Policy Institute’s outstanding report on special education covers a range of issues. I just have to cite its analysis of the issue, discipline, where so much damage is done to neighborhood inner city schools.
"Fair or not, there is a perception among school personnel that the IDEA simply blocks discipline," said a principal in Virginia, describing a case where an elementary student’s "drug-holding was related to disability... that the student had low self-esteem rooted in his speech and language deficits, and that the student became involved in drug use in an effort to obtain peer approval."
Other Virginia principals described the difficulty of maintaining two sets of disciplinary consequences, and the temptation to lower behavioral standards for all because the school could not discipline students on IEPs,
"If the kid who beat their kid up is suspended, (parents) are usually satisfied. The explanation that no suspension could be made because the kid had behavior problems doesn’t carry much weight with most people and creates a terrible PR problem for us."
The report acknowledged that the problems are due to perceptions more than the letter of IDEA, "In 1998, for example, there were just 18 complaints and three hearing decisions relating to discipline ... IDEA’s restrictions on discipline don’t come up formally very much, but that’s because everyone in the schools is bending over backwards to make sure they don’t. The problem is that when we’ve got principals who are trying to maintain order in schools with big special education populations, they feel like they can’t discipline those kids, and this means that the other kids are regularly seeing misbehavior go unpunished."
Consequently, "The perception creates a class of students licensed to ‘terrorize schools and teachers’ undermines public trust in school safety and support for special education." - John Thompson