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The Discipline Myth

As a long-time advocate for individuals with disabilities, I have had to confront many myths and misunderstandings regarding special education students. One recent misunderstanding has been the belief that certain special education laws (PL 94-142) and court cases (Honig vs. Doe) have resulted in dangerous special education students being placed in regular education settings.

At a public meeting a few short months ago, a participant asked a question, more in the form of an "editorial" statement. Her statement/question can be paraphrased as, "If you're placing special education students, and especially ones with behavioral concerns, in a classroom with my child, you'd better be able to guarantee that my child won't be hurt." The second part of her statement reflected what legal action she as a concerned parent would take if her child were ever hurt by a "special education student."

The intensity of her comments reflect the concern many parents, school staff and community leaders share regarding safety issues surrounding children and youth. But, quite frankly, there are NO guarantees of safety. Statistically, it would be wiser to guarantee safe behavior from "special education" students than from the general population based on the logic of numbers. Using my district as an example, there were 1, 991 students suspended out-of-school during 1996-97. Of these, only 475 were special education students. Of the 184 students who received long-term suspensions or expulsions reflecting behaviors considerably more serious, 83% were non-special education students and only 17% were students who were in special education. Admittedly, some special education students experienced a "change of placement" rather than a suspension, but these numbers are very small. The change of placement to a more restrictive setting also means that the student in special education would have even less frequent exposure to other students.

Based on sheer numbers, it is obvious that anyone seeking a "guarantee" of safety would need to approach the regular education administrator as well as or before approaching the special education administrator since serious acts necessitating discipline are far more likely to be committed by students not in special education.

Janice Duncan, Ph. D
Assistant Superintendent
Springfield Public Schools

Reprinted from the February, 1998, issue of Parent to Parent, a newsletter by MPACT (Missouri Parents Act).
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