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Students with Behavioral Disabilities Have Rights, Too

If your child has a behavioral issue, you know it. You’ve likely known it for a very long time. When it’s time for school, others are going to learn about it, as well..

And, as anxious as this may make you as a parent, you have to face it head on. Step 1, know that, under special education guidelines, your child has rights. They cannot simply be sent away or punished in the traditional sense.

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), there are many conditions that cause negative behavioral issues that could become disruptive in a school setting.

Under IDEA, these are conditions (which cause the child to exhibit) “one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects (the) child’s educational performance:

(A) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.

(B) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.

(C) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.

(D) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.

(E) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.”


“All too often, explains Andrew Meltzer, a special education attorney at Sussan, Greenwald & Wesler, “districts will discipline children with behavior issues — without addressing the root causes. And once the kid starts thinking they are `bad,’ the problem gets worse because they feel that everything they do gets them punished. Why should they even try to behave when they feel like they have a target on their back?”

However, he said, the truth is that a student with a disability cannot be traditionally disciplined if the behavior is a manifestation of their disability.

“A child with a particular condition can be triggered or feel cornered and they will lash out,” Meltzer added, noting that an appropriate behavior plan can be put in place so the child “can be redirected and calmed down before they get triggered.”

A behavior plan puts safeguards in place to give the teacher tools to help the student while minimizing classroom disruption. Meltzer suggested, for example, that a plan could be put in place to recognize certain behaviors that result in a pass to go to the school counselor before the problem exacerbates.

“The idea is to minimize the challenge before it reaches the level of a detention or suspension from school,” Meltzer said.

A positive reward plan can be helpful, as well, the attorney added. For example, for every day that there is no behavioral challenge, the student could get a point or a treat. At the end of the week, they can earn something bigger if they’ve earned enough points.

Whether your child is having constant, serious behavioral issues or you are getting more calls than you used to about your child’s behavior, it’s important to talk with a legal special education professional as soon as possible to protect your child’s rights.

“Even if you don’t know the root of the problem, we can help,” Meltzer said. “We can help you put a plan together and work with the school to advocate on your child’s behalf.”

The experienced attorneys at Sussan, Greenwald & Wesler have been advocating for families with children with special needs in New Jersey for more than 40 years. We are on your side. Contact our Cranbury, NJ, office today for a consultation about your child. Whatever it is, we can help.