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Special-Education Column

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The Council for Exceptional Children has waded into one of the most contentious issues in special education: discipline.

At the group's national meeting, held April 1-5 in Orlando, Fla., the CEC delegate assembly adopted a position statement on disciplining students with disabilities that stresses the role of alternative settings.

"CEC declares that violent and destructive behavior is unacceptable in our schools," the group's one-page statement reads. "However, in acknowledging such behavior occurs, CEC believes that schools have the responsibility to quickly and unilaterally move students who exhibit dangerously violent or destructive behavior to an alternative educational setting in which ongoing safety/behavioral goals are addressed by fully qualified personnel."

The document also asks schools to use behavior-management strategies and other accommodations to help students control their behavior.

The CEC, with 55,000 members, is one of the largest groups for special-education professionals.

This is the first time in decades that the organization has taken a formal position on the discipline issue, according to Jay McIntire, a public-policy specialist for CEC, which is based in Reston, Va.

Discipline remains a hot-button issue as lawmakers work to reauthorize the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, the landmark 1975 federal law that guarantees students with disabilities a "free, appropriate public education." The U.S. Department of Education has argued that the IDEA's sweeping mandate does not permit schools to cut off services for special-education students.

But some proposals being discussed in Congress would allow schools, in some situations, to expel a student for certain behavior if that behavior was not related to his disability. Such expulsions, depending on the state's rules, could mean that a student would no longer receive services. The CEC policy opposes cutting off services.

"It's not incompatible to protect the needs of all children and support safe schools," Mr. McIntire said. "There's some misperception among members of the education community that we're not concerned about safety in schools because we advocate for children with emotional and behavioral problems."

With increasing public concern over school safety, many education groups have lobbied for flexibility to remove dangerous or disruptive students with disabilities from the classroom. But many disability-rights groups fear changes in the IDEA's web of protections could make it too easy for schools to rid themselves of children who pose challenges.

--Lynn Schnaiberg
lschnaib@epe.org

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