Special Education

Schools Advised To Catch, Treat Disabilities as Early as Possible

By Joetta L. Sack — April 28, 1999 2 min read

Many behavioral and learning problems of students with disabilities can be prevented if elementary schools focus on special services and discipline in the lower grades, according to a top federal special education official.

More problems arise when disabilities are not caught and treated early, said Thomas Hehir, the director of the U.S. Department of Education’s office of special education programs. He spoke here this month at an annual conference sponsored by the Council for Exceptional Children, a special education advocacy group.

The conference was the first major meeting on special education since the Education Department released its final regulations for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the most controversial of which pertain to student discipline. The IDEA was amended most recently in 1997, but the rules were not published until last month, more than a year behind the department’s initial deadline. (“Department Issues IDEA Regulations,” March 17, 1999.)

Mr. Hehir said Education Department research--which he admitted had not been widely enough disseminated to schools--shows that many discipline problems take root early, when a child has problems learning.

“Many kids hit the comprehension block in 4th or 5th grade,” leading to more learning and behavioral problems, Mr. Hehir said. “The best time to prevent that from happening is through early-childhood programs.”

But too often, school officials wait until a child is struggling in a classroom and causing significant disruptions before acting, he said. “You shouldn’t wait to provide kids the strong interventions they need until they fail over and over again,” Mr. Hehir said.

His office will continue to focus more efforts on helping states create better early-childhood service systems, he added.

Lawsuits Expected

Education Department officials maintain that only a small percentage of students with disabilities cause serious discipline problems for schools.

They point to data showing that about 300,000 students out of the nearly 6 million receiving special education services are suspended one or more days in a school year.

In writing its regulations, the Education Department found itself caught between advocacy groups that were anxious to protect special education students’ rights and educators who wanted more power to remove disruptive students from the classroom.

The final document, while giving administrators a little more flexibility, will undoubtedly result in more lawsuits and hearings because the provisions are so vague, one veteran hearing officer predicted at the CEC conference.

“This is heaven for attorneys because the regulations are so flexible,” said Qaisar Sultana, a professor of special education at Eastern Kentucky University who has worked as an IDEA hearing officer in the eastern part of the state for 17 years. “They have tried to appease everyone, and in the process, left a lot of holes in the regulations.”

For instance, Ms. Sultana said, schools can suspend special education students for more than a total of 10 days in a single school year, as long as the suspensions are for separate incidents and do not cause a change in placement. But determining what constitutes “separate” incidents means another bonanza for lawyers, she contended.

A version of this article appeared in the April 28, 1999 edition of Education Week as Schools Advised To Catch, Treat Disabilities as Early as Possible

Events

School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: What Did We Learn About Schooling Models This Year?
After a year of living with the pandemic, what schooling models might we turn to as we look ahead to improve the student learning experience? Could year-round schooling be one of them? What about online
School & District Management Webinar What's Ahead for Hybrid Learning: Putting Best Practices in Motion
It’s safe to say hybrid learning—a mix of in-person and remote instruction that evolved quickly during the pandemic—is probably here to stay in K-12 education to some extent. That is the case even though increasing
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Building Equitable Systems: Moving Math From Gatekeeper to Opportunity Gateway
The importance of disrupting traditional American math practices and adopting high-quality math curriculum continues to be essential for changing the trajectory of historically under-resourced schools. Building systems around high-quality math curriculum also is necessary to
Content provided by Partnership for L.A. Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Special Education Whitepaper
A Comprehensive Guide to the IEP Process
Download this guide to learn strategies for bringing together all stakeholders to plan an IEP that addresses the whole child; using relia...
Content provided by n2y
Special Education What Biden's Pick for Ed. Secretary Discussed With Disability Rights Advocates
Advocates for students with disabilities want Biden to address discipline and the effects of COVID-19 on special education.
2 min read
Miguel Cardona, President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for Secretary of Education, speaks after being introduced at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del., Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020, as Biden, right, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, look on.
Miguel Cardona, President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for Secretary of Education, speaks after being introduced at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del., Dec. 23, 2020, as Biden, right, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, left, look on.
Carolyn Kaster/AP
Special Education Schools Struggled to Serve Students With Disabilities, English-Learners During Shutdowns
The needs of students with IEPs and English-language learners were not often met after the pandemic struck, says a federal report.
3 min read
Young boy wearing a mask shown sheltering at home looking out a window with a stuffed animal.
Getty
Special Education How Will Schools Pay for Compensatory Services for Special Ed. Students?
States’ efforts so far suggest there won’t be enough money to go around for all the learning losses of students with disabilities from COVID-19 school shutdowns.
8 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
iStock/Getty