You Can’t Discipline Special Education Students

Well, that’s one special education myth that’s not true.  Here’s another:  You should use the exact same disciplinary program with a special education student that you use with any other student.  That one might be true but is certainly not always true.

It’s not surprising that student discipline is a major issue when discussing special education.  Discipline is a hot button for many parents.  They want to be very sure their children are treated fairly when any type of punishment is administered.  Special education students have all the rights of due process that any other student may have, but they are also protected further by their IEP’s.

In school, students are generally expected to follow a set code of conduct.  That conduct is interpreted throughout the school by both teachers and administrators.  In individual classrooms the teacher is responsible for keeping order but has some fairly wide latitude in most schools about what will be allowed and what will not.

Special education students are protected from undeserved punishment by their IEP’s.  The committee that meets to develop each IEP must determine if a student’s disability has more to do with particular types of misbehavior than student choice.  In other words, a typical student who curses aloud in class would be punished for disrupting the class and making a very poor choice in doing so.  But a special education student that has been diagnosed with Tourette syndrome would be doing no more than exhibiting a characteristic of his/her disability.  To punish that person would be like punishing another student whose temperature went up because he had the flu.

Similarly students with AD/HD will call out more often than other students.  They will also wiggle more and get up and move about the class.  These are not behaviors the teacher wants or even ignores, but the key here is rather to teach the students to deal with the characteristics of their disabilities rather than to punish them for those activities.

Most IEP’s include a disciplinary plan when appropriate so that special education students face certain consequences for their inappropriate behavior, just not the same punishments or consequences that a typical student would face by committing the same or similar infractions.

Please understand that many students who are not in special education programs do not easily understand why some classmates are not punished in the same ways for similar inappropriate behavior.  And you can bet that if the children in the classroom don’t understand these differences, their parents certainly won’t understand disciplining different students in different ways.

Special education is surrounded by many myths.  The proper way to discipline students with disabilities has certainly sparked its own myths.  The best we can do is to educate people to the best of our abilities about the way special education works and why it works that way.  We can’t punish students for behavior that they cannot control. It simply wouldn’t be fair, and special education students are protected from such punishment.


Grant Name:   Standard Charitable Foundation Grants

Funded By:  Standard Charitable Foundation

Description:  Areas of funding interest include Community Development, Education Effectiveness, Disability and Health.

Program Areas:  Adult Literacy, After-School, Arts, At-Risk/Character, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, Early Childhood, Family Services, General Education, Health/PE, Homeless, Math, Reading, Safe/Drug Free Schools, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, Special Education.

Recipients:  Public School, Other

Proposal Deadline:  5/1/13

Average Amount:  varies


Availability:  All States

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