Writing IEP Goals for Behavioral Issues

Update (4/11/13):  The link below to our former Ning community no longer works. We have moved our IEP goal-writing forum to https://kps4parents.org/main/community-outreach/iep-goal-forum/.


Writing IEP goals for behavioral issues can pose a particular challenge. Unlike academic goals, which should be tied to State standards for academic performance and more easily lend themselves to measurable language, behavioral goals aren’t tied to a pre-described set of criteria of what students should learn; at best, they relate to rules about what students should not do at school.

Behavior has been poorly dealt with in our school over the decades since mandatory schooling was first implemented back during the Industrial Revolution. Mandatory schooling itself was used as a behavioral intervention to address a huge juvenile delinquency problem that arose after child labor laws were passed that prevented parents from putting their children (as young as 6) to work in the factories. This left large numbers of unsupervised children roaming the squalid, poverty-stricken streets of the inner city factory workers’ neighborhoods. Suffice it to say that they often came up with some pretty inappropriate ways of keeping themselves occupied.

Child advocates at the time pushed for mandatory schooling to take these trouble young people and convert them into quality citizens of a growing young nation. As seems to be the case with every age, innovations in business and industry were applied to the concept of large-scale public education and the current system was designed to emulate the assembly line. Teachers were regarded similarly as workers on an assembly line, passing students from one grade to the next (except those that failed QC). More and more so, teachers were increasingly women looking for less dangerous work than what was available to them in the factories. Being that the women at the time had fewer rights than men and were often not knowledgeable in the ways of self-advocacy and the assertion of their rights, they were often more easily exploited as workers than male teachers. So, just as the workers on the assembly lines of the factories began to engage in collective bargaining and organized labor unions, teachers began to do the same. At the time, these unions served to protect workers and teachers alike from exploitation. Today, it’s a different political climate.

Nonetheless, taking the lead from the business world, the assembly-line nature of public education began pushing children through the system, many of whom who were already causing problems because of their behaviors. I mean, it was their behaviors that led to mandatory schooling in the first place. The response to their behaviors by the adults responsible for educating them was fairly typical for the times: spare the rod and spoil the child. It was highly punitive. Children were punished for inappropriate behaviors but there was no effort to systematically teach them the appropriate behaviors they should have engage in, instead. In other words, the interventions at the time focused on the structures of the behaviors – that is, what the child had actually done – as opposed to the functions of the behaviors – that is, why the child had done it. This left many, many children with unresolved issues and no means to see them addressed, causing the perpetuation of troubling conditions.

In defense of the educators at the time, these children’s parents were often even less capable in rendering proper guidance to their children. Factory workers often worked 14 to 16 hour days before going home to horrible living conditions in a crammed up tenement with their ten kids and were in no position to offer effective parenting and guidance at the end of the day to that many children. They were dependent upon the public school personnel to help them during the daytime with their children’s needs.

Fast forward to today and you still have an assembly-line type system in the general education setting. In fact, unless something is “wrong” with you such that you require special education, you aren’t entitled to an education tailored to the way you actually learn. Behaviors are still largely dealt with in a reactionary fashion with punitive responses to inappropriate behaviors after they have already occurred, though there is a burgeoning movement to finally implement positive behavioral interventions on a school-wide basis rather than on a child-by-child basis. Even still, all schools maintain disciplinary records for each student, which speaks to the culture of public school administration and its perception of children who behave inappropriately at school. If there still weren’t such a punitive mindset, they would be called behavioral records or something else non-judgmental.

Just because a kid does something that’s inappropriate doesn’t automatically mean that the kid wanted to do something bad or wrong; very often it’s the situation that the child just doesn’t know what else to do, is engaging in trial and error to try to meet a want or need without thinking things through (which may not even be possible depending on the stage of childhood development the kid happens to be in at the time), or is crying out for help in whatever ways will be heard. Behavior is largely a function of communication; the trick is being able to understand the message.

So what does all of this have to do with writing behavioral goals? Well, a lot. It’s difficult to write behavioral goals for many people because they are still caught up in the antiquated punishment model of behavioral intervention, which evidence shows may curtail a specific behavioral incident in the short-term, but does nothing in the long-term to prevent problem behaviors from developing again or growing worse and more sophisticated over time. Because so many people in public education have been trained to look at behaviors as challenges to their authority rather than signs of things that need to be addressed, it’s hard for them to conceptualize the proper formatting of behavior goals. Parents usually have no formal training in this area either and get caught up in the momentum of the punitive mindset, not necessarily sure that the schools’ approach is appropriate but not knowing what else to suggest.

The thing with behavior goals is that they have to describe what a student is supposed to do in order to determine that the goal has been met. But, most people still think in terms of what the student should not be doing and will write things like “By 12/10/09, [Student] will decrease vocal outbursts in the classroom by 90% as measured by observation,” which is a poorly written goal on an uncountable number of levels. What the goal should do is describe and target the appropriate replacement behavior. So, it could read something like, “By 12/10/09, [Student] will use his break card to request time away from noisy distractions, take his work to a pre-designated quiet area, and complete his work with no more than one verbal prompt per occasion in 4 of 5 consecutive occasions within a 2-week period.”

Now, here in this example, it’s implied that the reason the child was engaging in noisy outbursts because he was becoming overwhelmed by noisy distractions presented by others. This is significant! Most behaviors are engaged in to either get something or get away from something, regardless of whether those behaviors are good or bad. Behaviors serve specific functions to the individuals who engage in them. Purists in the field of behavioral sciences tend not to really classify behaviors as good or bad, but more in terms of appropriate or inappropriate to the circumstance, adaptive or maladaptive, or successful and unsuccessful. Reinforcers are those things that occur once a behavior has been engaged in that increase the likelihood of the behavior being engaged in again. Consequences are those things that occur once a behavior has been engaged in that are likely to decrease the likelihood of the behavior being engaged in again. Consequences are not automatically presumed to be punishment.

Think about it. If you’re at a restaurant and want fettuccine alfredo, you don’t say, “Give me a t-bone steak, please.” You ask for the fettuccine alfredo. If you were to ask for a t-bone steak, and the waiter brought you a t-bone steak instead of fettuccine alfredo, the consequence of receiving a t-bone steak would decrease the likelihood of you asking for a t-bone steak the next time you wanted fettuccine alfredo. Getting the t-bone wasn’t punishment. It was just the natural consequence of you asking for something other than what you really wanted.

But, what if you don’t know the name of the dish you want? You can describe it to the waiter (“Yes, I’ll have those flat noodles with the creamy sauce and that spice that’s usually only used in snickerdoodles and spice cakes,”) and hope he understands, or you can just order something else that really wasn’t what you wanted just to avoid the embarrassment of not knowing the name of your favorite dish in front of your dinner companions and the waiter. At that point, though, your behavioral priority became avoiding embarrassment rather than getting the food that you wanted. When cast in that light, inappropriate behaviors start to make more sense.

With our example goal here, the only way we could have known why the child was engaging in the inappropriate behavior of verbal outbursts in the classroom was to have conducted an appropriate assessment of the child’s behavior. This assessment, in this example, would have revealed that the child – who has ADHD and an auditory processing disorder – was getting auditory overload whenever the noise level in the classroom increased during busy activities and, being highly distractible to boot, was incredibly challenged to remain on task. The verbal outbursts were the result of his frustration at not being able to concentrate and being so caught up in the moment of being overwhelmed and lacking in coping skills that it didn’t occur to him to ask his teacher to let him do his work some place more quiet. We’re talking about a child with compromised learning skills, here, not a 45-year-old adult with years of experience at effectively solving problems.

The goal describes the desired outcome, but what probably also needs to be in this child’s IEP is a positive behavior support plan that spells out what his issues are and how to deal with them. The only purpose the goal serves is to measure whether or not he acquired the replacement behavior over the course of the goal’s annual period. In our example goal above, the use of the break card has to be explained somewhere.

Sometimes IEP teams unnecessarily knock themselves out trying to write a succinct enough goal that captures all of the relevant elements without it becoming the world’s longest run-on sentence when something like a particular strategy must be employed. My favorite solution to problems like this is to develop a separate protocol that gets attached to an IEP as another page of the document and then have the goal refer to it.

For example, our example goal being used here refers to a break card but doesn’t make clear what that is or how it should be used. The goal could be re-written to read: “By 12/10/09, [Student] will use his break card according to the protocol found on page 12 of this IEP to request time away from noisy distractions, take his work to a pre-designated quiet area, and complete his work with no more than one verbal prompt per occasion in 4 of 5 consecutive occasions within a 2-week period.” Then page 12 of the IEP could be a one-page description of the protocol. In the alternate, if a positive behavior support plan is also attached to the IEP and the break card system is described in it, then the goal could reference the positive behavior support plan.

The important thing is that the goal has to be customized to fit the unique circumstances of the child involved. We get a lot of hits on our web site from people looking for pre-written goals, but I’m telling you that this is totally the wrong way to go about it. You’re not going to find canned goals that fit a particular circumstance involving a particular child, particularly when it comes to behavior. The goal has to target the specific area of need as identified in the present levels of performance and describe in measurable terms exactly what the student has to do in order to demonstrate mastery of the targeted skill. The goals of any child’s IEP have to be tailored to his unique needs and you don’t get a customized outcome with “off-the-shelf” goals. Rather than looking for pre-written goals that will fit a specific child, look for examples of goals and learn to understand the process and the logic behind how goals are written.

With behavior goals, target the acquisition of the desired behavior rather than dwell on reducing the undesired behavior. Gather baseline data on how often the child engages in the desired behavior at the time the goal is written and the degree to which he is expected to engage in it at the conclusion of the goal, which should be an increase over how often he engages in it at the beginning.

For example, if the baseline is that the student does not currently use a break card system to appropriately remove himself from a noisy and distracting environment to a quiet place where he can complete his work, then our example goal above represents a marked improvement. If the child begins using his break card system to escape the noisy, distracting environments and completing his work in a quiet area, then he’s not standing in the midst of the chaos yelling his head off.

By engaging in the appropriate replacement behavior, he inadvertently ceases to engage in the inappropriate behavior. Once he realizes that he is being met with a more beneficial outcome by using the break card system than he was by yelling out in class, he’ll have no reason to go back to yelling out in class. Over time, the skill can be refined to the point that the student is able to afford himself the trust of his teacher to excuse himself at his own discretion, without the need for overt signals to the teacher like break cards, to a quiet area to do his work and no one will think anything of it. A behavior goal in this area of need will eventually no longer be necessary.

I’ve seen kids overcome behavioral challenges in a year or less with good behavioral supports. I’ve also seen kids fall deeper and deeper into a hopeless pit of despair in the absence of good behavioral supports. And the degree of disability has little to do with it. It’s all about the quality of the behavioral interventions, including the goals. As long as the goals target the desired behaviors, are written in a measurable way that relates directly to relevant and accurate present levels of performance, and work in tandem with any behavioral protocols and/or a positive behavioral support plan in the IEP, you should be met with success.


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Anne M. Zachry, M.A. Ed. Psych. on Linkedin
Anne M. Zachry, M.A. Ed. Psych.
Anne M. Zachry, M.A. Ed. Psych.
Anne has worked as a special education and disability resource lay advocate since 1991 and as a paralegal to attorneys working in special education and disability rights law since 2005. She earned her master's degree in educational psychology in 2013, with emphasis on human development, learning and memory, evidence-based instruction, and educational program design and evaluation. She has received additional training in mediation and post-graduate studies in applied behavioral analysis and individualized educational data collection methodologies.

0 thoughts on “Writing IEP Goals for Behavioral Issues”

  1. If a student has particular behavior goals, and has not mastered them but are working on them, should the school still use the same consequences as other students as punishment? My son has ADHD, he is 17 and the school has written a plan for him, and it says he must follow all school rules. I agree that rules should be followed, but they don’t seem to factor in the disorder. They don’t consider his impulsiveness and expect him to be like the other students….regardless of his documented (6yrs) disorder, He has the exact same consequences even though they know he is working on them…. His behavior plan is all about what he’s going to do for himself, there is no support in there, If he’s working on them shouldn’t they be supporting him and directing him with replacement behaviors thus having consequences but when your learning there should be somewhat different or just some leway? They say no. Why have a behavior plan then…isnt it suppose to be individualized to meet the students needs? If a student in a wheelchair is running over other students, don’t they consider that he may not be able to control the chair and in turn teach him how to slow down or think before going to fast?

    1. Michelle,

      This sounds like a group of people who are more going through the motions of the behavior plan requirements, but aren’t really devoting much thought to the process and, thus, are not legitimately creating IEP content that can be reasonably calculated to render educational benefit. This term – reasonably calculated to render educational benefit – comes from the case law as part of the legal definition of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (or, “FAPE”) and it’s legally significant.

      If your son’s IEP does nothing but describe what he is expected to do and fails to provide guidance to school site personnel as to how to control for and respond to his behaviors or otherwise make sure he is doing whatever the IEP expects him to do, then it can’t be reasonably calculated to render educational benefit. IEPs are meant to be the blueprints by which an individual child’s education is to be rendered – how it’s been tailored to ensure his success in light of his special needs, whatever those needs are. The IEP is supposed to tell your son’s school site team what to do with him. If that document calls for him to be punished for manifesting symptoms of his disabilities, then this causes the District’s IEP offer to not be appropriate – as in, the “A” in FAPE. The District is obligated to give your son an appropriate education at no cost to you (other than what might come from any taxes you already pay).

      Obviously, punishing him for manifesting symptoms of his disabilities is not going to cure him of his handicapping conditions or otherwise prevent the symptoms from manifesting again. If they are symptomatic behaviors resulting from, or influenced by, his handicapping conditions, then the District is failing to teach him the right lessons that will make the behaviors stop and provide him with more appropriate, more successful ways of dealing with life, particularly while at school. Without adequate coping skills, your son is compromised in the school setting. At his age, there is a lot of emotional turmoil going on already, just as a consequence of adolescence. When you add the processing difficulties associated with an attention deficit disorder, as well as the impulsivity that often goes along with it, you end up with instances of mental chaos when too much fragmented information is being thrown at you at once and its all awash in hormones.

      The biological factors at play are often not given due consideration by impatient adults who just want the student to “act right.” This happens a lot with kids with “hidden” disabilities, such as ADHD and learning disabilities. If a child looks “normal,” many adults – including quite a few in the education system – cannot conceive of the child as having a handicapping condition, even with all the valid science that has identified thousands of different ways that the brain can demonstrate the presence of a handicapping condition regardless of what the individual looks like. These are often the same people who think that the regulations regarding behavior should only apply to children with severe mental handicaps or mental illness, who they also believe should be removed from the general education setting so that their expected, and therefore tolerated rather than served, behaviors won’t disrupt the general education learning environment. They think all the rules about discipline and special education students – especially with kids who look perfectly fine – are just a bunch of liberal mommy coddling.

      I think the reality is more that it takes far less effort to blow off the regulations and act like they’re stupid than it does to appropriately address the behavioral needs of a child like your son. Working with a child with behavioral issues arising from ADHD is a lot harder than it looks. That’s because your son’s probable relatively “normal” appearance, while it serves to facilitate integration amongst his typical peers, also sets him up for failure because people hold him to unrealistic expectations and presume he has the understanding and processing ability to read novel situations correctly as quickly as others who are not similarly impaired and formulate an appropriate response to each situation with equal ease.

      If he’s in the process of acquiring the appropriate skills, then the BSP portion of the IEP needs to reflect what the reactive strategies are supposed to be when the undesired behaviors manifest. If all the IEP calls for is for the normal school rules to apply, then they’ve done nothing to teach him an appropriate replacement behavior. That’s not the nature of a compliant BSP.

      Certain things can’t be ignored, though. For example, if your son were to bring a weapon on campus or be found with drugs, it doesn’t matter whether he’s special ed or not – he’s outta there! Behaviors that present a clear and present danger to the other students must be removed regardless of why they are happening. If the student presents a danger to himself, it may be necessary for the school to call in a mental health crisis team, usually from a County Mental Health agency, to have the student taken somewhere safe where he will not disrupt the school environment and can receive the types of attention he needs to de-escalate and get a hold of himself. In situations like these, special education law permits many of the rules that apply to general education student to also apply to special education students.

      Part of what you may be up against is a school site administration that thinks all this behavioral intervention stuff is bogus and kids should just be punished when they do something wrong. It could cause these administrators to do some belligerent things if you start bucking the system, presuming that’s what your dealing with, but if the facts show that the District developed a poor BSP, then the IEP of which it is part would likely be found unable to render educational benefit, resulting in the denial of a FAPE. You could potentially take the District to due process over this. The District could get into a lot of trouble, depending, of course, on how competent and compliant the due process hearing system is in your state.

      What I suggest you do is make a written request for a functional analysis of your son’s behavior and a revision of his behavior support plan based on the results of the functional analysis. The functional analysis is a type of assessment done in special education for behavioral issues that may be caused by or associated with a child’s handicapping conditions. As such, you are making a written request for assessment.

      How behavior assessments are done in each state varies according to each state’s laws. Some states defer to the federal guidelines, which are rather broad and a little too vague for my liking. California has the Hughes Bill, which regulates how behavioral interventions are to be handled with special education students and provides more specific parameters to the assessment and behavior plan process than the federal regulations.

      You need to talk with someone at your state’s Department of Education in their special education division who is familiar with the behavioral intervention regulations. You may need to talk to someone in the compliance complaint investigation division. They are public servants and you are a citizen. They have to answer your questions. It’s part of their job. Call and ask them what the specific regulations are in your state regarding behavioral interventions with special education students. Have them give you the link or at least the legal citation of the codes that your state uses to regulate behavioral interventions with special education students. I’d be shocked if you couldn’t find them online anywhere.

      Inappropriate behaviors manifested by special education students is a stand-alone issue that receives a lot of attention. It’s not a rarely seen problem for which there is little to no data or professional guidance. It is significant enough that entire careers revolve around it. Somebody in your state’s department of education knows the scoop on how behavioral issues are regulated where you live. If you can track such a person down, explain your son’s situation, and ask them for their advice, they may take the safe way out and tell you to consult an attorney. But, they can surely explain the applicable regulations and where to find them. That’s not taking sides in a dispute or giving legal advice. That’s just stating the facts about publicly available information.

      You’ll also want to find out about your state’s timelines for assessments. Given that it’s currently summer, the timelines in your state may very well be disrupted. There may be so many days within which the district has to respond to your referral, so many more days associated with the assessment plan, and so many more days associated with the actual assessment. You need to know what the steps of the process are and how long is the most time each step can take. It is imperative that you make your request in writing and use some form of proof of delivery so that you can establish when the applicable timelines started ticking down.

      You need to find out what the process is in your state for when a parent makes a referral for a special education assessment. This is another one that varies from state to state. The federal laws give districts the opportunity to turn down a parent request for assessment. But, states can give parents and students more rights than the federal law requires if they want; the federal guidelines are just minimal standards and the states are more than welcome to exceed them. Such is the case in California where parent referrals for assessment must be honored according to state law.

      If the assessment comes back and you think it’s wrong or if it fails to result in a BSP that appropriately supports your son, you have the right to disagree with the assessment and ask for an independent educational evaluation (“IEE”) at public expense – in other words, a second opinion by someone on the outside who isn’t in the district’s hip pocket who the district has to pay for – to come in and call it. Any district with common sense will automatically agree to the IEE. Saying “no” requires the District to file for due process against the parent to prove that it’s own assessment was appropriate. The attorney’s fees would exceed the cost of a second opinion within days of the case getting started, even if the district was right.

      It’s less costly to pay an outside expert to come in and do a second assessment. Presumably, if the district really did it’s job, the outside assessor is just going to corroborate that fact and it would be evidence that supported the district in any dispute that nonetheless arose. The only reason a district usually says “no” to an IEE request is because it knows it did a poor job of assessment and that the independent assessor’s results will embarrass the district and reveal the precarious legal predicament into which the district put itself. School districts know that most parents have no idea of their right to an IEE at public expense, much less that the only way under the federal regulations for their districts to legitimately turn them down is to take them to hearing and prove that the district’s assessment was good. So, I’m telling you now.

      I only get into IEEs now because it is possible that if you are dealing with such difficult personalities at this stage, there is the possibility that a new assessment by this team of individuals will fail to produce much more information than what the team already has. I’ve seen it happen where school personnel were so incensed by a parent’s disagreement with what they have done (or accusations of doing nothing at all or doing the wrong thing) that they will deliberately sabotage the assessment by conducting it in such a way as to skew the data, introduce confounding variables that compromise the validity of the testing, and/or deliberately destroy assessment protocols so that they cannot be examined for proper administration and scoring.

      That said, unless your son’s behavior was assessed within the last school year, it’s probably safe to say that it’s too late to disagree with the last assessment that as done and go straight to an IEE request now. That means you have to risk getting a crap assessment from the district in order to chance getting a good assessment out of the district. If it turns out to be crap, you can then make a written request for the IEE. If it turns out to be good, then you’re where you want to be.

      1. This is timely information for the situation we find ourselves in. Our son is a senior and has ADHD and ODD. He has never had a functional behavior assessment. The IEP just says he is to be sent to the resource room or for extracurricular there is a “go to person” who is supposed to help him calm down. Discipline is at the discretion of administration. We have a meeting coming up for his IEP because in extracurricular the “go to person” ignored a situation that occurred and our son made some bad decisions as a result. We are learning much more about behavior assessments and interventions, but it is hard to find good information. Our son has been punished excessively, 8 class periods in school detention for using a swear word at the beginning of the school day, this was a first referral for him for the year. When questioning administration about the decision on punishment we were told they can use their discretion. The second referral resulted in only a half hour detention after school. No consistency what so ever.Is this type of thing something we can address through the IEP rather than leaving at their discretion?

        1. Yes! If you can get a good behavioral assessment and an appropriate behavior support or intervention plan into the IEP, it becomes an enforceable part of the document. If they do not follow the behavior plan once it has been added to the IEP and you’ve consented to it, then they will commit a procedural violation that can result in the denial of a FAPE. Procedurally, they have to implement the IEP as written. The education rendered must conform to the IEP.

          If they do something other than what the IEP calls for, they aren’t following the IEP. Some courts have found that when a school district deviates from the language of the IEP and goes off and does something else instead, it can be an automatic denial of a FAPE with no need to examine if the student was deprived of educational benefit; the district is just automatically found at fault. In the 9th Circuit, that’s certainly the case. Even if the courts in your area may not consider it an automatic denial of a FAPE, it still could be found to deny a FAPE if it results in lost educational benefit, which it sounds like it might be the case with your son.

          Even if you’re not looking at going to due process at this point, it’s still a procedural violation that can be pursued by a state investigation resulting from a compliance complaint. “Narc-ing” on the district to its regulators for not following the rules is one way to enforce an IEP without having to go through a big lawsuit. Plus, if you do ever end up needing to go to due process later on, the documentation from the state-level complaint, as well as the testimony of the investigator, can be entered into evidence in hearing.

          Anne

  2. I have a student with RADS, and am having a very hard time with coming up with behavior goals because her behaviors are so unpredictable. I could use help with her manipulation of the goals I do have in place.

    1. Diane,

      We have a goal-writing community on Ning that you can use to get help with goal-writing. Go to http://kps4parents-iep-goals.ning.com. Once you join, if you type in the language of the existing goals in a post or scan/upload a copy of the goals (please redact confidential info off the pages first!), then the community can weigh in on how the goals are formatted. Also, does the student have a behavior plan tied to the goals? That’s going to describe what to actually do in the face of the behaviors, which should be directly tied to her behavioral goals. I can also consult with you directly, if that would help, but I’m buried with work right now, so if time is of the essence, that might not be the best plan. You can email us at info@kps4parents.org so that our dialogue isn’t made public if you’re worried about confidentiality. So long as you mention this post, the email will find it’s way to me and I will gladly do what I can to help you.

      Anne

    2. Diane,
      As referenced above, I also have a kid with RAD. He is 15 and has failed on purpose throughout his schooling despite being a very bright young man. I feel as though any goal I put forth, he will intentionally not succeed. I would love to hear your thoughts and insight in regards to goal building.
      Thanks so much.

      1. Erick,

        Your child’s response sounds very oppositional-defiant. I’m presuming that the district has done social/emotional assessment and identified what this is all about. If not, ask for it to be done. He’s clearly not receiving a FAPE if his own mental/emotional health issues incline him to do the opposite of meeting his IEP goals. He may need goals that specifically target this exact behavior and mental health services to help him meet such goals, though this is my advice based purely on your comment without the benefit of seeing his records or knowing the full story.

        Anne

  3. I am in the middle of a Special Ed referral nightmare that fit right into the above stories regarding behavior and discipline. My son is in 8th grade and has ADHD. He was put on a 504 in January, received an out of school suspension shortly there after for inappropriate language, and was then referred for Special Ed. Since the referral, he has been suspended 16 days out of school because they do not feel his profanity is a part of his disability. Well, long story short, he qualifies for an IEP with an ADHD diagnosis, but because he doesn’t qualify academically they are reluctant to write IEP behavior goals. I want my son educated and in school. This year alone, the school has suspended him out of school over 30 days and in school suspended for over 30 days. They have an out of date “progressive disciple policy” so now whenever my son says a one word profanity, he is out 10 days. It sounds like writing an IEP behavior goal will require the school to find alternative discipline procedures. Is this correct?

    1. Molly,

      What you are describing is exactly why the US Department of Education is pushing so hard for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (“PBIS”). It’s not mandatory, yet, however, so many state education agencies and the local education agencies (school districts, charter schools, etc.) within them aren’t putting forth the effort to do much about these problems.

      It is absolutely the case that the content of your child’s IEP, as well as the instruction and supports delivered to implement it, are supposed to be based on the unique educational needs of your child, regardless of what they are. If that means a different behavioral intervention, so be it. Your IP address places you in New Hampshire (so, I hope that’s where you actually are). Interestingly, there was a recent study done by researchers at the New Hampshire Center for Effective Behavioral Interventions and Supports and Plymouth State University on PBIS in New Hampshire, as part of a state-wide systemic effort to implement PBIS in the state’s schools. That’s a good sign. It means there are people in your state trying to fix this very problem.

      However, by the time these changes make it to your community, it may be too late to prevent your son’s education from be derailed. It may be worth your while to contact the people at the New Hampshire Center for Effective Behavioral Interventions and Supports and see what resources exist in your community to help you deal with this issue. Other than that, you’re probably looking at a due process situation in which the issues for dispute could include the quality of the IEP your son has been offered as well as the ineffectiveness of the behavioral interventions rendered thus far and the need for appropriate IEP content that addresses your son’s behavioral needs as well as qualified staff with the necessary expertise to implement a proper behavior program for your son.

      Anne

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