Rural school districts often face the dilemma of students with disabilities returning from mental health facilities without sufficient accompanying information needed to facilitate a transition into the educational setting. The compounding factors in this dilemma are the lack of rural mental health professionals and the proximity of mental health facilities to rural school districts. In order to develop a transition plan to address this dilemma, a mental health facility and twenty-five rural school districts collaborated in constructing The Cognitive/Behavior Management Transition Plan (CBMTP). This individualized plan details the roles of mental health professionals, parents, and educators in assisting the transition of students with disabilities into the rural school environment.
Many in rural school districts are encountering situations in which students with Individualized Educational Programs (IEP) are removed from the school setting and transferred to mental health facilities, located in distant locations, for evaluation or treatment. The students' removals result from a variety of reasons, with the most common being depression, drug use, or violence (Berns, 2001). Assignments to mental health facilities can result from court orders, referrals from social service agencies, or by parent referrals. Irrespective of the reason for the removal from the school setting, within a matter of a few weeks or months, most students are back home and expecting to resume educational activities in their local school district. The problems arise when students return with no accompanying information from the mental health facilities that inform school districts of assessment results or treatment plans.
When students with disabilities return from treatment facilities to resume educational services, school district personnel pose many questions. Are the students dangerous to themselves or others? Are they "cured?" What behaviors are we to expect? Has medication been prescribed that might affect school behaviors? Have IEPs been addressed while students were in the treatment facility?
Statement of the Problem
The dilemmas encountered by rural school districts receiving information regarding students who have been treated in mental health facilities are articulated by Dr. Annette Hux, a public school superintendent in the rural Bootheel Region of Southeastern Missouri, and a former teacher in a program for emotionally disturbed children:
Our school district is located about seventy five miles from Paducah, Kentucky and Jonesboro, Arkansas. Paducah is the home of the NBC affiliate and Jonesboro the ABC affiliate on our local television cable. When the shootings occurred in school districts located just outside these two cities, we became keenly aware of the fact that rural schools were not immune to violence. After these incidents occurred, my district and most others in the Missouri Bootheel have pretty much adhered to a zero tolerance approach to school violence and threats of violence.
One might think that the greatest problem we would face in a rural environment would be access to treatment for students who demonstrate a need for mental health services, but that is typically not the case. Usually either the juvenile court system or social service agencies arrange for these services and do so in an expedient manner. Our greatest problem is receiving information from the mental health facilities that have supposedly treated these kids. Most facilities are in excess of two hundred miles from our district, leaving us little chance of direct conferencing regarding students. We are often told that information cannot be shared due to FERPA or the facility's confidentiality protocols. We have had students return to us without any accompanying information in regard to their diagnosis or treatment plan. This is a difficult issue for schools and students alike, but is especially difficult when students have IEPs and an expectation of uninterrupted educational and related services exists. …