Methods & Considerations for Disciplining Students with Disabilities

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Students with disabilities have unique needs and disciplining them is no easy task. This lesson will discuss the methods and considerations for disciplining students with disabilities. We will end with a short quiz to see what you have learned.

Disciplining Students With Disabilities

John is a middle school student with vision and hearing disabilities. A disability is a physical or mental issue that impairs normal functioning. Due to his impairments, he qualifies for special education under The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (IDEA). This law mandates that special needs students are entitled to receive a free and appropriate education depending on their unique needs.

Students like John frequently demonstrate developmental, social, behavioral or psychological issues as a result of their disabilities. For example, John frequently shouts out in class when he is having a hard time keeping up. The rule in class is that students must raise their hands and be called upon before speaking out.

Should John be disciplined for shouting out in class? If so, what type of discipline should be received? There are no simple answers to these questions. However, in 2004 IDEA was adjusted to include methods and considerations for disciplining disabled students. This is called manifestation determination, or an assessment of the relationship between the behavior and the student's disability. Let's take a closer look at what this means in the discipline of disabled students.

IDEA Rules For Discipline

Many teachers and administrators feel uncomfortable disciplining disabled students. Others believe that it is important for disabled students to follow the same rules that their fellow students follow. According to IDEA and the manifestation determination rule, teachers and administrators must first consider the student's disability when doling out punishment.

For example, John has both hearing and vision impairments. However, he does not have cognitive impairments that might disrupt reasoning and decision-making. Therefore, it might be said that John's disability does not prevent him from following the rules of the classroom. As you can imagine, the problem with this update to the law comes in when teachers and administrators try to determine if the suspect behavior is a direct result of the disability - no easy task!

IDEA mandates that school personnel must work with the student and parents to make this determination. Special education students usually have an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) in place. IEPs are plans for the education of the student based on his or her unique needs. Satisfying the manifestation determination would include reviewing the IEP along with the student's health and behavioral records. It is also important to include teacher and parent observations in this assessment.

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