A 2020 Stanford University study found that in one year, Indiana students experienced a loss of learning opportunity equivalent to approximately 209 days in math and 130 days in reading after schools transitioned to virtual learning for the 2019-2020 school year. While the concern for educators everywhere is mitigating that loss, the solution is being compounded by a more glaring impact of the pandemic: disruptive students. The data regarding the increase in disruptions due to violent, aggressive and dysregulated children is lacking, largely due to the nature of reporting and data lags. Anecdotally, however, educators are reporting an unparalleled increase in disruption since students have returned to in-person learning.
Quantifying the Issue While the data to support the reality is scarce, some tangential data exists that gives legitimacy to the circumstances that our educators are experiencing. In 2020, mental health related visits to Emergency Departments across the United States increased from 2019 by 24% for children aged 5-11 and 31% for children aged 12-17. Data suggests that school aged girls have been hit the hardest with Emergency Department visits for suicide attempts increasing by 50.6% for girls aged 12-17. The JED Foundation published a report in 2020 that found that 6 in 10 parents reported their child experienced mental or emotional health challenges in the 6 months prior to October 2020 and, alarmingly, 8% of parents of 9-12 year-olds reported that their child had experienced suicidal thoughts in the past month. This data indicates a mental health crisis for our youth – which comes as no surprise to our educators who are with these students day in and day out trying to mitigate the loss of opportunity to learn while simultaneously managing serious behavioral disruption from students.
Legal Obligations If the disruptive student has been diagnosed or is suspected for a diagnosis that would qualify them for protection under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (“IDEA”) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, then the public school has the obligation to educate that student in the Least Restrictive Environment (“LRE”). Many refer to LRE as “mainstreaming” to the extent the student can receive an appropriate education. This is an oversimplification, but you get the point. Maintaining LRE for students with a specific learning disability may be straightforward, but for violent, aggressive and dysregulated children, school leaders must delicately balance all the issues with keeping this student in the traditional setting for learning.
Resources Currently Available Appropriate and often intense treatment for the most challenging children is critically important. We are all too aware of the risk of not providing appropriate intervention to the students who are crying out for help through their behavior. For those students who require significant intervention, Indiana has a Special Education Excess Cost (SEEC) fund that may be used to supplement the most costly of support such as residential facilities, day treatment programs, and dedicated one-on-one staff.
Efforts Toward a Solution The elephant in the room or 800-pound gorilla (or both) are the very limited options in Indiana to appropriately treat the most violent and aggressive children. The ideal programs are those that treat the child for short periods of time to get them (and those that work with them) the tools to maintain a more traditional educational setting. Everyone is struggling to find and retain appropriately credentialed employees to help these children in any setting. Further, access to intense day-treatment and residential facilities are alarmingly scarce anywhere, let alone within each region.
What is the legal lesson from this briefing? There is an unfortunate consensus among educators that there has been a sharp rise in violent, aggressive and dysregulated children in our schools. Each student who displays concerning behavior is uniquely addressed through general behavior management and special education. Further, efforts are under way to alleviate the bind that families and educators are in due to scarcity in appropriate treatment. Expanding appropriate and regional options for treatment is needed for the individual child. It is also crucial for the students in the traditional setting to be focused on learning.
Navigating state and federal regulations can be challenging. For more information, contact the KGR Education Law and Public Policy team.