Boy's Behavior Problems Linked to School Disruptions

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The following case study, compiled from information provided by educators and social-service professionals in one school district, illustrates the educational dilemma of a student whose journey through the foster-care system took him back and forth through several different counties and school districts.

Those familiar with the student's history note that many of the student's behavioral problems coincided with periods when his school placement was in limbo.

The student's name has been withheld to protect his privacy, but educators involved say his case is not atypical.

As a result of family dysfunctions stemming from a combination of economic, alcohol-abuse, and mental-health problems, the child entered the foster-care system at age 7, in 1981.

He was placed in a children's shelter initially, and then moved several times in an effort to find a more permanent placement with a foster family or in a group home for foster children.

Little is known about his educational progress until he reached the age of 11, when he was placed in a psychiatric-treatment center. He received his schooling there until he was moved again two years later.

In 1987, at age 13, the student was placed in a foster home, where he was enrolled in a public school. The school placed him in a class for severely emotionally disturbed children--the most restrictive special-education setting.

When his placement was switched again in May 1989, shortly before the end of the school year, the student lost a quarter year's credit. The change in foster placement took him back to the county where he had lived in the psychiatric-treatment center.

In September 1989, at the age of 15, the student was enrolled in a public school in that county. The school apparently was initially unaware of his special-education history and placed him in a regular classroom.

Although the district eventually received records indicating his special-educational status in the previous school system, the student was kept in a regular classroom.

Two months later, the school suspended him indefinitely for being involved in a fight, informing him that, if he returned to school, he would face expulsion hearings.

While not attending school, the student got involved in a fight at his foster-care home and was forced to leave that placement.

Records Tracked Down

Arriving at his next foster placement in November of 1989, shortly before the school holidays, the student entered another school district, where sympathetic officials tracked down records of his partially completed work elsewhere and were able to grant him credit for the quarter he had lost earlier.

They also set in motion the process of assessing him for placement in the school system. In the interim, however, he lost the current quarter.

For the next quarter, he was placed in a special-education class for severely emotionally disturbed students, and his education appeared to be on track.

Within a month, however, he was suspended after getting involved in another fight. The principal determined that he could not return to school until he received counseling, which he had no access to.

During the time he was not in school, the student ran away from his foster placement to live with his brother, who had himself grown up in the foster-care system and wanted to rescue him from a similar fate.

Officials from his previous school district helped him transfer his records so he could enroll in the district where his brother lived, and he managed to complete the fourth quarter of that school year there.

Despite his brother's good intentions, his own financial circumstances--and the lack of parental role models--made conditions difficult, and during the summer, the youth, now 16, left his brother's home and tried to strike out on his own by getting a job in the previous county where he had lived.

When the job fell through, however, he had difficulty enrolling in school without a guardian to sign for him.

In August 1990, the youth got in touch with a county social worker, who arranged placement for him in a group home in another county that had set up a satellite program on one of its school campuses for severely emotionally disturbed students.

In the meantime, however, his involvement in a fight at his group home landed the student in a juvenile detention center and then in an emergency group home outside the school's attendance area, where he had to arrange to take public transportation to the satellite-school program.

More Lost Time

In October 1990, just eight weeks into the first quarter, the district disbanded the satellite program and absorbed students into other special-education classes not designed for severely emotionally disturbed students.

The student--who was among the last left in his class after the others were moved one by one into other programs--was suspended in December for using bad language.

During his suspension, he ran away from his group home.

About this time, the student began negotiating with his social worker to visit his natural father, with whom he had had no contact in five years.

In the interim, he stayed at the children's shelter where he was first placed in 1981.

He remained out of school for most of November and December of 1990, although he attended school meetings to re-evaluate his special-education "individualized education plan." As a result of those meetings, he was declared eligible for a county program for severely emotionally disturbed children outside the public schools.

Over the Christmas holidays, the student visited his natural father, and, within a month, he had moved in.

In the interim, he had lost another quarter of schooling, and his father lived in a part of the county not served by the program to which he had been recommended.

Sympathetic officials from his previous district then spent the next seven weeks arranging to get his updated special-education records transferred and assessed in the district where he now lived with his father and stepmother.

Both parents worked and were not available to attend meetings to discuss his iep. The district, hard hit by state budget cuts, was also slow to process his records.

The officials from his previous district eventually succeeded in getting the student, then 16, enrolled with the help of personal contacts in the school district and the social-service system--but not until late March 1991, after he had lost most of the third quarter.--dc

Vol. 10, Issue 38

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