Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Functional Behavioral Assessments: Legal Requirements and Challenges

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Functional Behavioral Assessments: Legal Requirements and Challenges

Article excerpt

Abstract. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendments of 1997 require that if a student's behavior impedes his or her learning or the learning of others, then that student's Individualized Education Program (IEP) must address the problem behavior in a proactive manner. To do this, the IEP team conducts a functional behavioral assessment (FBA), writes an IEP based on the assessment, and develops a behavior intervention plan (BIP). Additionally, the IDEA requires that FBAs must be performed when students with disabilities are suspended in excess of 10 school days. The purpose of this article is to (a) present the legal requirements of the IDEA Amendments regarding IBPs, FBAs, and BIPs for special education students with problem behavior; (b) describe the initial policy letters and due process hearings that are helping to clarify the requirements; and (c) discuss the implications of the law for school psychologists and other members of IEP teams.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendments of 1997 (P.L. 105-17; hereafter IDEA '97) became law on June 4, 1997. A major Congressional goal for IDEA '97 was to make schools safe and orderly environments that are conducive to learning (Senate Report, 1997). Congress accomplished this goal by providing teachers and school administrators with the tools they needed to discipline students with disabilities and problem behaviors. For example, administrators now have the authority to suspend students for up to 10 school days without providing educational services and to remove students to interim alternative educational settings (IAES) for up to 45 days for weapons or drug offenses.

When Congress granted this authority to school administrators, it recognized that there must be a balanced approach to the discipline of students with disabilities. A balanced approach reflects the need for safe and orderly schools and protects the right of students with disabilities to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). To achieve this balance, Congress mandated that students with disabilities have the right to an appropriately developed individualized education program (IEP) with well-designed behavior intervention strategies and supports. The reasoning behind this mandate was that if IEP teams addressed problem behavior in a preventive or proactive manner, then the need for disciplinary procedures would be lessened and students would be taught the adaptive skills necessary to function successfully in society.

Perhaps the discipline-related component of IDEA '97 that has garnered the most attention has been functional behavioral assessment (FBA). This article includes a review and analysis of the legal requirements and regulations regarding FBAs. It also includes analysis of policy statements made by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) of the U.S. Department of Education and the results of due process hearings. In addition, guidelines are presented for school districts to follow to conduct educationally sound and legally valid FBAs. The article begins with a review of the requirements that IEP teams must consider when (a) determining whether a student's problem behavior warrants an FBA, and (b) developing a student's educational program to address problem behavior.

Addressing Problem Behavior in the IEP Process

IDEA '97 requires that if a student with disabilities exhibits problem behaviors that impede his or her learning or the learning of others, then the student's IEP team shall consider "strategies, including positive behavioral interventions, strategies, and supports to address that behavior" (IDEA, 20 U.S.C. [ss] 1414 (d)(3)(B)(i)). Comments to the federal regulations indicate that if a student has a history of problem behavior, or if such behaviors can be readily anticipated, then the student's IEP must respond to that behavior (IDEA Regulations, 34 C.F.R. [ss] 300 Appendix A question 39). …

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