Violent Students Keep Coming Back

Joanne, thanks for highlighting this the real-world example of a misplaced common good. Here’s her story and my comment.

Violent students keep coming back


Violent students can assault teachers and classmates, then return to class a few days later, report Brittany Wallman and Megan O’Matz in the South Florida Sun Sentinel. They blame mainstreaming of children with emotional and behavioral disabilities and inadequate support staff trained to deal with their problems.

In school after school, students are erupting with violence. They stab or beat teachers. They throw furniture. They stalk and attack classmates, turning schoolrooms into danger zones where the rights of violent students with disabilities trump all others.

. . . State and federal laws guarantee those students a spot in regular classrooms until they seriously harm or maim others. Even threatening to shoot classmates is not a lawful reason to expel the child.

Federal law guarantees students with disabilities the right to be educated in the “least restrictive environment,” Wallman and O’Matz note. Florida law requires agreement “from the parents, or a judge, before transferring a disabled child to a special-needs school with more therapeutic services and smaller class sizes.”

Reporters found more than 100 students who threatened to kill their teachers, classmates or themselves in an 18-month period, they write. “Nearly half of the youths had histories of mental disorders, and more than half had access to guns.”

“Students with violent tendencies have more rights than the students that they endanger. Just ask Nikolas Cruz,” one schoolteacher told the Sun Sentinel.

The same laws that protect disabled students make it difficult for schools to remove a student like the profoundly disturbed Cruz, who was obsessed with hurting others before he killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14, 2018.

“You cannot get the child out of the classroom,” former teacher Patrick Jovanov said. “You can get him out of the classroom for a day or two or three, but the child comes back.”

Increasingly, teachers are told to leave an out-of-control student in the classroom, while evacuating the rest of the class, writes Max Eden on Quillette. “Room clears” are “designed to protect the rights of troubled students, often with little regard for the rights of their classmates,” charges Eden.

Disruptive or violent students, often labeled as having an “Emotional and Behavioral Disability” (EBD), need “specialized attention in separate settings,” he argues. Assigned to a mainstream class, they can “become virtually untouchable.”

The rise in room clears is directly related to policy initiatives aimed at stamping out so-called “restraint and seclusion.” In the past, as a student’s misbehavior escalated, a teacher might ask the student to leave the room, put a hand on a student’s shoulder to try to get him to calm down, or — if need be — direct him by the arm away from a tense situation and possibly call security to remove him from the classroom area. But as policymakers take these options off the table, teachers have little recourse but to remove every single other student from the classroom before someone gets hurt.

“Teachers report feeling powerless to enforce order and ensure the safety of their students,” Eden concludes.

Laura Waters, who blogs at New Jersey Left Behind, is the mother of a son with special needs. Eden is wrong, she responds. School districts aren’t “powerless,” she argues. They’re too cheap to hire and train support staff. A one-on-one aide can escort a disruptive student from the classroom to a “calming space” and call in a therapist or social worker, if necessary, writes Waters.

Students who misbehave aren’t “untouchable,” she writes. “Many districts train aides and special education teachers in strategies like Handle With Care, which (according to this New Jersey policy manual) uses ‘physical restraint to control a student’s behavior to protect the student and/or a member of the school community from imminent serious physical harm’.”

And here’s my comment:

As a school attorney, citizen, parent, and grandparent, I tend to view the issue more as Max Eden does. I also carefully read Laura Waters ‘ comments — based on her experiences with her son. They both raise valid points.

The debate goes on and on, even as, as I see it, we lose sight of the big picture for our nation — our nation’s public schools that are supposed to serve ALL students. A minimal requirement is that all students can feel safe there. That is the most basic fundamental need.

Alas, we’re far from meeting that need right now. While good people like Ms. Waters and Mr. Eden can debate on and on with good arguments on all sides, as I see it, utltimately, it matters not because of that OPEN BACK DOOR — which almost invites parents to vote with their feet OUT of our public schools altogether.

We can argue forever about the current (I believe flawed) inclusion and room clear policies… while parents (especially those with means who we want engaged in public education) vote with their feet out of the public schools altogether. Not for my kid. It’s not safe. My kid gets no attention. Etc. Etc. Etc. These parents, too, have good arguments.

It’s happening. We know that the percentage of wealthy students who have left public education for private schools or home schooling continues to grow. As I see it, that does not protect rights. Instead, it’s very bad for our nation.

Continuing on our current path further dessimates our public schools. It’s us vs. them. It’s in or out. it is the individual vs. the other students. It’s disruption, fear, uncertainty. It’s not good.

The bottom line is that current policies belie the fact that ALL KIDS MATTER ALL THE TIME. Schools have to be safe and serve ALL OF THEM. Flawed inclusion policies and room clear policies send the wrong message —in a word, that all students DON’T matter. Many parents see that and take action for their own children. They opt- out. They leave.

So tragic — while our government dithers and can’t figure out how to protect and educate ALL of our students, the back door swings wider.

Predictably and tragically, we’ll reach a tipping point when more schools than we already have seen in some troubled inner cities will be ever more for only the have-nots. Sad .Sad. Bad. Bad. Not good for America.

What to do? Instead of our current rights-driven approach for some students, focus on ALL students from the get to. Invite ALL general education parents and teachers to all of the planning tables from the get go . All means ALL. Focus on the rights to education in safe schools that all kids have. Move fast to reign in policies that disrupt the education for all students.

As long as these policies focused on some (but not all) students and their debates continue, it ain’t happening. Sad for all of us and for our nation.

This was originally posted on Medium

(I first published this piece in Please check out my writing there!

We’ve heard about the “IMPOSSIBLE burger” — making burgers from vegetables, not beef. Some people think it’s actually yummy!
So how about the IMPOSSIBLE Fix for special education!

It’s time and it’s not complicated: focus on teaching and learning for all students, general and special education, not procedures, rights, due process, litigation, and the ever-present anxiety-laden fear of litigation that so wrenches today’s schools, teachers, students, and parents.
For the 80–90% of students with disabilities who have mild and moderate needs and are educated mostly in general education classrooms, and their general education peers, focus on learning in schoolrooms — not their parents’ fights in courtrooms.

Notably, in 2017, the Supreme Court, in Endrew F. v. Douglas County, acknowledged the existence of two student groups who receive special education. We know that 10–20% of them have severe or profound needs, and often require complex and costly services. For these students, I believe it’s time to convene a summit to plan a new way forward.

The IMPOSSIBLE Fix focuses on the 80–90% of students with disabilities who have mild or moderate needs and are mostly in general education classrooms. It’s time to substitute the entitlement and due process rights they have had since 1975 when the law was enacted to ensure that all students with disabilities receive education services. That goal was achieved long ago. We now educate more than 6 million students under this law — 13–14% of all students! The entitlement, the only one in our schools, is no longer needed, in my view. Uncapped, it is costly and has become dysfunctional, damaging, and often impedes good education practice.

Really? End the entitlement and due process? That sure is radical! Yes, and probably IMPOSSIBLE. But, let’s at least consider this path. I see it as the only way to fix the mess we’re in. And, if we can’t end it — let’s limit and cap it.

Imagine a 2nd grade teacher with 24 students — five of whom receive special education services. She knows she has to take care of those students first — lest a dispute or hearing arise! How does that help all students learn? How is that fair to those children and the other 19 in the classroom? How is that best practice?

I’ve been writing and speaking about reform at least since 1995. It seems like forever! My writings and presentations are usually well-received, and I often hear: “You’re doing important work. Keep at it.” “Good luck with that!” And the most poignant, “You’re saying exactly what I’ve been thinking and have been afraid to say….”

Yet, nothing really changes until, hopefully, now. Over the last 5–10 years I’ve sensed as new feeling… that more and more people are willing to consider real change. Here’s how we can get to where we need to be to focus on schooling and learning for all students, including the 80–90% of students with disabilities and their general education peers.

1. That table. Invite the right people — all stakeholders people to the table. Since special education students make up around 13–14% of all students, have them be that percent at the table. Fill the table with general education teachers, administrators, parents who work with and love -average students, advanced and gifted students, English language learners, students in poverty, students in wealth. You get the idea. All students. No more trying to fix special education by inviting only those in the “biz” with a sprinkling of others. Instead, invite 13–14% of stakeholders who work with and represent special education — teachers, administrators, parents.

Then, seek honest input from those at the table. Ask open ended questions. Build a summary that everyone takes back to their lives, shares, and revises, until you repeat that meeting at that table. And repeat until we fix the mess we are in.

2. The options. Create attractive options that will substitute for the cumbersome and burdensome system that, after all the paperwork, meetings, and other procedures leaves special education teachers with just 27% of their time for — you guessed it — teaching! Many leave the field as a result, creating a special education teacher shortage.

Creative attractive options already exist. Here are but a few examples.

Check out Vermont’s sweeping education reform.
And see excellent work in competency-based education in Westminster, Colorado.
I’m also eager to learn more about Karen L Mapp’s program for parent and family engagement at Harvard.

Oh, there are so many other examples of schools and others doing effective work for all students. It’s time to open the floodgates!
Instead of the time and money spent on nonsense –paperwork, compliance, litigation — nonsense because these do not improve student outcomes and, often, get in the way —

Instead of due process and litigation, seek the “the IMPOSSIBLE Fix” of dispute resolution options that are relationship and trust-building and do not involve litigation.

Instead of labeling students as gatekeepers to services, through the failed “wait to fail” model, provide early and steady interventions for all students — from the most needy to the most advanced.

Instead of endless focus on student weaknesses — what they can’t do — focus on their strengths and passions — what they can and love to do!

Instead of training parents to become mini lawyers to fight against the very schools that educate their children, train parents to help their children learn and benefit from all the gifts that schools offer.

3. The benefits. Treasure benefits that will result from implementing the IMPOSSIBLE Fix. These include more time for teaching and learning, better partnerships and more trust between schools and parents, fewer teachers abandoning the field, moneys spent on best practices in classrooms, not winning strategies in court rooms, and the best news of all: better outcomes for all students, as teachers will have more than a mere 27% of time for teaching.

It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work to make the IMPOSSIBLE — actually POSSIBLE!

Let’s create the Impossible Special Ed Fix!