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Tight Discipline


Separate incidents at two schools in Westchester County, New York, question the appropriateness of school discipline as parents and educators debate whose responsibility it is to discipline students. An Ardsley school board member and parent of a 14-year-old special education student resigned her post after other parents complained that school officials were too tolerant of her son’s repeated bullying and threats of a massacre and bombing, according to The New York Times.

The middle school boy received one-day suspensions on four different occasions, a lax consequence that parents of other middle schoolers said were given because of the mother’s board position. Maryanne Reda, parent and volunteer cafeteria monitor, witnessed the boy call another aid a “Nazi,” and says that he received special treatment. “The child’s behavior was quite disruptive, but it appeared there were no consequences,” she said.

Another parent is defending her son David Turano for exposing his backside at a June graduation ceremony from Briarcliff High School in Briarcliff Manor, New York, because she claims the school treated her son unfairly over the years. The school responded to Turano’s exposure by revoking his diploma but later returned it. Although Turano pleaded not guilty, his hearing is scheduled for July 24.


As an urban middle school teacher I have experienced the result of years of lax discipline, low expectations, and teachers and administrators who expect and accept mediocre performance and unacceptable behavior. The parents of the worst students bully the administration, who then take no action against the misbehaving students and even blame the teachers for problems that arise in their classes. Special Education teachers seldom act to control behaviors and disruptions caused by students under their care. If regular classes are not the least restrictive environment where these student could function without infringing on others rights to receive a quality public education they should have been removed to a self contained setting or alternative school environment. An inclusion model only works if the student is capable of socially functioning in the classroom. These are not isolated discipline problems but a lack of discipline for years; the students, parents, teachers, and administrators are all at fault. The solution is to identify these problem behaviors invoke consistent interventions/discipline from Kindergarten and if the student is unable to comply with the established code of student conduct for the district must be removed so no other child is left behind because of them.

All parents want the best for their children, and parents of IEP students are no different. But what they percieve as being best for their child (inclusion) often results in 29 other children suffering a substandard education due to constant classroom disruptions. And the disruptive students is also not learning anything, except that s/he can get away with that kind of behavior. Then a few years later in the teacher's lounge we talk about the length of the student's prison sentence. Inclusion-no-matter-what is an experiment that hasn't worked--it doesn't help certain students and it hurts everyone else. Disruptive students--those who steal other students' rights to an education, should be put in alternative schools after the third infraction.

I agree, disruptive students should not be allowed to interfere with the learning of others. However, let's not place the total blame on the student. I also agree it is the responsibility of the sped teacher, gen. ed. teacher, administration and parents to develop a plan to teach the student new or more socially acceptable behaviors. If the misbehavior continues work on improving the plan. Brilliant teams get brilliant results.

Let's not accept all of the blame as educators. Parents must assume responsibility for the behavior of their children! The teacher in me aside, I fulfill my parental obligation of teaching my child how to behave in public. This includes skills such as showing respect for peers and adults, taking responsibility for her actions and questioning authority in an appropriate manner. I am very distressed by the way I hear children speaking to their parents, and the blatant disregard for possessions that many children exhibit, because as I teacher, I know that I can expect these behaviors to transfer into the classroom. If parents and other caregivers spend the toddler and preschool years teaching children right from wrong and that there are consistent consequences for inappropriate behavior, behavior challenges within the school would diminish considerable.

Some students do NOT belong in regular ed classes. Some function better in self contain units. However, it is difficult to get administrators to do this for fear of lawsuits.

What more could you add to the above comments? Many of the problems in education would be resolved by dealing with the above mentioned and like problems. But it seems impossible for school boards, federal legislators and administrators to figure it out.

You cannot measure all children with the same ruler.Unfortunately this is what we are constantly doing in our world. Blanket regulations for the immense diversity and complexity that a person is ,does everyone a great disservice.The underlying message is you are not as worthy as the others if you do not meet the set standards of "success". Special education children are treated as if they were a "bundle of defects that need to be fixed" so they could be like the others... making them believe they are not as good as the others ...why?Because they are not good in reading and math? because they cannot learn at the pace that is expected within the traditional settings and methods? Some have control and other behavior issues,some have maturity issues,some will excell when they are not confined to a specific task at a specific rate, in a specific setting. Special Education children are made to constantly conform to something that has been established is extremely difficult for them to do. Many usually feel resentful, overdemanded, treated unfairly, disliked, and inferior to the rest. This is what causes rebellious and aggressive behaviors, every person and child reacts well to kindness, being accepted, being liked,feeling helped, feeling success and satisfacion in what they are doing. By expecting to tame their insecurities,struggles, and feelings with punitive measures, or by treating them as if they were all the same, regardless of personal difficulties or issues, you will not get the best of the children. They will perceive the teacher or system as mean ,repressive, and will only make them less receptive to any type of expected scchool,academic and social rules or guidelines.True education involves caring enough to work with who you have not who you would like to have, and doing what is best for them as a person, for their future , true change comes from the inside out, not the outside in and we must help achieve that, in spite of our status quo.

Hey, folks, we too often reminisce for the 'good old days,' saying "if parents had only done such and such," or "kids wouldn't be disruptive IF parents had...." The point is that many of our students did not have the kind of upbringing we wished they had AND that it is OUR JOB to 'meet them where they are at' to help them learn and grow to where they should be. And in Special Education, this has to include the Social and behavioral realms as well as the academic realm.
Inclusion, of course, is only appropriate for those students who can handle the particular prerequisite behaviors and academic standards of the particular class. But that's another issue.

Our "special ed" students have to live and work in the real world. Isolating them while we educate them doesn't help them prepare for this and it isn't fair to them or to the regular students who will have to be prepared to interact with all kinds of adults. Schools must work WITH parents to develop appropriate behavior in all students. This is as much a part of education as the academic instruction, especially in middle school. As educators we need to make certain that "discipline" is not just punishment but focuses on changing behavior. Removing a child from school, even temporarily, just gets them out of our hair for a time.
As to the second incident -- the student should have been charged by the police with public indecency! Let him suffer the natural consequences of his inappropriate behavior. He had earned the diploma and was entitled to it. He had not earned the right to disrupt a public ceremony

The fact still remains that if parents and admin do not back up the teacher, we are dead in the water. I have seen students spend entire days and weeks in a desk in the office, dozing, because they just won't behave in the classroom. The parent comes to the school and raises H*ll that their child has a right to a free education, so...we babysit.

I absolutely believe that behaviors like this are the reasons that new teachers give up and good teachers leave for greener pastures at private schools. The kind of behaviors described in the article (and that I have personally borne witness to) should be expected in a prison yard, not a middle school.

Bravo Norma!! As an inclusion teacher and mother of a daughter with a disability you hit the nail on the head. Children with special needs are just that...CHILDREN. They are kids first.

My daughter has been taught to respect adults and according to her teachers is a 'delight'to teach, of which I'm proud. However, as a teacher in a middle school, I too witness the obnoxious behavior of students towards adults, even their own parents. I have found though, for the most part, if I treat my students with respect, I receive it. Communication is key...if parents are informed and general ed. teachers too, classrooms run smoother.

I did a career change to become a special educator because my son was put into the special education program and I knew nothing about it. I have been a teacher for two years now and I noticed my first year that special educators are not truly respected. I have seen some special educators do things that caused this disrespect but we all are not the same. I became a special education teacher to assist the students in hopes of them succeeding. I also notice how some behaviors are worse than others which has a lot to do with their upbringing and the environment. I have read some of the responses and most teachers want to have the classroom free from the behavior issues that inclusion brings. First, the collaborative/inclusion setting does not bring in the discipline problems because the behavior issues are there anyway with all students. Also, according to law, these students have to be put in the least restrictive learning environment. I agree that some students do not belong in the inclusion setting because they are ED or have a bipolar disorder which their behaviors can be triggered by anything and it is harder to control them when they are in a large classroom. Yes for some of them the disciplinary action is too lenient. The problem is usually the parents who use the law to their advantage and expect us to make sure they will not get into trouble and the law itself. The IEP along with the BIP sometimes causes the more lenient punishment. This is something we as educators cannot do anything about without making sure the students BIP's are written correctly. I do believe all students should be disciplined the same way but we have to work together and stop complaining about who suppose to do what and join together to see what is most beneficial for all students.

I would encourage people to not place all inclusion programs into the same categories. I have had emotionally, mentally and physically challenged students in my classroom who have benefitted from inclusion. Each child has to be thought of as an individual and the system needs to find the correct "least restrictive" environment for each one.

I have the experience as a sibling, parent, wife and teacher of individuals with mental illness. I feel the most difficult to deal with are those who suffer emotional impairments. I have had classroom experience over the years with children who suffer severe emotional problems. Very often it is not about the upbringing of the child, but is true mental illness brought on by trauma or psychiatric issues. Their disabilities have interfered with their learning as well as the learning of the other children. There is no simple solution. I have to remind myself that I am the teacher of this child and I cannot be their psychiatrist or social worker. So, I have to try to get the support that each individual needs.

Unfortunately programs to give support to children with mental health issues are costly and few and far between. The families are often trying as hard as they can, but have to fight the systems (school and medical) to get the help that they need for their children. Treatment programs have been cut back or eliminated. Self-contained or day-treatment programs for children with emotional disorders are often so costly (as much as $30,000 per child) that districts resist sending children there. Residential programs have been virtually eliminated. Unfortunately, due to the lack of adequate programs to treat people with mental illness, our prison systems have become the holding places. And the prison systems offer little or no support for mental illness.

Put yourself in the shoes of a parent who has to deal everyday with the issues that surround their child. Instead of wondering how long it will take for the child to wind up in the court system, wonder why the “system” is failing the family and the child.

Judge Haugen suggested: "If regular classes are not the least restrictive environment where these student could function without infringing on others rights to receive a quality public education they should have been removed to a self contained setting or alternative school environment. An inclusion model only works if the student is capable of socially functioning in the classroom."

Judge (and I hope that is your name, not your title), your comment displays a lack of understanding of both the law (IDEIA) and inclusion (a term that is not used in the law). The law requires a full continuum of least restrictive environment--your either/or with regard to regular classroom or other placement does not fit the bill. Inclusion as a concept is not just about geography--it calls for meeting the needs of all students within a class. Frequently the only options are a separate class or "mainstreaming" without supports.

Many thanks to all of the understanding voices who have posted here. I take encouragement from the number who are writing as teachers, from within the system.

I have very few problems with most IEP students in my classroom--their "coaches" and I usually work out a successful plan for them. It is the students with mental health issues that are a concern, that disrupt the entire class again and again. Administrators are afraid of law suits, and therefore don't remove these few disruptive IEP students to more restrictive (and appropriate) environments. (I've heard parents screaming through closed doors about the law suits they'll bring when such a change is suggested.) Removal from the less restrictive environment should be a *natural consequence* of their repeated behavior.

BTW, I was in the private sector for a couple of decades before coming into teaching. As I look back I realize that the exposure I had to IEP students in the real world was mostly with lower-level employees (clerks, etc.) who had repeated problems with their jobs--couldn't do the math, had problems reading instructions, etc. Because we, as employers, had no idea they had learning difficulties, we put their incompetence down to the schools, demanding that the schools do a better job of teaching, because their graduates were incapable of reading and doing math. Here is another unfortunate "natural consequence"--the entire education system being judged by the problems of a few graduates.


I feel that I have to respond. First, it is interesting to me that an article about the discipline of two students (only one of whom is mentioned to have had a disability) has so quickly moved to a discussion of least restrictive environment for students with disabilities. Second, I don't know if you are at all familiar with what it takes to get to the lawsuit point under IDEIA (there is frequently a requirement for the exhaustion of all available administrative remedies--which requires a chain of complaints, due process and appeals), in time, dollars or outright human capital. I am greatful for the decisions that others have brought that affirm the rights of my own student--but it is not an effective or efficient way to ensure services for a child.

I have to think also about the many times that I see administrators and teachers blatantly disregard IDEIA (particularly if they assume that many of their parents are poor, or poorly educated). The way that many IEPs are written is flat-out criminal.

A teacher who is sincerely concerned with seeing that students with disabilities are appropriately placed according to least restrictive environment would do well to learn about how to write an effective IEP. The services that are required to ensure that a student is educated is what drives the appropriate environment--not some upfront evaluation of whether the student "fits" or where other students with the same label have been placed in the past.

The present level of performance should include data about the student's current academic and functional level of achievement. The goals should be written in terms of the work that needs to be accomplished (both academic and functional) to provide the student access to the general curriculum. Services are then crafted to support the student in reaching those goals. Only then can the question of appropriate environment be answered. If a student needs services and accommodations that can be delivered in a regular classroom, then this is the appropriate least restrictive environment. A student who needs something that cannot be delivered effectively in the classroom (one-to-one instruction, for instance, or physical therapy) then another environment is appropriate.

What leads to absolute frustration from parents, who have actually read the law and trained themselves in understanding test scores, is confronting a district who acts as if these things don't exist. They insist on an hour a week of OT, because that's as much as anyone else has ever gotten. Never mind that an hour a week isn't even enough to build a relationship, let alone overcome a physical handicap that interferes with the ability to produce written work. They want to move kids to other schools because "that's where the program is." Never mind that when you get there "the program" consists of nothing more than an assortment of other similarly situated kids, broadly graded, and a teacher who took the position because it looked like a good foot in the door. They offer one-on-one tutoring with a special instructor, only to find out that one-on-one just means that there are three students crammed in a closet with an aide and each one is working on a different content area worksheet. The write behavior plans on IEPs that are kept locked up in the counseling office (to protect confidentiality), and expect that the student will somewhow get better. And when he doesn't--because the "regular ed" teachers "don't have to" follow IEPs, then they can change the least restrictive environment.

When this is how schools are treating the parents of kids with disabilities, is it any wonder that the kids start to think that they aren't as good as the "regular" kids, the ones that the schools are really for?

We are not hitting the issue. The boy was a bully and not being disciplined for his negative behavior. We all hear and read about what happens when bullying continues and happens in schools. If that kid continues to bully others who knows what else he'll do. He's in middle school and clearly knows what he's doing is wrong. Your not going to write in the IEP if he bully's others this is the consequence. I say tell mom she needs to find another position in the classroom to monitor her son or leave the position and take him with you before his disrespect and BULLYING gets so out of control that something really bad happens.

Now the other kid. As stated before, he earned his diploma, but should be cited for "indecent exposure" and should face outside consequences. He also what he did was wrong and the mother that says its OK needs parenting classes and the child needs to go to court and let a judge decide on the consequence. If it were a jury of his peers he'd probably be hung out to dry.

I agree with the IEP and IDEA and all, but the fact of the matter is that these two incidents needs to be addressed ASAP. Again IEP or not I do not tolerate bully's in my classroom. If they want to be bully's I allow them to spend time in the roughest of schools for a day and see in turn what its like to be bullied. The bullying 95% of the time is stopped.


You may be missing the detail that the "bully" received suspensions for each incident. There was disagreement about whether a one-day suspension (for each offense) was adequate--with an implication that if this kid's mother were not on the school board the treatment would be diferent. I would say that the length is relatively immaterial--suspensions don't teach anything (except possibly that adults are more powerful than students and can implement sanctions without regard for whether they make any sense).

Regarding what the IEP can, or might say, yes, the IEP could say, if the child engages in bullying then X will be the result. It's called a behavior plan. A better example of an effective behavior plan might take into account why the bullying is taking place and how to teach replacement behaviors.

I am curious about how you are able to transfer students to "the roughest of schools for a day." Are the schools in your district? How do they feel about being used as an example of bad behavior for your students. How are you tracking your 95% results (exactly what behaviors constitute bullying, for example, are you looking solely at your classroom, or overall)? Do the results last over time?

I want to speak as a 23-year veteran of "regular" classrooms, but also as the mom of a recent special-ed graduate. My son has NEVER been allowed to act in any way that disrupts or creates chaos, either in the home, the restaurant, or the classroom. He was always taught that the teacher is in charge of the classroom and we live by the rules established by who ever is in charge. He may special needs, and of course is special to me, but when he learned to drive, he had to learn to live by the same rules of the road as everyone else. A stop sign always means STOP. Some rules must be the rules for all, and that includes public and classroom behavior.

But until we make the parents realize that there is a difference between advocating for their child and bullying teachers and administrators into making things "nice" for their kids, we are never going to see a change.

Wow! I've been teaching 27 years and if you don't have discipline in the classroom , bottom line you can't teach, and students don't learn the subject area/content whether they are regular, special and all in between. However, with that being said, it takes the parents and admin too...."it takes a village to raise a child"......
Without all on board.... it is like swimming up stream.

The discussion has seemed to pull away from the main topic of discipline to cover inclusion issues and the enforcement of IDEA requirements. What remains clear is that discipline has changed over the years. The things that were allowable when I was in school are no longer in place and teachers have to find new ways to maintain classroom structure and safety in a fair and even way. Not always easy! As a new teacher I've been told by students that I'm hard and my response has always been, "I'm not hard, I just expect better of all of you." I know that cultural attitudes and home situations have a deep impact on my students' behaviors and I have to overcome those in an appropriate manner and teach students what I expect of them. I work hard at being consistent in my responses to inapproporiate behaviors and my students know this.

With that said, administrators have to support teachers who act appropriately and enforce school conduct codes with disciplinary actions that match the problem. For a bully to have been suspended four times, each time for only a day only, does not address an issue. For that bully to have made larger threats against the school (massacre and bombing) clearly indicated a need for stronger measures to be taken.

Finally, responsibility falls on the parents and families as well. For whatever reason, and I understand that many families are struggling due to economic difficulties and "broken home" syndromes, children must be taught about what is appropriate and inappropriate in a school setting. This requires a fair amount of work between schools and their students' communities. Only when all the parts work together can we hope to have a fair and safe educational setting for every child.

Things might change if the disruptive student's phone number was given to the 29 othter parents in that class so they can call his/her parents and ask why their child is disrupting the learning enviornment???

I am a kindergarten teacher and so I see how important it is to establish discipline and teach students proper behavior from the very beginning. In kindergarten, we have students who use profanity, kick the teacher and other students, throw sharp objects, refuse to obey, etc. These students need to be taught proper behavior but at the same time, something needs to be done so that these students do not endanger or disrupt the rest of the class. Oftentimes these students will be sent to the office and possibly even suspended, and then they will come back and behave the exact same way every time the teacher does not give in and give them what they want. What ends up happening is that teachers have to put up with these students day after day until a psychologist comes to examine them. In the meantime, this unacceptable behavior is allowed to continue. There need to be boundaries and if a student in any grade cannot behave appropriately, that student should be removed from the school so that the other students and the teacher will not be disrupted and so that the student does not set a bad example for the other students.
I have heard, as has been discussed, that many middle schools do not have good discipline for students. "Students are older now, so they should have more freedom." Well, maybe so, but I think discipline should still be a lot stricter than it is. If students are taught proper behavior starting in kindergarten (if not before then) and students who will not behave appropriately are removed from the school, by the time students reach middle school there should not be so many discipline problems. Teachers and administrators should try to find consequences for inappropriate behaviors that will really get through to students and that they will really dislike, so that they will change their behavior.
In regards to parents, I think they need to understand that their child is not the exception to the rule, no matter how "important" that parent is in the community. The principal is in charge of the school and the teacher is in charge of the classroom, and they should make it clear to the parents that a student should not be allowed to behave inappropriately, no matter who they are.
Finally, I would like to say that I have had some very supportive parents who have tried to teach their children right from wrong and have supported the decisions I have made in the classroom. I want to say thank you to all those parents out there who care for and train their children, and who make our job as teachers so much easier. I also want to say thank you to any administrator or teacher who has put his/her foot down and will not tolerate behaviors mentioned above in school.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Kristen: I am a kindergarten teacher and so I see read more
  • Sal LoPiccolo: Things might change if the disruptive student's phone number was read more
  • MrG: The discussion has seemed to pull away from the main read more
  • Alli: Wow! I've been teaching 27 years and if you don't read more
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