Special Education Discipline Teachers Plead for More Control over Disabled Students

Article excerpt

WAYNESBORO -- When a first-grader at a Richmond County elementary school kept urinating on his classmates in the restroom, his teacher pulled him aside and tried to reprimand him.

His response to the teacher: "My brain didn't tell me I wasn't supposed to do that."

The boy was a special education student who, under federal law, is subject to more lenient discipline compared to his peers in the mainstream curriculum.

Some students, with mild disabilities such as slowed reading skills, figure out they can manipulate a system of administrators and teachers who feel their hands are tied when it comes to doling out appropriate punishment, educators said during a congressional hearing last week in Waynesboro.

Richmond County school board Chairwoman Mary Oglesby recounted that story as she and other area educators pleaded with federal legislators to put the power to punish back in their hands -- even for disabled students.

"It doesn't take disabled students long to figure out they are under different disciplinary guidelines," said Mike Newton, special education director in Jasper County. And the situation only leads to increased disrespect among other students who witness the double standard, he said.

The U.S. Education and Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth and Families heard testimony from Georgia administrators and teachers.

With school safety foremost in the minds of educators as students return to school, the panel expressed the most concern about the restrictions of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.

The act, commonly referred to as IDEA, affords all disabled people the right to a public education. The panel agreed the law is good policy, but it thinks discipline is a vital part of education and the law limits how teachers can discipline those students.

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