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How to Stay in a General Education Classroom
by Allison Hertog, J.D., Florida School Partners advocacy
This issue is really getting to me lately. It seems I have several clients right now who have bright kids who are perfectly capable of doing well in a general education classroom but for their behavior problems. The schools I'm dealing with want to transfer the kids to special education classrooms which are exclusively for kids with "emotional or behavior disorders" - otherwise known as "EBD" classrooms. EBD is a new Florida acronym; kids used to be called "ED" - emotionally disordered.
Florida "EBD" Classrooms
In Florida EBD classrooms are generally "self-contained" that means that they have only special education students in them. Generally speaking, they have a reputation of being filled with boys with discipline problems (as opposed to kids with other kinds of behavior problems, such as distractibility or anxiety). At the very worst, some of the EBD classrooms are known for housing future or current juvenile delinquents - not a place anyone would want their kid to learn!
Though a school district is by law not supposed to place children in classrooms based on their "classification" or label, many school districts seem to require that all students in EBD classrooms be labeled EBD. While generally speaking, I don't care so much about labels - I care more about the services a child is receiving - EBD is not a label I would want my own child to have. EBD is a very broad category which tends to communicate that a child is "crazy" or has severe disciplinary problems. That label doesn't tell anyone much about how to educate that child well.
That said, many EBD classrooms are good ones because they are small, have well-trained teachers and provide kids with a highly structured positive behavior plan based on incentives and rewards for good behavior. As a parent, you need to ask to observe the EBD classroom before you consent to transfer your child there and see for yourself whether it would be a good change for him or her.
How to Stay in a General Ed. Classroom
If your son or daughter has any "behaviors" which interfere with their learning, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) they are entitled to positive interventions to help them function in the "Least Restrictive Environment." The Least Restrictive Environment means that school districts are required to educate students with disabilities in general ed. classrooms with their nondisabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate.
When I say "positive interventions" generally I mean a system of incentives and rewards to improve poor behavior. Under the law, students with significant behavior problems are entitled to a formal Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). But what I've found in Florida is that kids don't get a written BIP unless they have serious discipline problems. All too often schools offer a BIP, not as a true remedy, but only to "set-up" a student, that is, to create a paper trail to show he or she should be transfered to an EBD classroom.
What I do for my clients in this predicament is to create or upgrade the child's BIP so that it includes a highly structured, individualized and systematic behavior plan which is targeted to reduce that particular child's problem behaviors. I define problem behaviors broadly to include things like: inattention, off-task behavior or obsessive-compulsive behaviors, if those behaviors are interfering with their learning.
At a school meeting, I often provide the "team" with a sample behavior chart, and I make sure the teachers are trained in positive behavior management techniques. Unfortunately, most general education teachers have had no training in how to diminish the poor behaviors of disabled students even though the law requires that those students be educated in their classrooms.
Copyright 2008 Florida School Partners
Ms. Hertog, an attorney and former special education teacher, founded Florida School Partners in 2005. Its mission is to help South Florida families to 1) understand their childrens' legal rights in public school; 2)gain accommodations and special services in school; 3) find the right public or private school placement and; 4) navigate the process of attaining significant McKay Scholarships for their disabled children. See her site at: www.makingschoolwork.com or contact her by phone at:305-663-9233, or email at:AllisonHertog@gmail.com.
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