“Just a Bad Day” or Undocumented Suspension?

There are many reasons why students are sent home. The purpose of this article is not to debate when an incident is ‘send-home’ worthy or ‘suspension’ worthy. Rather, it is to explain why send-homes without proper documentation are actually against school policy and why parents who race to pick up their children every time the school calls actually are doing a disservice to their children.IDEA does not restrict schools from disciplining children with disabilities. When a child violates school rules and is a danger to himself, herself, or others, the temporary removal of that student may be necessary. However, if a school chooses to dismiss a child during the school day for a disability-related incident, the school is actually suspending and excluding the child from his educational programming. The school administrator is required to complete suspension paperwork in order for the child to be dismissed.

Parents may not want the stigma of suspension tied to their child. They may not want anything on file that ever suggests their child was disruptive enough to be suspended. But what’s the other side of the argument? What are the benefits of parents requesting that suspension paperwork be completed? 

Each school system and the Maryland State Department of Education keep track of suspensions for a number of reasons. Most important is to ensure that students in any subgroup are not being disproportionately suspended. In 2010-11, HCPSS suspended only 9% of the student population. Notably, however, 22% of those students had a disability. There is no clear data on how many more undocumented suspensions there were. If every parent were to ask for the suspension paperwork, MSDE would have more accurate data to reconsider regulations and interventions.

Another benefit to documentation is that it can lead to more productive discussions about placement and/or behavior intervention plans. When behavior impedes learning—which a dismissal from the education day implies—IDEA requires IEP teams to consider positive behavioral interventions and supports. If a child is repeatedly sent home for having another ‘bad day,’ documentation would lead to an IEP team meeting and, after 10 dismissals, a manifestation determination. Teams would be required to consider whether the student’s conduct is a manifestation of the student’s disability, whether the conduct is a result of failure to properly implement the IEP, and/or whether a functional behavior assessment or review of a behavior plan is necessary. 

Patty Daley, executive director of the HCPSS Office of Special Education, encourages parents to use their best judgment on when to pick up their child, but notes that parents are not required to pick up their child for behavior unless he or she has been officially suspended. She further advises that parents who are concerned about undocumented suspensions contact the instructional team leader at their school and/or the resource teacher assigned to the school.

Student Discipline—Understanding What’s Legal, What’s Not, and What a Behavior Intervention Plan Has to Do With It

Behavioral challenges are a hallmark of autism and related disorders. While every parent dreads a phone call from school, the one announcing a suspension is especially feared. The reality is that children with disruptive or dangerous behaviors may be disciplined at some point by their schools. In an effort to help parents understand the regulations about student discipline, this article identifies key points about what is legal and what is not, and what difference a behavior intervention plan can make.The procedural safeguards of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) were designed to ensure that students with disabilities who receive special education services were not arbitrarily removed from their educational program or from the least restrictive environment (LRE) without consent. That said, IDEA does not restrict schools from disciplining children with disabilities. School systems have a responsibility to maintain a safe environment. When a child violates school rules and disrupts the rights of others, the temporary removal of that student may be necessary.

What if a child has difficulty understanding the proper code of conduct?  Parents should be given the opportunity to discuss the discipline code with teachers when it is a concern for their child. Parents know their children best and are most helpful in predicting problems. Such discussions can then lead to the development of Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals. Likewise, disability-related challenges should be noted if they prevent the child from meeting the expectations of the school’s code. 

How can the IEP serve as a vehicle for effective behavior management? IEPs are meant to address both academic needs and other educational needs that result from a child’s disability. When behavior impedes learning or the learning of others, IDEA requires IEP teams to consider positive behavioral interventions and supports.

What is a functional behavioral assessment? A functional behavioral assessment (FBA) determines what the function of certain behaviors may be and how a child’s disability may affect behavior. If an FBA is required, a team of teachers and specialists should observe and document behaviors over a number of weeks, noting the antecedent (what comes before the behavior), behavior, and consequence (what happens as a result of the behavior). Besides teachers, parents and others working closely with the child should be interviewed. A behavior specialist or school psychologist may also be involved; he or she collects and analyzes the data, and presents the findings to the IEP team.   

What is a behavior intervention plan (commonly referred to as a “BIP”)? An effective individualized behavior intervention plan (1) identifies behaviors that may occur as a result of a child’s disability and (2) sets out a plan to prevent the occurrence of those behaviors. Behavioral goals—similar to those for any academic subject—should be developed and, ideally, included in the IEP.  The BIP should clearly identify how behaviors will be addressed if they do occur. The plan should identify how to de-escalate behaviors with the use of positive supports, and how to shape replacement behaviors.  As with academic goals, behavioral goals should be measurable, frequently reviewed, and modified as needed.

For additional information on this topic, wrightslaw.com is highly recommended.

Maryland Accommodations Manual

The Maryland Accommodations Manual is the guide to select, administer and evaluate the use of Accommodations for the Instruction and Assessment of Students with Disabilities. It is available in PDF on the Maryland State Department of Education website. Click here.

Advocating for Your Child: Before and During the IEP Meeting

General tips: 

Remember– you are the primary decision-maker for your child. No changes in your child’s placement or services should take place without your approval, except in an emergency situation.

You are a member of the team. Work with the people who work with your child. Your success as an advocate for your child depends on working with others.

Be confident about your abilities and your rights; you know your son or daughter better than anyone else.

Talk with other parents to discuss strategies, common problems, and work for solutions. You are not alone.

Read about your child’s special needs. Talk with professionals and other parents to learn as much as you can. Try to have a complete understanding of your child’s special education needs.

Remember your child’s strengths. Try to keep things on a positive level.

Use the knowledge and skills you already have. Read about related issues, such as advocacy, communications and organizational skills, negotiations, and conflict resolution.

Keep up-to-date on state and federal laws governing education and special education. Participate in a workshop to learn your rights and your child’s rights. Become familiar with the basic terminology and acronyms used in education.

Keep records:

Be willing to create a paper trail. Develop a file system to organize all your child’s records, your notes, and communications including letters. Keep copies of papers given to you at school meetings.

Write down your child’s accomplishments. Keep notes about your concerns, questions, and answers.

Keep notes on phone calls and visits, and keep copies of all letters and records. Keep a meeting log, noting the dates and names of people involved. It is a good idea to confirm in writing what was discussed in phone calls.

Follow up phone conversations and subsequent meetings with letters that repeat what you have agreed to.

Whenever you write a letter, make sure you explain your position, your understanding of their position, what you expect to happen and who will do it, and your timeline for a response.

Date and keep copies of your child’s work. Keep copies of homework, tests, drawings, and writing samples.

Before a meeting:

Think about your child: What can she do? What does she contribute to your family, your community, her school? What are your dreams for her when she is in her 20s? What do you want the school to provide?

Write down your ideas and give them to the team. It is your assessment of your child.

Ask your child what he would like to learn next year, what kind of help he thinks he needs. He may be interested in something or have some good ideas.

Ask for copies of all your child’s records, and review them before the IEP meeting. Ask for summaries of assessments before the team meeting. Read them carefully, and make notes of the things you wish to discuss, and of any questions you may have. Any assessments to be discussed must be sent to you five business days before the meeting. If you don’t understand the assessments, ask for explanations in terms you understand.

At an IEP team meeting:

You have a right to invite anyone to attend the IEP team meeting with you. Bring a friend, family member, or another parent for moral support. This person can take notes and discuss the meeting with you.

Invite professionals who know your child, such as an evaluator, psychologist, or therapist. If they can’t come, ask them to contact the team chairperson and send a report.

You are also a professional. Dress appropriately, and look as professional as possible. Stand straight, shake hands firmly, and maintain eye contact as you are introduced to the other participants. If no one begins the introductions, do it yourself. Speak clearly, and maintain eye contact while you are talking.

Sit with the other team members. This shows that you are part of the decision making. If you can, sit between people with power. Try to avoid having your side and their side of the table. It sets up sides rather than focusing on the joint effort.

Arrive promptly. By being on time or a few minutes early, you will demonstrate that you consider this meeting to be important, and that you are ready to conduct business.

Make a note of those present so you can compare the names with the attendance sheet on the individual education plan (IEP).

Be as specific as possible in discussing your child’s needs and abilities. Be positive. Be clear. Make positive statements, such as “I expect. I understand. My child needs.” There is less chance that other people will misunderstand what you say. You will feel more confident, and be more effective.

Stick with the issue at hand — your child’s education. Don’t be sidetracked by irrelevant issues, such as your past experiences or the school’s lack of funds. You are discussing an individualized education to meet your child’s unique needs.

Remain as friendly as possible. Separate the people from the problems. Don’t deal in personalities.

Remember that understanding the other person’s viewpoint is not agreeing with them, but shows that you are paying attention, are interested in what they have to say, and are willing to work with the team.

Feel free to ask questions. Ask for clarification of anything you don’t understand.

Be flexible enough to accept minor revisions, but be firm about the major issues.

It may not be possible to finish all the business at hand in one session, even when things are going smoothly. It’s best to reconvene the team the next day or a few days later to stay fresh, rather than rush to finish.

Feel confident enough to conclude the meeting if the situation looks hopeless. Don’t waste your time. Tell the other team members that you will attend another meeting when they are ready to negotiate in good faith.

In your child’s school:

Maintain close contact with your child’s teacher. Some families have regular meetings, some have a daily notebook, and some have regular telephone calls. Share information and suggestions. Be supportive. Listen to the teacher’s feelings and ideas, and involve him where appropriate.

If you think teachers or other team members are doing a good job, tell them. Thank teachers and other members of the team, including the principal and ITL, when they have done something you appreciate.

You’ve known your child for a long time. If you’ve discovered hints that help your child learn, share them. Offer to help teachers and others adapt materials or programs.

Remember that other people such as the school bus drivers, janitors, lunchroom workers, and secretaries may know and help your child in informal ways.

Get involved in your child’s school. Join the PTA, go to school plays, volunteer in the library. The more people see you, the better you will get to know each other. This sometimes makes it easier to work together for your child.

Go over your child’s IEP every few months. Are the services stipulated in the IEP being provided? Are you satisfied? Is your child happy and successful?

Talk with your child’s teacher or liaison if you have any questions, or if there are any problems.

If the IEP is not working, ask for a meeting of all the people involved. If you feel it is necessary, ask for a meeting to review or change the IEP. You may do this at any time.

If problems arise:

If you feel the school is not following the IEP, speak up. Remember — you are advocating for your child. If you don’t do it, no one will.

First, talk with your child’s teacher or case manager to see if you can work out the problem. Sometimes, a problem is a simple misunderstanding, and can be resolved by asking questions or explaining what you expect. Remember, you are a member of the team. If possible, work cooperatively with other team members to resolve problems.

If this does not work, call and/or write a letter to your case manager, explain the problem, and ask that specific actions be taken to resolve it. Send a copy to the school principal and Instructional Team Leader for Special Education (ITL) at the school. Remember to set your timelines for responses and/or action. Don’t let time run away. Your child is the one losing out.

Call the ITL three days after you mail the letter, and ask what has been or will be done about the problem. Ask that the school establish specific steps toward resolving the problem.

If the case manager or ITL is not able to solve the problem, contact the Department of Special Education. The Family Support and Resource Center can direct you to the Resource Teacher or Instructional Facilitator who oversees your school. They can be reached at 410 313-7161. Ask that quick action be taken to resolve the problem. If necessary, contact the Director of Special Education.

If you cannot reach an agreement with your school system, request mediation from the Department of Education. This is less formal, and not as adversarial, and costly as a hearing.

If all else fails or if the problem is especially serious, request a due process hearing. While an appeals hearing may prove to be costly and time consuming, it does have the advantage of giving you and your child a chance to state your grievances before a qualified and impartial hearing administrative law judge who is required to make a clear-cut decision.

Written by Parents for Parents for the Howard County Autism Society

Transition Planning

The Maryland State Department of Education and the Governor’s Interagency Transition Council for Youth with Disabilities offer the following articles on the Maryland Transitioning Youth website: 












Maryland Transitioning Youth Website

The Maryland Transitioning Youth website is designed for families and youth with disabilities. It is loaded with information and resources for transition planning, postsecondary education, employment services, and much more. Visit.

Transition Planning Guide: Preparing Students with Disabilities to Move from School to Appropriate Postsecondary Outcomes. Read more.


Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS)

What is School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports?
The Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports has been established by the Office of Special Education Programs, US Department of Education to give schools capacity-building information and technical assistance for identifying, adapting, and sustaining effective school-wide disciplinary practices.
The following article answers: 1) What is School-wide (SW) PBIS? 2) What does PBIS emphasize? and 3) What Outcomes Are Associated with Implementation of SW PBIS? Click here to read more.

Spanish and Korean Language Resources

Below, links are provided to several important special education documents translated into Spanish and Korean.

Spanish Resources

Procedural Safeguards

A Parent’s Guide to Frequently Asked Questions about Special Education Due Process

A Parent’s Guide to Frequently Asked Questions about Special Education Mediation

Special Education State Complaint Resolution Procedures

                Request for Mediation and Due Process Complaint Form

                State Complaint Form–Part B

Korean Resources

Procedural Safeguards

A Parent’s Guide to Frequently Asked Questions about Special Education Due Process

A Parent’s Guide to Frequently Asked Questions about Special Education Mediation

Special Education State Complaint Resolution Procedures

                Request for Mediation and Due Process Complaint Form

                State Complaint Form–Part B

Online Video To Help Physicians, Parents Recognize Early Signs Of Autism Released To Maryland Pediatricians

The Kennedy Krieger Institute and Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced today that a first-of-its-kind, free online video tutorial on early autism recognition will be distributed to member pediatricians throughout the state. Developed by autism researchers at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, the goal of the tutorial is to improve recognition of the early signs of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in one-year-olds among pediatricians, parents and early intervention providers.

Click here to read the full story: http://www.kennedykrieger.org/overview/news/online-video-to-help-physicians-parents-recognize-early-signs-of-autism

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Applied behavior analysis (ABA), previously known as behavior modification, is a type of behavior analysis based on the traditional theory of behaviorism to modify human behaviors as part of a learning or treatment process. This wiki provides a definition of Applied Behavior Analysis. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Applied_behavior_analysis

For families managing their own ABA or VB programs, following is a useful resource for purchasing materials to aid your program, including timers, flashcards and books.  http://www.difflearn.com/



Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD)

The Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) at Kennedy Krieger Institute is a multifaceted, interdisciplinary program serving children, families, and professionals in the autism spectrum disorders (ASD) community. CARD combines research, clinical service, a therapeutic day program, and training programs to unlock the potential of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), enrich their life experiences, empower patients, and promote the well-being of families through evidence-based practices. One of our major endeavors is developing effective new models of care for families and providers, whether locally, nationally, or internationally.



Important Contacts in Special Education

Navigating the resources within one’s school can be a challenge. But did you know there is an entire stable of educators outside of the building able to assist you?

The Office of Special Education, commonly referred to as the “central office,” consists of instructional facilitators, resource teachers, program specialists, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, assistive technology specialists, school psychologists, reading specialists, and behavior specialists. It is important to know who to call when extra support is needed.

So let’s review who your special education team is in the building and outside of the building.

The School-based Special Education Team:

  • Administrator
    The principal or assistant principal provides on-site leadership for the instructional program. He or she may attend IFSP meetings and serve as the chairperson of the IEP team meeting.
  • Special Education Instructional Team Leader (ITL)
    In every school, there is a special education instructional team leader (ITL). Under the direction of the school principal, the ITL provides leadership in the instructional program and assumes responsibility for the organization and administration of the special education team.
  • Case Manager or Service Coordinator
    Each child receiving special education services will be assigned a school-based service coordinator, or “case manager.” This case manager serves as the primary contact for the family and all service providers. He or she participates in the IEP team or IFSP team meetings and in the development or revision of a child’s IEP or IFSP; assists in obtaining access to the services recommended in the IEP or IFSP; collects and synthesizes evaluation reports that might be needed by the team; and implements relevant federal and state procedures.
  • General Education Teacher
    The general education teacher provides educational and instructional service in the general education classroom. He or she may also provide general modifications, reasonable accommodations, and testing modifications.
  • Special Education Teacher
    The special education teacher provides specialized educational and instructional services. These services are provided through individual, small group, and large group instruction. Depending on the IEP, the services may be provided in the general education classroom or outside of the general education room, likely in a resource room.
  • Instructional Assistant (IA) or Paraeducator
    An instructional assistant provides support to teachers and students. They may physically assist students with tasks and they may also provide instructional assistance by tailoring lessons to an individual student’s needs or assisting students with assignments. They may assist the teacher in preparing lesson plans, demonstrations, or visual aids for specific lessons.
  • Student Assistant (SA)
    A student assistant is an HCPSS employee who provides close adult supervision in helping students with several physical, cognitive, or behavioral concerns to access education.
  • Temporary Employee (TE)
    A temporary employee (TE) is non-HCPSS employees who provides help for schools, programs, and students. A TE is employed through a contracted service agency as authorized by the Department of Special Education. Such personnel assist students who have moderate to severe cognitive, medical, physical, or emotional disabilities, with the demands of academic tasks or functional skills, and with accessing the least restrictive learning environment.

 Important specialists and team members outside your building:

The following specialists may be called upon by an administrator, instructional team leader, case manager, or parent. If you ever think your child needs additional help that is not being provided or is not being properly accessed by the school-based staff, you may ask for any of the following specialists to be contacted.

  • Speech-Language Pathologist
    The speech-language pathologist works with a child to help him or her develop communication skills; she or he may work with a child in a small group setting, on an individual basis, or in the general education classroom. The speech-language pathologist provides consultation to other service providers. The speech-language pathologist may also work with other staff members to develop augmentative communication systems that may include using sign language, picture boards, or voice output devices. The speech-language pathologist may refer a child to the Assistive Technology Team to provide additional consultation on augmentative communication systems or adaptations involving technology.
  • Physical Therapist
    A physical therapist may work with a child to facilitate typical movement for gross motor skills such as rolling, creeping, sitting, standing, and walking. In addition, the physical therapist addresses building accessibility issues, and assists in the selection and adaptation of equipment that may be needed to improve a child’s posture or functioning within the school setting. Physical therapy services may be provided on an individual basis, in a small group, or in the general education classroom. The physical therapist may also consult with other services providers.
  • Occupational Therapist
    An occupational therapist provides activities in the areas of perceptual fine motor, sensory motor, oral motor, and self-help skills. A treatment program may also include activities to facilitate typical movement patterns as well as the design and use of adaptive materials and equipment within the educational setting in order for the child to benefit from special education. The therapist may provide demonstration and instruction to assist a child in coordinating visual and motor ability in the performance of fine motor and classroom tasks. Occupational therapy services may be provided to a child on an individual basis, in a small group, or in the general education classroom. The occupational therapist may also consult with other service providers.
  • School Psychologist
    The school provides consultation and evaluation in the areas of cognitive development, social-emotional development, and behavioral intervention. The school psychologist may conduct observations to gather information to assist other service providers in implementing the IEP, IFSP, or 504 Written Individualized Plan. In addition, parent counseling and training may be provided on a short term basis when appropriate.
  • Assistive Technology Team
    The “AT Team” includes speech-language pathologists, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, a psychologist, an itinerant teacher of students with visual impairment, and an instructional assistant. The team may observe, evaluate, and provide consultation services for children who need augmentative communication systems or adaptations involving technology. The team maintains a resource center with devices, materials, and information and provides training to parents and staff members.
  • Behavior Specialist
    Each school is assigned a behavior specialist, who is available to help construct behavior intervention programs to address the complex needs of youngsters with behavioral challenges. The specialists also design ongoing staff development opportunities for teachers and instructional assistants.
  • Elementary Reading Specialist
    Reading specialists support teachers and students in a number of ways. They work with staff members to organize and plan effective instruction, communicate information about language arts and reading, provide ongoing staff development, and initiate and oversee tutorial and volunteer programs to assist students in need. Reading specialists also work with classroom teachers to help design specific programs for students needing additional help within the general classroom setting. In addition, reading specialists provide ongoing instruction to individual or small groups of students in need of a program to accelerate their reading growth.
  • Itinerant Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments
    This teacher provides assessment, consultation, and individualized instruction in special techniques used by children who are blind or partially sighted. The techniques include the use of adaptive equipment, Braille, as well as orientation and mobility instruction. To be eligible for service from the itinerant teacher of students with visual impairments, a child must have a Physician’s Assessment Report that states he or she has a visual impairment that adversely affects performance in school. A referral may be made by a parent, teacher, principal, school nurse, or eye doctor.
  • Itinerant Teacher of Students with Hearing Impairments
    This teacher provides consultation and instruction in total communication, language development, auditory training, and skills needed in the classroom setting. Consultative services include meetings with school staff members, parents, educational interpreters, and the audiologist. To be eligible for service from the itinerant teacher of students with hearing impairments, a child must be identified by an audiologist as having a hearing impairment that adversely affects performance in school.

©  Maryland State Department of Education, Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services http://www.msde.maryland.gov/MSDE/divisions/earlyinterv/