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How I Handled...

The Constantly Disruptive
(Exceptional/Emotionally
Handicapped) Student

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What happens when one exceptional students with emotional deficits is a constant disruption to the classroom and the education of all the other students? We came up with a plan to help handle just such a situation.

The Problem:

One of our students -- a student with an "Exceptional Student" (ES) label who receives special attention in a pullout resource class -- continues to have a problem with following directions. He leaves the classroom without permission, talks back to the teacher, throws things, empties trashcans This student really needs a more closely monitored environment to meet his disability. His mother is never accessible and considers it an inconvenience to be contacted. We are only allowed to suspend disruptive students out-of-school for ten days each school year; this boy has already been suspended for ten days and continues to be disruptive. District policy states he must remain in an exceptional program for three months before placement in a self-contained unit. The teacher, guidance counselor, and I probably spend two hours of one-on-one time each school day with this student.

The Solution:

Since the mother was unable to be of much assistance, we involved the grandmother. When the student acted out, we contacted the grandmother; she came to school to pick up the boy. In that way, the incidents did not apply to/count against the boy's out-of-school suspension record.

We also involved a social worker. She assisted us by talking with the boy; she also made home visits and created the social history of the boy that is required before he could be referred to a self-contained, full-time ES classroom.

Finally -- and this was the last resort and most out-of-the-box action we took -- we contacted the county sheriff's department. We invited a sheriff to counsel the boy about how multiple referrals could result in his arrest.

A few weeks ago, we were able to set up a meeting to review the request for a new placement for this student. Unfortunately, the boy's mother cancelled the meeting; she said she wanted to give her son's new medication time to "kick in." But the boy's behavior was not changing. Basically, he couldn't help it.

Finally, we were able to arrange a meeting. The meeting included the boy and his mother, the boy's teachers, two guidance counselors who have worked with him, the social worker, the district placement officer, the teacher from the school/self-contained classroom to which the boy would be assigned, the assistant principal, and me. After reviewing numerous referrals, social history, and medical records, it was concluded that placement in the self-contained unit would be beneficial. The next step was to schedule an I.E.P. (Individualized Education Plan) meeting to explain, in detail, the services that were needed. Mother signed all papers, including a form that released her from attending the I.E.P. meeting.

The boy was finally formally placed in the self-contained program at another school five days later. This entire process took more than three months to complete. During that time, the teachers had been unable to complete a day without interruptions. It was a relief to have the boy in a program where he might receive the help and attention he needs.

The Reflection:

We must face the fact that disruptions caused by some children can adversely affect other students' learning. I would like to see some changes in the federal law as it relates to disruptive students with ESE/EH (Exceptional Student Education/Emotional Handicapped) labels; we should be able to offer exceptional students -- for whom we have tried a long series of interventions that have not improved the situation -- an alternative setting, one where their needs can be best met as we work through the process of placing them into the most conducive environment.

About the How I Handled... Team of Principal Problem Solvers
The How I Handled... series is intended to be practical resource for all principals and principals-to-be. Each week, members of Education World's How I Handled team share how they solved actual problems relating to school leadership, parent involvement, professional development, and a host of other "principal" responsibilities. Six principals comprise our How I Handled team; two of them are elementary school principals, two work at the middle level, and two are high school principals. Team members remain anonymous; in that way, they can share freely the range of issues/problems they are called on to solve each day.

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