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Behavior Challenges Faced At Vermont School

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The Burlington Free Press ran an article today about a public school program for children with behavioral and emotional disabilities. Coming on the heels of last week's CNN.com piece about the overuse of "time-out" rooms, this is a welcome shift:

So two years ago she established a program that offers students counseling, mentoring, tutoring and a place to calm down in their own school. She stopped sending students to private schools and did without at least five one-to-one aides. The savings: About $220,000 a year, Scheffert estimates.

Equally important, she said, children who walk in the door defiantly are learning to control their behavior and feel connected to school for the first time. “They have to feel like they belong,” Scheffert said.

I note that the story does say this school has an "intervention room," and a therapist on staff trained to use physical restraint "if needed." I'd like to know what kind of physical restraint, and how often it may be needed. I'd also like to hear from some parents and students. But based on the article, It does sound like a more comprehensive set of behavior modification methods are available to students in this program than just banishment to a time-out room.

Like many stories on a newspaper websites, the reader comments are illustrative. To put it gently, there seems to be some disagreement as to whether children with behavioral issues belong in public school at all.

For those who are interested more in the seclusion issue, Liz Ditz at the I Speak of Dreams blog has compiled a good set of links.

1 Comment

I admire this principal for creating a model that supports students with emotional disabilities. It sounds like she understands that their behaviors may be manifestations of their disabilities, and has created a safe place for regrouping and then returning to the regular classroom.

Experience has taught me several things about this model, three of which strike me as particularly germane:
1. It is easy to reinforce avoidance behavior in this model.
2. Interventionists themselves may become reinforcing, and inadvertently contribute to acting out behaviors by being too accomodating.
3. Stigmatization of staff who work with this population is common (affiliative stigma). Those in the system must be savvy to this point, and actively work to include and support these teachers. Research has repeatedly pointed to a lack of administrator support for teachers of students with E/BD. Research has also repeatedly revealed the highest rate of teacher attrition in these positions. It follows, then, if these teachers are not actively supported, they will not be around long, and students with emotional/behavioral disabilities, who perhaps need stability more than any other population, are subjected to more flux in their (often) already disrupted lives.

We urgently need teachers, support staff, and administrators who are educated about typical and atypical development. NCLB needs to explicitly address this requirement. Educational progress is not just about addressing content area deficits. We need to support the development of the whole child and family system by placing emphasis on counseling services and respectfully listening to, and openly considering the, expertise of parents.

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