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.
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.