How does one teach a student who shows up at school angry, defiant and/or sullen and depressed, who might hear voices—who acts so atypical that there is worry they might lash out at other students or hurt themselves? When they throw a chair, strike another child, or teacher, or hit their head repeatedly against the wall, what should be done?
It’s appalling to see a child handcuffed by a police officer, like recently observed in Kentucky. Likewise, concerns are raised when children are placed in timeout seclusion rooms. But it is scratching the surface not to look into the programs that allow escalation to such severe treatment in the first place.
Children who have behavioral or emotional disabilities need assistance. The questions should be, who will give them the best help, and how?
The Justice Department is getting tough on the Georgia Department of Education for problems with the way they serve students with behavioral disabilities. They claim the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support (GNETS) segregates students instead of placing them in the regular class.
Advocates, many whom do not work in schools with the children, want all students with disabilities in an inclusion setting. This was the primary purpose of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) 1998, a remolding of the earlier Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. IDEA was further sculpted to fit No Child Left Behind in 2004. It minimizes the need for special self-contained and resource classes for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities.
GNETS started in the 70s and was the brainchild of highly respected University of Georgia special education professor Dr. Mary M. Woods who is now Professor Emerita. But what happened to the grant program? Was it never funded adequately? What caused the managerial difficulties? Was lack of funding GNETS’ downfall? I would like to hear the other side of the story.
Students who go to GNETS facilities in Georgia apparently miss out on extracurricular activities, basic amenities, gyms, libraries, and appropriately certified teachers. Students seem to be educated primarily online. It sounds awful—so bad one has to ask, where the heck has the Justice Department been? Why’d it take them this long? And when did the program go downhill?
But one must also ask whether putting a child with severe behavioral disabilities into a regular class is the answer. Shouldn’t the Justice Department be weighing all the the problems in regard to teaching students with such difficulties?
And the advocates—do they not see the dangers and difficulties of placing troubled children in regular classes? They may talk about support, but many will tell you that support is currently missing in public schools. Watching a police officer handcuff a child with ADHD in another state is an indication of that. Until there is adequate attention and funding, children with behavioral difficulties will languish in the regular class just as badly as any outside facility.
There is always the slippery slope of losing special education services altogether. We have watched the loss of such services across the country. HERE in Minneapolis and HERE in Chicago.
This is a much more complicated issue which deserves added thought and attention. Let me describe some things that are missing when it comes to serving students with behavioral difficulties:
- Students require careful screening by adequately trained, ethical, professionals once they present problems in or out of the classroom. Such information should be private—between parents and professionals.
- General education teachers are not fully prepared to work with students with serious behavioral disabilities. If it is determined that the child poses a threat to themselves and/or others, there should be a resource or self-contained class for them to attend that deals with such difficulties. Preferably that class should be located in the student’s school where the child can carefully, and with much oversight, participate in various classes and electives. The goal should always be to return the student to the regular class once their difficulties subside.
- If a self-contained class is not possible at the school, a local school center is the next option. That center should be staffed with psychologists, psychiatrists, and specially prepared counselors, teachers and social workers. It should be a quality center…not a dumping ground.
- Many universities and states have cut the more extensive study and credentialing for teachers of children with serious behavioral difficulties in order to push inclusion. This is a huge mistake! Children with serious behavioral disabilities are not going away. They will not magically adjust to the regular class curriculum. We need adults with special preparation to work with these students as teachers and support staff.
- Children with serious behavioral disabilities put themselves and others at risk. Many classrooms are overcrowded with students who have a wide range of difficulties. The support IDEA first promised for inclusion is missing in many places. Any child with behavioral disabilities requires continuous assistance by a well-prepared professional when they are placed in the regular class.
- Support staffs, which may include school resource officers, require special training to effectively deal with students who are acting out in school and outside of school. This should be expected if there are resource and self-contained classes in the regular school setting.
Certainly, an investigation to make sure children have not been inaccurately identified as having behavioral disabilities in the first place is in order, but the Justice Department is stopping short of doing anything productive to fix a bad situation. Placing children, with what sounds like a variety of behavioral disabilities, back into regular class settings, without a plan of action, is a recipe for disaster!
When will this country realize that they can’t get something so important right if they are not willing to invest the time and personnel, and funding, to address the situation? These are real children and teachers in schools and special centers facing volatile situations first-hand on a daily basis. Parents of these children need help too.
You cannot cast students with behavioral disabilities off without expecting problems later. It will cause a ripple effect on the whole school that hurts the progress of other children–and society. Everyone deserves better.
I’d like to see Restorative Practices/Circles/Justice or trauma informed care be the discipline method in every school. It’s the perspective I’d like my kids – and every kid – to have as adults.
Nancy Bailey says
Hi Judi. Thanks. I’m not sure though. It seems a little heavy for children who have not experienced trauma or serious difficulties in their environment.
H.A. Hurley says
Nancy, as ALWAYS you provide a balanced, scholarly and thorough report. I absolutely agree with your information. The general public has no idea of the severity of social/emotional issues some of our children face.
Least Restrictive Environment does not automatically mean inclusion. For most of those students in GNETS settings, regular education classes are not the LRE.
Dr. Mary M. Woods’ Psychoeducational Programs, along with her Developmental Therapy, were at the forefront of serving severely emotionally disturbed children. Her centers across GA served many children, provided training for universities, conducted research, and supported children and families of these children.
I trained under Dr. Woods, worked in Psychoed programs, and spent most of my career in the service of EBD/SED children in different states.
Funding and support of these programs have always been an issue. Many of the facilites are poor, very poor. Most of the administrators fought tooth & nails to get better facilities, resources, funding, with little progress in 40+ years. These were the choices school boards and legislators made.
Nancy, you are so correct, these children are here, not going anywhere, and have a right to an appropriate education. If these children were a priority all along, we would not suddenly hear about the conditions in GA.
Sensationalism at best!
These same children, in the regular education setting, do end up being arrested, shifted to alternative schools, squeezed out, transfered, placed in juvenile, act out more, and then we are surprised at the explosions of mental health issues in our society. Often, the violence and the danger these children/adults exhibit to themselves, their families and the communities is not witnessed by the general public, unless it spills over – typically, with police.
The dedicated professionals who work with these children need ALL THE SUPPORT that we can and should provide.
If we continue ignoring the canaries in the coalmines, we as a society will pay an even higher price. How bad do we want things to get? How’s it working for us?
Justice Department report, legislators and school boards have known about these conditions for decades. Step up and listen to the needs of children, educators and parents… for once!
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Hanna! I always had the greatest respect for Dr. Woods and knew of her as one of the best in the area of emotional disabilities. So I knew there was something more behind this story. You filled in the missing pieces. Yes. I wish they did listen to the needs of children and adults when it comes to mental health issues!
William thomas says
As a reg. Ed. Teacher, the public should know that sometimes incusion is NOT the answer. When a child with behavior problems causes, NOBODY learns. Trust me.
Nancy Bailey says
Every effort should be made to help children succeed in the regular classroom. But I agree, William. When you have a troubled student in a class, often an overcrowded class, it is difficult if not dangerous for all involved. Thank you!
Placing children with behavioral difficulties in the resource room is also not the answer. I am a resource teacher and I spend all of my energies teaching kids that are struggling in reading, writing, and math. When a child with behavior challenges is placed in a resource room, it becomes almost impossible to teach other students in the resource room who are struggling with academic issues. These students are the most academically vulnerable students in most schools. However, these students also have the potential to meet standards with intensive intervention. Students with behavioral issues are often “warehoused” in resource rooms to prevent them from interfering with the learning of students in the regular education classrooms, regardless of the impact to the other students also in the resource room for academic concerns. Students with behavior issues need appropriate and often 1:1 interventions, but we must factor in how their behaviors impact the other students in both regular classrooms and in intervention settings, I did not want to leave your readers with the impression that the placement in resource room is a panacea or the answer to this problem. They need an intensive, individually designed program with enough dedicated staff to properly implement it— while not interfering with the learning of all children.
Nancy Bailey says
Excellent point, Sandra! I have been there and I know what you mean! Perhaps a resource class just for students with the behavioral problems, on a continuum, which is less supervision than the more serious self-contained class, to help them transition back into the regular class? Really, there could be more creative classroom set-ups in school according to what students need and they wouldn’t cost that much more either. Anyway thanks for describing the realistic difficulties that are often found in the resource class with troubled students. Have a good school year!
Robert Brady says
Children with severe behavioral disorders should be segregated from the rest of the students. The constant outbursts prevent teachers from teaching and students from learning. It is also a danger to the safety of the rest if the students, whose rights are always ignored. The emotionally disturbed students also endanger the careers of the teachers, whose evaluations hinge on the test scores of these students, as well as the scores of the students whose education is constantly disrupted.
If segregated into schools specializing in special needs students, these kids would get what services they need.
Nancy Bailey says
Excellent points, Robert. I especially appreciate your mentioning teacher evaluations. Whew! Can you imagine the impact? Thank you.
William thomas says
One more point. When our PUBLIC schools are given the right amount of resources to work with these children, we won’t have these issues. Until then… You get what you pay for.
Nancy Bailey says
Another great point, William. I have known of schools where this is a problem or where teachers get scripted material and that’s it. Thanks again.
Please refer to the children appropriately. They are not” these children”.They are children who are challenged with emotional and bahvioral disabilities.Some of “these children” grow into thriving adults just as the other students who did not experience their type of challenges.After all , they are still children.
Jennifer English says
Albuquerque Public Schools has a program for our children with the most severe behavior issues called PACES. I am a teacher in that that program.
There are many things New Mexico gets wrong about education but when it comes to special education Albuquerque does a good job.
Nancy Bailey says
Good for Albuquerque! Thanks for letting us know, Jennifer. Have a great school year!
Daun Kauffman says
Part health. Part equal access. Part fair. Part fair funding. Not poverty.