Education Letter to the Editor

Emotional Disabilities Are Misunderstood

April 10, 2018 1 min read
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To the Editor:

In the March 21 article “Fact Sheet: Students With Emotional Disabilities,” the reporter cites a study of school shooters as evidence that special education students are no more likely than their peers to be shooters. Rather than concluding that emotional disturbance isn’t a potential marker for becoming a shooter, perhaps a better conclusion is that emotional disturbance is underidentified by the schools.

That same study found that 34 percent of the shooters had a mental-health evaluation, 17 percent had been diagnosed with a mental illness or behavior disorder before the attack, 78 percent had suicidal thoughts or had attempted suicide, and 61 percent had a history of depression.

The most current figures from the U.S. Department of Education document that a mere 0.5 percent of students received special education services as emotionally disturbed between the years 2011 and 2015. Any stigma these troubled students had didn’t come from being identified as emotionally disturbed for special education; it likely came from their behaviors—behaviors that should have signaled a referral for special education evaluation.

Daniel P. Hallahan

Professor Emeritus

University of Virginia

Charlottesville, Virginia

A version of this article appeared in the April 11, 2018 edition of Education Week as Emotional Disabilities Are Misunderstood


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