“Schools Fail to Uphold Zero Tolerance Policies” — it sounds like a bad thing, but we promise, it isn’t. While they may sound like a good idea, zero tolerance policies have actually shown to be more than a little destructive. Luckily, America’s school system is finding solutions, and statistics are back on the rise.

So why is America relaxing on zero tolerance policies?

Although zero tolerance policies were first used in schools in the hopes of curbing crime (for example, underage consumption of alcohol, drugs, and vandalism), it quickly became clear that they do more to hurt than to help. Schools that enforce zero tolerance policies had statistically higher dropout rates, coupled with increased arrest records and decreased academic achievement — which is, quite understandably, considerably less than ideal for our schools.

Even individuals who once supported zero tolerance policies are beginning to change their tune. After finding that zero tolerance policies were counterproductive, many of America’s schools began initiatives to keep lawbreaking students in school, and more importantly, off the streets.

Who’s leading the charge, you may ask?

Judges, police officers, and juvenile detention directors — and they know what they’re talking about; it is their area of expertise, after all.

And hey, it just plain makes sense: how are we going to see any progress or forward motion if we continue to kick trouble students out of school? That’s certainly not going to help them stay out of the streets. The Obama administration also has a hand in things, pushing school districts to keep kids in school.

Don’t worry, though: these relaxed zero tolerance policies don’t apply to students who may be harmful or destructive, so safety is not an issue that comes into play. And, it also doesn’t mean that there are no consequences — students who commit crimes are sent to mandatory counseling, and must perform community service.

And guess what?  

The decrease in zero tolerance policies is working.

The New York Times recently ran an article that focused on the relaxation of zero tolerance policies in Broward County, Florida — apparently, after revising their policies to help kids stay in school (rather than kicking them out), Broward County had vastly improved statistics. Almost immediately after making the change, they saw a staggering 41% drop in school-based arrests.  It’s still a little on the early side to really be able to bask in the rest of the statistical results, but we’re all hopeful that the numbers will continue to improve — now that arrests have decreased, let’s see an increase in graduation rates and academic achievement!

Schools can be a tricky subject for many — it’s a delicate balance.

How do you make it a safe and supportive environment for our kids to learn in when crime is as rampant as it is today? Zero tolerance may not be the answer, but we continue to learn which methods will prove to be most effective. Looks like we’re continuing our education along with our kids!

The first day of school can be a terrifying and exhilarating experience for the child and parent alike. It can be especially nerve-racking when a child with special needs is attending school for the first time or going back for another year. However, fear not. With some preparation before the big day, you can ensure a smooth first day for you and your child.

Even before the first day of school, visit the campus early, such as during the summer time, to get a feel for the place and to know where important facilities are located such offices, restrooms, and the nurse station. You can also check out the child’s classroom so you can prepare your child for what s/he is to expect on the first day of school.

It is always important for you and your child to be surrounded by a supportive, understanding environment so that your child feels welcome into the new school community. Introduce yourself to your child’s teacher, and make sure to inform them as necessary about your child’s needs. Introduce yourself as well to other member’s of your child’s school such as the principal, school nurse, counselor, and school aides, who, aside from the teacher, could be working very closely with your child.

If possible, help your child with the transition by explaining to them what to expect or even giving them a printed schedule of what the first day will look and feel like and where s/he will be at certain times– ask their teacher for help with this information beforehand. Purchase a special folder for your child’s teacher to keep in the classroom and one for you to keep at home of school activities and any pertinent paperwork about your child.

Even before the new school year begins, be active in school – PTAs are a great way to meet other parents and stay in the know about school activities and issues. You can collect phone numbers of your child’s classmate’s parents. PTAs can also be your opportunity to advocate for more seminars teaching school staff about working with special needs students.

While children with the same special needs may share similar characteristics, every child is unique. Although faculty members may discover on their own your child’s beautiful personality, as reinforcement to what you explain to your child’s teacher and other faculty members, write a letter to the teacher introducing  your child. In it you can include details such as:

  • A photo of your child
  • Your child’s physical/mental/emotional strengths and challenges
  • Likes and Dislikes
  • Toileting needs
  • Any food/medical allergies
  • Medical/medication information
  • Emergency phone numbers

Talk to your child as well so you are kept informed about what is going on in their day-to-day life to know if there are any concerns you may need to bring up with the teacher about the classroom setting.

If you have time to spare, volunteer in your child’s school during the school year and the days leading up to the first day of school. Teachers in younger grades will often request parent volunteers to help with work in the classroom, and if your child is older you can help around the school in other ways, such as being a playground monitor or organizing fundraisers.

With a little preparation on your part, that of the school staff, and your child for his/her first day of school, your child can focus on what matters: their academic, personal, and interpersonal development.


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While educators, policy makers, and parents are questioning the usefulness of standard suspension protocol, suspension rates across all grade levels have more than doubled over the past three decades. Some studies have found that a large percentage of the suspensions are for minor infractions such as disrupting class, tardiness, and dress code violations, rather than for serious violent or criminal behavior.

Meanwhile, students who have been suspended are missing out on valuable days of education, which can lead to lower student achievement. Additionally, out-of-school suspension correlates the child’s increased likelihood of dropping out and greater risk of future incarceration.

A recent analysis of Department of Education data by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA’s Civil Rights Project has found that racial minorities and students with disabilities are suspended at almost twice the rate of their white and non-disabled peers. The data was culled from 10 states’ schools, ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade, from the 2009-2010 school year. Some 500 schools in California were represented in the study.

The study revealed that male students of African-American descent with disabilities had the highest rates of suspension, as 25 percent was suspended at least once during the school year (compared to 13 percent of disabled students and 7 percent of students without disabilities). Identified as disabled or not, black students were the most likely to be suspended of any race, though Latinos and American Indians also were suspended at higher rates than whites.

For example, during the 2009-10 school year, the Los Angeles Unified School District had an overall suspension rate of 5.9 percent. But when race was taken into account, the dramatic difference in rates became apparent. Amongst black male students, the rate was up to 23 percent, compared to 5 percent of white males. Rates were lower in general amongst female students, but minorities still faced higher rates of suspension than their non-minority peers.

Even more striking disparities in risk of suspension could be seen between students with and without disabilities. In the Placer Union High School District, 8 percent of non-disabled students experienced suspension at least once during the school year. However, disabled students were ten times as likely to be suspended, as a whopping 86.7 percent of students with disabilities had been suspended during the same school year.
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The California data supported the overall study conclusion that black males with disabilities had the highest suspension rates. In the San Bernardino City Unified School District, black male students with disabilities had a 59 percent rate of suspension, while amongst non-disabled black male students was 29 percent.

The disparity between non-disabled and the disabled students’ rates of suspension suggests that children with disabilities are not getting the additional support and counseling in schools.

With the correlation between suspension and future performance, the higher rates of disabled students being suspended for potentially minor infractions puts them at great risk for future incarceration. The implications of this study are sobering, as students with disabilities make up a large proportion of children who are in the juvenile justice system.

Overall, studies have shown that the practice of out-of-school suspension does not help schools provide a safer or more productive educational environment for the suspended student nor their classmates. Educators and policy makers are discussing alternative forms of correction or discipline, like in-school suspension.

Structured programs that address multiple issues can help students get back to class faster and stay there. However, while this may help reform the practice, it does not address the underlying issue that disabled students are subject to more disciplinary action than non-disabled students.

Education that fully accommodates the unique learning disabilities of special needs children is actually a relatively new and young installment of our public education system.

Prior to the 1970s, students with special needs had limited options and virtually no chance of succeeding by way of the free public education system alongside non-special needs children. The choices of the parents of these kids were one of the following:

  • Get their education at home — Parents would often resort to pulling their kids out of school and teaching them at home. While many parents choose to homeschool their children today, it’s often for reasons other than a hindering learning disability.
  • Pay for private school — Before the 1970s, private school was (and still is, in large part) an expensive luxury. While some families could afford it, the greater percentage could not, therefore leaving them with few options for educating their kids.
  • Pay for a private tutor — This kind of education crossed the two previous options together. Once again, this came down to an issue of cost, because if parents couldn’t afford private school, they weren’t likely to be able to afford a tutor either.

During the earlier half of the 20th century, special schools dubbed “institutions” were available for students with learning disabilities, but would often simply integrate those children with those with mental illnesses, where little if any education would ever take place.

There’s no question that the odds were stacked against learning disabled children. However the 1970s would turn all that upside down with just a few pieces of legislation.

Turning Point

During the 1930s, grassroots and advocacy groups began to form to lobby for the inclusion and accommodation of special needs kids in state and federally funded public schools. The culmination and fruit of these efforts came to its height in the 1970s with the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

These two laws dovetailed one another as EHA made it mandatory that the right to a public education be afforded to all children regardless of their limitations or disabilities, while IDEA required that individualized accommodations be provided for children with qualifying disabilities.

Other laws during this decade also played a role in providing strong foundational platform to support learning disabled children, including the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which guaranteed civil rights to all disabled people, and included the right to a free public education.

These years marked an incredibly positive turning point for the parents and advocates of special needs kids, and would eventually lead to the extinction of the private special needs “institutions.”

Moving Forward

Fast forward to present time and you have nearly all special needs education occurring in the public schools, with private or homeschool options being taken as a matter of personal choice and not out of desperation or necessity.

Likewise the teachers who educate these students are being provided with proper training and education to better assist special needs children and make sure that they are getting the best education possible.

In the 2001 and 2004 under President George W. Bush, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) assured a greater measure of accountability to public schools to insure the proper education of special needs kids. The law also provided assistance for better technology and loan programs that were targeted to supper those who were learning disabled.

While there always seems to be room for improvement in America’s education system, we are certainly due some credit for turning our history in a positive direction when it comes to special needs kids.

Everyone should have a chance at a great education. Thankfully our country is continuing to move in that direction.


What is Inclusion? 

Inclusion is the term used to describe when a student receiving special education and related services is placed or “mainstreamed” into the general education classroom.

When is Inclusion/Mainstreaming required? 

Every student who receives special education and related services must be educated with non-disabled peers to the “maximum extent appropriate,” and may be removed from the regular education environment only when the nature and severity of the student’s disabilities is such that education in the general education setting with the use of supplementary aids and services “cannot be achieved satisfactorily.” (See 34 C.F.R. §300.114).

The Least Restrictive Environment

Students who receive special education and related services must be placed in the least restrictive environment (“LRE”). This requires, to the maximum extent possible, students with disabilities to be educated with their typically developing peers. What is an LRE for one student will not necessarily be the LRE for another student. Below is a list of different placement options from least to most restrictive.

  1. General Education
  2. General Education with pull outs
  3. Special day class with some inclusion/mainstreaming
  4. Special day class full day
  5. Nonpublic School
  6. Home or hospital instruction
  7. Residential treatment facility

While not every student will benefit from mainstreaming or inclusion in the general education setting, under LRE, the school district must consider all appropriate placement options and continually work towards each student’s progression into a lesser restrictive environment.

Four Part Test to Determine if Mainstreaming is Appropriate

The courts have developed four factors to consider when determining whether mainstreaming is appropriate. (See Ms. S. v. Vashon Island School Dist., 337 F.3d 1115, 1136-1137 (9th Cir. 2003); Sacramento City Unified School District v. Rachel H., 14 F.3d 1398, 1404 (9th Cir. 1994)).

  1. The academic benefits of placement in a mainstream setting, with any supplementary paraprofessional and services that might be appropriate;
  2. The non-academic benefits of mainstream placement, such as language and behavior models provided by non-disabled students;
  3. The negative effects the student’s presence may have on the teacher and other students; and
  4. The cost of educating the student in a mainstream environment.

What if Inclusion/Mainstreaming is NOT Appropriate?

If a student who qualifies for special education and related services is determined that he/she cannot be educated in a general education environment, the next step is to determine if that student has been appropriately mainstreamed to the maximum extent in relation to the continuum of program options available. Alternative placement options include among others, resource specialist programs (“RSP”), special day classes (“SDC”), nonpublic schools (“NPS”), and home or hospital instruction (“HHI”).  (See Ed. Code, § 56361).

The key for the IEP team is to develop a placement that allows a student receiving special education and related services to make meaningful progress in the least restrictive environment. While Parents may want their child to be in the general education setting it is more important for the student to be able to access and benefit from his/her placement. In the end, inclusion and mainstreaming should always be considered and if the general education setting is not appropriate, goals and services need to be developed for the eventual transition into a less restrictive environment.