Is Your Child’s Behavior Affecting Their Education?


If your child’s behaviors are affecting their progress in school it is important to seek the proper support from the school district. The school district is responsible for educating your child including, assessing and identifying each student’s unique needs.

Children learn and process information in many different ways. The one size fits all approach to education is unworkable and illegal. The district has a responsibility to offer the appropriate support to help your child succeed in school.

If your child is getting suspended or removed from their classroom because of their maladaptive behaviors you should request a special education assessment including a behavior assessment from your school district. This will allow the district to evaluate your child and if necessary develop a behavior support plan (BSP) or behavior intervention plan (BIP) to address and eliminate the problem behaviors. The behavior plan must be based on positive behavior interventions thus eliminating the negative and detrimental suspensions.

Unfortunately, without parental involvement school districts will continue to negatively treat students with behavior problems even though a child’s maladaptive behavior is not always their fault. However, if and when the student is found eligible to receive special education and related services the school district will be legally bound to follow the behavior plan. Often, a student with a behavioral issue will be found eligible for services under the Emotional Disturbance (ED) or Other Health Impairment (OHI) category.

Emotional disturbance means a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance:

(A) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.

(B) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.

(C) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.

(D) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.

(E) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

Other Health Impairment means having limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment, that –

(i) Is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome; and

(ii) Adversely affects a child’s educational performance.

Additionally, if the district doesn’t find that your child meets the requirements to receive special education and related services he/she may still be protected under other laws, such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Unfortunately, getting your child assessed and eligible to receive special education services is only the first step. It is important to make sure the school district provides the appropriate supports to address your child’s unique needs.

Under California law, if a special education student exhibits a “serious behavior problem” such as behavior that is assaultive, self-injurious or other severe behaviors that interfere with learning, a Functional Analysis Assessment (FAA) is the mandatory form of assessment and must be conducted by a Behavior Intervention Case Manager (BICM).

That is, the FAA must be conducted by a person who is trained in behavior analysis with an emphasis on positive behavioral interventions.  The FAA requires data collection, not just anecdotal observation.

The primary difference between a FAA pursuant to state law and a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) under federal law is that the former is required when a student has a “serious behavior problem.” A serious behavior problem is defined as behavior that is assaultive, self-injurious or other severe behavior problems that are “pervasive and maladaptive for which instructional/behavioral approaches specified in student’s IEP are found to be ineffective.”

Regrettably, many school districts respond to a parent’s request for an FAA with an offer to do a Functional Behavior Assessment instead. An FBA is found in federal law and doesn’t require the assessment be provided by or supervised by a qualified behaviorist.  An FAA on the other hand requires systematic observation of the student to identify the function of the behavior engaged in by the child, its antecedents, and its consequences.

However, because an FAA must be performed by a BICM and many school districts are lacking in BICM personnel the district will offer to perform an FBA because they can send one of their school psychologists out to perform the assessment instead of having to hire a BICM.

In conclusion if your child is exhibiting behaviors that are impeding his/her learning

  1. Request a special education assessment, if your child is not currently receiving special education and related services;
  2. Request an FAA and the creation of a Behavior Intervention Plan;
  3. Request specific behavior goals be developed based on positive interventions;
  4. Request the implementation of a behavior aide, if necessary, to assist your child.
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