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A Dead Serious Conversation About Your Child’s Behavior Problems in School

Student laying his head on desk

A Dead Serious Conversation About Your Child’s Behavior Problems in School

All right. We’re going to have a dead serious conversation about your child’s behavior problems in school.

This is something that I take very, very seriously. I’ve been doing this 25 years, more than 25 years. I’ve seen a lot of things and I’ve seen school districts do things that, again, there are wonderful people in the school. There are some fantastic schools and programs and classrooms, all of that. That’s a given, but there are some problems. There are some really big challenges lately with kids who have behavior challenges in school. You need to know what you’re up against, because if you don’t take this seriously, if you don’t have a very full, comprehensive idea of what you’re up against, and your child has behavior challenges, then he or she are very much at risk for being kicked out of school or sent to an alternative school, and I’m not kidding.

Here’s what you need to understand, ever since Parkland and that horrible devastating event in South Florida several years ago, the school districts, and I really can only speak for Florida, but the school districts in Florida, rightfully so, took that situation very seriously. One of the big challenges with Parkland, one of the problems, there were many, was that the school district took a lot of heat because people knew that that shooter was troubled and had problems and there were signals and signs that people felt were ignored, that if they weren’t ignored by the school district, maybe the event wouldn’t have happened, okay?

So that was one of the things that came out of that. As a result, school districts in Florida really buckled down and put all kinds of things into place and security measures and everything like that. They have a zero tolerance for children who have behavior challenges. Your child, it doesn’t matter if your child have, some parents think, “Oh, my child’s so good. He’s never had a behavior problem. He’s been such a good kid. This is just an incident. It’s really not that big of a deal. It’s not that bad.” Let me tell you something, in the public school districts, every behavior problem is a big deal. It is either a big deal in and of itself now, or it’s going to lead to something that could lead to a big deal and they are taken very seriously. There is zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior in the school district.

I had a mom call me one time. Well, I have a lot of moms call me when their child is being suspended. If your child’s being suspended and getting referrals, you better know how many suspensions your child has, because once they reach 10 suspensions, it’s extremely serious. You need to know. I talk to parents all the time who don’t know how many suspensions their children have. You better know 10 is the number. You don’t want them to get to 10. Once they get to 10, they can be kicked out of school or sent to an alternative school. You don’t want your child going to an alternative school. It is not a good place to be, okay?

I’m going to apologize in advance because I get very worked up on this topic because I know what’s at stake. I was talking to a mom one time. Her son was in ninth grade, nice kid. He had autism. Nice kid, never had any problems. He had an IEP, never had a behavior problem. Respectful, nice, got good grades, a little quirky, some social skills issues, but never, ever a problem. He happened to be in the classroom of a teacher who was a ROTC instructor. Because she was an ROTC instructor, she had a gun, a rifle I guess, of some sort in her classroom, standing in the corner. Wasn’t loaded or anything, but why it was there is not the issue, it was there. He, the student, picked up the gun. Went up, picked up the gun, held the gun and said, “I’m going to shoot all of you. I’m going to shoot all of you dead.” He thought he was being funny. He thought he was a funny joke. Ha ha. He never would’ve done it. He never intended or whatever. He just thought it was a funny thing.

He was on the verge of being kicked out of school. When the mom called me, she said, “Well, you know what? They have a meeting. The school told us about this meeting and we’re going to go in and have this meeting. They said, ‘Don’t worry about it. We’re going to talk about what happened and about his autism.’ It’s just, this has never happened before. He’s a good kid. I’m not worried about it. I talked to the principal, the principal said not to worry about it. This meeting is just a formality and it should all be fine. He has never had a problem before.” Well, I’m going to tell you what I tell that mother and what I tell every single parent who calls me when they’re in a similar situation or approaching a situation.

Here’s what you need to understand. That principle, if the decision is left up to the principal, because a lot of these decisions are out of the hands of the principal. The principals get directives from the district, okay? You have to understand, principals don’t run their schools all the time. It’s the districts behind, up above who pull the strings. So here’s the deal though. That principle has a couple of things to be concerned about. Number one, no matter what your child does, did, it is a violation of the code of conduct. So that principle has three groups of people, well actually four, to be concerned about.

One, he has to send a message to all the other students in the school, because they all know that this happened, this stuff spreads like wildfire. He has to send a message to all the other students in the school that this is not tolerated. This is absolutely not tolerated and it won’t be tolerated. So he can’t have the student come back to school, because what kind of message does that send to all the other students? It says, “Well, he did it. It was funny. Ha ha or whatever, but it’s not serious. We’re sending him back to school.” That cannot be.

The second group of people the principal is concerned with, has to be concerned with are all the parents. This is going to spread again, like wildfire among the parents. “Hey, did you hear what Jimmy did today? He picked up a gun. He said he was going to shoot everybody.” And it’s like the game of telephone. By the time it gets to the 100th person, it’s blown out of proportion. So those parents want to know, what is that principal going to do? What did he do with that student? They want to make sure their student is safe and they don’t want this student back on campus at all. So this principal has to be able to say to all those other parents, “Hey, I took this seriously. Whether he intended it or not, I take your child’s safety seriously, and he’s not allowed on campus. So you have nothing to worry about.” That’s the second group.

Third group of people are the teachers and all the other staff, because the teachers and all the other staff in the school are saying, “Do you care about our safety? Do you care about us? You’ve got a student here who threatened to kill everybody. He thinks it was a joke. He thinks it was funny, but you know what? Parkland wasn’t a joke. Parkland wasn’t funny and look what happened down there. How can you put our lives at risk when you don’t know for sure?” So that principal has to go back the next day and talk to the teachers and the staff and assure them that he takes their safety seriously. So he’s not going to let your child come back to school, even if it was a joke, even if there was no serious threat whatsoever.

The fourth group is the district, the people above the principal, and they’re looking at things and they’re looking at all of this. They don’t want a PR nightmare. They don’t want any kind of a risk. Even if it’s a minimal risk, they don’t want it. So I’ve dealt with a lot of situations where the principal had no say in the situation, it was a district decision. They told the principal what was going to be done.

These are the circumstances under which you’re going into this meeting, just to discuss what happened. Was it a result of his disability, of his medical diagnosis and not to worry, it’s just a meeting, okay? Let me tell you something. There is no such thing in my world, under these circumstances, when there is just a meeting. My staff knows that if any parent calls our office with his child under these circumstances, and there’s a meeting coming up, that I will drop everything to help a parent in this situation, to figure out what has to be done, because I know what will happen. Most of the time, most of the time, these children will be not allowed back in regular school. They will be found one way or another, there’s a process that has to be done, but they will either be expelled or sent to an alternative school, but they won’t be allowed to go back to their homeschool. I’m not kidding.

You have to take this extremely seriously. If your child is having behaviors in school, if they’re having problems and you know it, and you know it’s going to get worse. I have parents who have children who don’t have any kind of problems whatsoever. Then maybe they hit middle school or high school and, you know, it’s a chaotic world. Their kids are going through so much these days and they start having an incident here or an incident there. You know, as a parent, you know in your gut if you need to be concerned and if there’s a problem. So if your child has never had a behavior challenge before, but now you’re seeing signs, please take it seriously, call us. There are things that can be done and to be put into place, to help protect your child from going down this path.

There are things that the school districts are obligated to do, to work with children who have behavior challenges. They are obligated to put behavior plans in place, which when written properly, is a positive intervention to help children. They have to do, they collect data. They can get a behavior analyst involved. They can get a school psychologist involved. There’s a lot of things, if your child does not qualify for an IEP, they need to get an IEP. We just had a case where a mom and dad called me, I felt so bad for them. Lovely people, never had a problem. Their son doesn’t have an IEP, but he has ADHD, ADHD and anxiety, and things are starting to pop up. He’s in middle school, he’s having challenges and emotional challenges and a lot of anxiety. He was suspended for a couple of days and they called me, he does not have an IEP.

If they had not called me and we had not had a discussion, I guarantee you, he would’ve been kicked out within a month or two, because the behaviors were escalating and the school was getting more involved and more serious about what was happening. So he did not have an IEP. We worked so fast and so hard to get that child in the IEP process, because once a child is in the IEP process, once they’re being evaluated, then they have all the protections as if they had an actual IEP. So I knew that once we got this particular student in the IEP process, evaluated for an IEP, that he had all the protection, almost as if he had an IEP. That was critically important. Sure enough, we worked with the parents the day after we had this meeting to assign consent for him to have evaluations and start the process, following day he got suspended for a couple more days. Please take this seriously. Don’t mess around. Please call us.

We make this the highest priority because it is, and it literally changes the trajectory of your child’s life. Okay. Thanks a bunch. Bye-bye.

The IEP Advocate is your best shot at helping your child succeed in school (and life). We help parents get the school to approve and follow individual education plans (IEPs) for their children who are struggling in school. Even if the school is saying “no” to you, we’ll get them to say “yes” to us!

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