School Officials Ask for Authority to Discipline Disabled Students
SALLY STREFF BUZBEE
Jul. 12, 1995
WASHINGTON (AP) _ School officials, facing pressure from parents to keep schools safe, griped that federal rules keep them from meting out equal discipline when disabled kids misbehave.
At the minimum, schools should have the authority to immediately remove any disabled student who brings a weapon to class, said Long Beach, Calif., superintendent Carl Cohn.
``It's important to have a system that treats children who are disabled the same as children who are not disabled,'' Cohn told a Senate Labor and Human Resources subcommittee on disability policy on Tuesday.
The current ``double standard'' is hard to justify to parents who demand that schools be safe, Cohn said.
But parents of disabled children argued that changing the nation's special education law could result in schools forcing disabled children into separate classrooms, or even denying them education.
Before the 1975 law, children in wheelchairs, or with mental retardation or learning disabilities, often were segregated from other children or denied access to public schools, the Education Department says.
Recent controversy over discipline has focused on a handful of unusual, highly publicized cases where schools had legal difficulty removing children who bit, hit or threatened teachers, said Diane Lipton of the Disability Rights and Education Defense Fund in Berkeley, Calif.
But there is little data to indicate the problem is widespread, Lipton and others said.
``Even if we removed all those (disabled) children from the schools, it would not make a dent in school violence,'' said Shirley Igo, vice president of the National Parent-Teacher Association.
Under current federal law, disabled students who misbehave have greater legal protections than ``regular'' students. For example, a school can expel a disabled student or suspend the student for more than 10 days only in certain cases. And parents can contest the decision.
Last year, Congress cut those protections in cases in which a disabled student takes a gun to school.
Cohn, speaking for a coalition of 13 city school districts, urged the senators to broaden that to any type of weapon, such as a knife, plus any serious assault.
And the National School Boards Association urged the lawmakers to go further, allowing schools to remove any child who exhibits ``truly dangerous behaviors.''
However, Igo of the PTA said her group could not accept a law that mentioned behavior, feeling that would give schools too much leeway to remove disruptive children, not just dangerous ones.
Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., said the best way to prevent discipline problems is to ensure classes are small and teachers well-trained.
Cohn agreed, but said that doesn't always happen because of money constraints. One day, he taught as a substitute in a sixth-grade class in his district, Cohn said.
The class had 34 children _ 17 of them with speech or language disabilities. A teacher's aide also was absent, Cohn said. ``It was not a great day of teaching,'' he told senators.