Children with difficulty controlling their behavior and emotions, large classes, unsupportive administrators, outside interference, and overwhelmed teachers who aren’t behavior specialists can be a recipe for disaster for students and a reason why teachers leave.
I wrote much of this post in February 2020, before schools closed due to Covid-19. As schools get back to normal, this issue should be front and center with educators at the local, state, and the U.S. Department of Education.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is meant to ensure that students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) get a Free and Appropriate Public Education, that their academic and social needs are met. Schools have failed to keep this promise. IDEA has never been appropriately funded, and many states fail to provide the necessary services.
It’s also hard to say what kind of abuse occurs in private, parochial, or charter schools where it might not be reported.
Numerous incidents have occurred around the country. Here are a few.
- A 13-year-old student with autism died in 2019 after being restrained in a Northern California private school.
- In 2019, a young child was arrested in Orlando after acting out in a charter school.
- A 6-year old Florida student was handcuffed and taken to a mental health facility without her mother’s consent for poor school behavior. The decision was ultimately made by an outside nonprofit, the Child Guidance Center, based on a Baker Act provision. Serious concerns surround the use of the Baker Act in Florida.
- A special education teacher in Louisville was fired for breaking a student’s arm while restraining him. The teacher had been through training with Safe Crisis Management, set to expire.
While reports of teachers and staff mishandling students with behavior difficulties are disturbing, teachers find themselves the target of abuse by students.
Where this is happening really is not at the high school level, it’s not the middle school level, it’s at the lower elementary level – kindergarten through second grade. I think people find that hard to believe, primarily because when most people nowadays think about what it was like when they went to school, they can’t imagine a 5-, 6- or 7-year-old assaulting teachers.
In 2019 teacher Annie Demczak’s post about teachers and student behavior went viral.
We tell women (and men) that if someone hits you, screams at you, tells you that they’re going to kill you, tells you they’re going to bring a gun and shoot you, steals from you, destroys your things, threatens your friends, curses at you, mocks you, makes fun of your physical appearance, GET HELP. RUN AWAY. IT IS NOT OKAY. LEAVE THE ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP. CUT TIES.
In such toxic situations, we continue to ask teachers to show up with a smile on their face, ignore the issues, reward dangerous and toxic behavior and do as you’re told.
This problem isn’t only in the U.S. In the U.K. and Australia, there’s a problem with student biting and they now have bite-resistant clothing!
In Mobile, Alabama teachers are leaving. Almost every state struggles with issues surrounding poor student behavior.
Responses to Poor Student Behavior: The Good, the Bad, and the Questionable
- Cameras in the Classroom. Placing cameras in the classrooms with students who have autism or EBD might make parents feel comfortable, but there are concerns.
- Class Management. The American Psychological Association provides some helpful suggestions about classroom management, how to identify warning signs, and more. The best way to deal with behavioral difficulties is to know how to prevent them from happening. It’s imperative that the class be a manageable size. Placing students with EBD into a large class is asking for problems.
- Class Size. Classes should be small, structured, and involve the support of the school psychologist, behavioral specialist, counselor, and others. Teachers need support when they have students with behavior problems. Placing students with EBD into a large class is asking for problems.
- Corporal Punishment. Some schools still resort to corporal punishment. Public schools should lead in techniques and solutions for teachers to demonstrate how to end hitting. There should be no corporal punishment in any school.
- Counselors. School counselors are critical for working with teachers, the first line of defense for students and teachers.
- Paraprofessionals. Teachers might need assistance. Paraprofessionals trained to help students with EBD can intervene and help ease tensions when a student is on the verge of acting out.
- Prepared Teachers. Special education teachers who study psychology and emotional and behavioral problems in children would have the necessary training to work with students who come to school with emotional behavioral disabilities.
- Residential Placement. In some situations, children or teens might need more help than schools and parents can provide. There should be no stigma, and every community should have a residential treatment facility with trained professionals readily available. Here is an example.
- Resource Officers. Schools that hire more officers and fewer counselors appear to focus more on prison-like policing than student care. After the death of George Floyd, school boards are questioning the use of resource officers. Do public schools need a police presence? Many schools lack counselors. What’s certain, is that they should go through extensive training about how to de-escalate problematic behavior, and how to help not hurt students who are acting out.
- Restorative Practice. Creating more accepting school climates is a critical goal. A Rand study of the use of restorative justice in Pittsburgh Public schools had mixed results, but restorative practice can help lower suspension rates and unite faculty in a common goal.
- Room Clearing. Room-clearing means teachers and students clear out of the classroom and allow the student to have a meltdown. This is a dangerous, poor solution.
- Schools as Mental Health Service Providers. Public schools are seen as the place for children to get mental health services when those services are missing. But teachers aren’t prepared to address the mental health problems in the classroom.
- School Psychologists. School psychologists are able to administer behavioral assessments and also help teachers better understand their EBD students when they act out.
- Seclusion and Restraint. Many troubling issues have involved the use of seclusion and restraint after students act out and are said to be a danger to themselves or others. Parents need to work closely with teachers, administrators, and school boards concerning this issue.
- Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). SEL programs don’t address problematic behaviors but collect behavioral information on all students. SEL cannot replace the special education services that students with EBD need.
- Special Class Placement. Students should be placed in general education classes, with support, whenever possible. But if a student with EBD is overwhelmed or unable to adjust to a general class, they might need a special placement.
- Supportive Administration. When a student acts out in school it’s the responsibility of the school administrators to work with the teacher to figure out how to help the student get back on track. Without administrative support, a teacher’s ability to help students is jeopardized.
Teachers need control of their classroom so they can teach, students deserve a classroom where they can learn, and children exhibiting behavioral difficulties deserve understanding and help so they can learn too.
School boards, school administrators, teachers including special education teachers, counselors, school psychologists, and parents, need to debate and outline how schools will safely and positively react to student behavior.
Parents and teachers and school administrators must work together to determine school solutions and policies that address safety and compassion for both students and teachers.
Jouvenal, J. (2019, December 16). Principal, staffers charged in connection with alleged abuse of special-needs students at VA school. The Washington Post. Retrieved from Principal, staffers charged in connection with alleged abuse of special-needs students at Va. school – The Washington Post
Horto, A. (2020, February 16). How a 6-year old was taken from school to a mental health facility – without her mother’s consent. The Washington Post. Retrieved from How a 6-year old was taken from school to a mental health facility — without her mother’s consent – The Washington Post
Reeves, M. & Evans, J. (2019, December 11). Florida’s Flawed Baker Act Rips Thousands of Kids From School. Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved at Florida’s flawed Baker Act rips thousands of kids from school (tampabay.com)