Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
The purpose of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is to allow those students who have disabilities to acquire the same level of education as students without disabilities. To achieve this, students are to be placed in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Further, each student is required to have an individual education plan (IEP) that would lead to substantive learning. Rules surrounding the IEP are discussed in the next section.
IDEA also makes some important demands concerning disciplinary actions against students with disabilities. These provisions apply both to students with physical and behavioral disabilities. Overall, the provisions of IDEA have a huge impact on schools and teachers.
In the school year 1976–1977, fewer than 1 million students were served under IDEA. By 1999–2000, over 5 million students received these services. The increase is attributed to the increased number of students being classified as learning disabled. There are various reasons for this, but is due, in part, to improvements in diagnosing students who might have disabilities.
Impact on the Teacher
IDEA will impact you as a teacher in many ways. For one thing, full inclusion means that you might be faced with the situation described in the beginning of this chapter. You will have to meet the needs of any students with disabilities in your classroom while teaching the rest of the class.
Sometimes these accommodations will be as simple as providing the student with a written copy of any oral notes, and sometimes they will be more complicated. All of the accommodations are found on the IEP (as explained in the following section).
Many school districts provide teachers with classroom assistance for specific purposes. For example, some classrooms provide paraprofessionals who work with a specific group of students and aid the teacher in accommodations. Some school districts provide a certified special education teacher to co-teach with a regular education teacher.
Other school districts might institute pull-out programs in elementary grades where students spend most of their time in the regular classroom but are pulled out for specialized instruction one or two days a week.
Working with special-needs students may make you feel like you are being pulled in many directions, making it impossible to meet the needs of all your students. Keep a positive attitude, and set high expectations for yourself and your students. Remember that the IEP is a legal document that must be followed.
You might also find that your school district provides none of these but has the special education department provide support when you need it. For example, they might allow the disabled student to take a test with the special education teacher who can make additional accommodations.
Impact on Discipline
Disabled students fall under a different set of disciplinary guidelines. This is because some misbehavior can be directly related to their disability. For example, if a student has Tourette's syndrome, she cannot be disciplined for cursing in class, as this behavior is a result of her disability. Enforcing discipline is especially problematic with students who have behavioral disabilities such as ADD, ADHD, and bipolar disorder.
Still, school officials do have the ability to ensure that the learning environment is safe. Therefore, students with disabilities can be removed from class if they pose a danger or violate the student code of conduct. However, school officials must follow specific rules regarding types and lengths of punishment for these students.
As the teacher, it can be hard to provide discipline for certain students. When you have a first grader with learning disabilities who continually “borrows” other students' items without returning them, helping him understand why his actions are wrong can be difficult. You will want to involve the special education resource teacher and the student's parents for help.
However, if you are faced with a severe discipline issue, you can still write referrals for these students. Just realize that the results of the referrals might not be what you had expected. Further, the special education teacher might contact you to work out a proactive behavior plan, which will hopefully minimize further behavior problems. Sometimes simply giving students with behavioral disabilities options and outlets can help them thrive in your classroom.
Problems arise when students with disabilities are temporarily removed from the school for disciplinary action. If the student is removed long enough that a “change in placement” occurs, then the school IEP team must determine how to continue serving the student in his new situation.