Reaction to SRO Forcibly Removing Student Video

The video at this link has caused a media uproar in the past 24 hours.

The video depicts a School Resource Office forcibly removing a female high school student from a classroom after she refuses to follow his instructions to leave the classroom. I spent three years as a Behavior Interventionist at a Des Moines middle school and 12 years as a building level administrator at the high school and middle school level. I can honestly say I found myself dealing with a student who refused to leave a classroom at least 100 times.

There are some who say a student refusing to leave a classroom is not a danger to themselves or others so nothing should happen. I respectfully disagree with this perspective strongly. It is not okay to allow a student to refuse to leave and then just continue on with class. I have seen administrators make this choice and it is a disaster. This DOES NOT mean you call law enforcement and they drag the student and the desk out the door while slamming the student on the floor as we witnessed in this video.

When I found myself in this situation, it was usually the result of a power struggle with the adult and the student. Once the student was in open defiance and disrespect, the situation had to be handled, but I also managed the adult situation after the fact to make sure the chance of repeating this situation was greatly minimized. Sometimes it wasn’t an adult issue, and just a student that needed to be dealt with in a very antagonistic moment.

I don’t know what happened prior to the filming starting in this video, but I am guessing this was a GIANT verbal power struggle that resulted in a very pissed off officer who reacted while angry. Since no one was in immediate danger there was definitely time to take a step back and make some better choices.

The best choice in this situation would be to remove the audience. When approaching a student who refuses to leave a classroom after repeated requests, I would get down to their level and explain that I was not going to put my hands on them, but I would be calling law enforcement for assistance. I would then tell them that I was going to clear the room of all the other students and adults until help could arrive. In almost every instance that the situation got to this level, the student would get up and leave when I told the class to leave.

If the room clear didn’t work, I would call parents or another relative and see if they could offer assistance. Sometimes talking to their parent or other relative on the phone would diffuse the situation and the student would comply. If that didn’t work, I did go ahead and call law enforcement, usually our School Resource Officer if she/he were available. With no audience, the addition of law enforcement worked for me in all but a few instances.

In the couple of instances where law enforcement did not result in compliance, the office called for back-up. He/she did not try and remove a non-dangerous student from the classroom by him/herself.

Another trick that I used over and over again for a very agitated, “I’m not doing anything you ask me to do” student would be to approach the student in the classroom and tell them I had another situation down the hall and we needed to go there first and then I would deal with their situation after we resolved that other situation. Distraction can be genius at timesJ

The bottom line is that this video exemplifies excessive force at its most alarming and there are must more effective strategies to use in a situation like this one.

Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy: Special Education Style

I know I am not officially authorized to identify a new medical condition; but I believe that the special education version of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy is a real thing and should be something that is diagnosed and treated.  For those of you who don’t know, Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy is a form of child abuse where a parent seeks unneeded medical attention for exaggerated or induced illnesses.

In the special education version, a parent believes that their child needs special education and fabricates “symptoms” of a disability in order to qualify their child for special education or for additional services within special education.  I know this sounds crazy, but I have witnessed this situation in the extreme on three different occasions.  I didn’t really recognize it the first time, but by the second and third instance I knew exactly what I was seeing.  In the most tragic situation, a Mother with two adopted children kept demanding more and more services for her children, even though there appeared to be very little need when the kids were at school; the children came to our district already diagnosed, so the fact that they were entitled was already established when they enrolled in our district.

The Mother would tell us crazy stories about behaviors and demand the most extensive modifications I had ever heard.  She wrote proposed page Fs for both kids and they were pages long, including such things as having the teacher go through her son’s backpack at the beginning and end of every class and twice daily phone calls to her to make sure she was kept apprised of anything that happened with her students.  Once we gained the trust of her children, they began to tell us what went on at home; one of the saddest stories was how one night she punched holes in the walls and destroyed her son’s bedroom and then calmly told him that she was calling the police to tell them that he had done the damage.  She also would hurt herself in front of them and then tell all of us that the kids assaulted her.  Unfortunately, we could not save the children from this mentally ill adult; they both ended up in residential placement and were so damaged by what had been done to them that they both had made serious attempts at suicide before they were removed from the home.

Another, even darker, version of this is the Munchausen by Proxy syndrome I have seen in teachers; I have encountered this twice in my career, so not sure it is as rare as I hope it to be.  In this scenario, a teacher fabricates or instigates behaviors in her/his students to gain attention for him/herself.  In both situations, the teacher worked with students with significant behaviors.  One of the teachers would restrain multiple students every day.  I remember when I first heard about her, it was from other staff who thought she was so amazing and felt so bad for her that she had to put up with all those kids with such terrible behaviors.

As I got closer to this situation, I realized that when she was engaged in a situation where she restrained a student, she appeared to get a physical high during and after the event.  Afterwards, she would go all through the building, telling staff person after staff person what she had gone through, often times showing the bruises or marks that were left after the encounter.  When we added a BD room at another elementary and  moved a couple of her students we realized that the students she was restraining multiple times per week did not need any restraints in the new classroom.  Eventually, we prohibited her from restraining any students and she still managed to create situations when she “had” to get physically involved with students.

This is a phenomenon that we all need to be aware of; as crazy as it sounds, it is a real thing that can be terribly dangerous for the children involved.  Be especially cautious of parents who detail behavior you never see in the school setting or who ask for services that far exceed what the child appears to need.  With teachers, be vigilant when supervising any staff person that is involved in restraining students and make sure that they are well trained, that all restraints are done with a team of staff members, and that restraint is always the last resort.  Most importantly, listen to the student; if they tell you that things are not the way they seem; either in the classroom or home; you need to take the time to listen and investigate.

(February, 2014)



Is There Anything Special about Special Education?

For the last two decades of my career, I spent a significant amount of energy trying to get students into the special education program.  I argued about how difficult the entitlement process was, I moaned about the roadblocks, I didn’t understand why students had to wait to get the help they needed via special education, and I cheered when the new IDEIA appeared to make the process more efficient.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t until about four years ago that I started to really think about what happens to a student once the student was entitled for special education.  What special thing happens when a student gets special education?

My first “aha!” moment came when I was sitting in an entitlement meeting for an elementary student and a parent asked what kind of instruction her child would receive in special education.  When we explained that her student would get help in the special education room, she pushed us to tell her what exactly that help would look like and how it would be better than the Title 1 services her child was currently receiving.  Suddenly, the seas parted and I saw the ocean floor for the first time; you see, I knew exactly what her child was going to receive and it was not only not very special, it was certainly not very effective.  Her child was going to go to a special education room instead of getting help via the regular classroom teacher.  In that classroom, the special education teacher would also be serving six other students who were from different grade levels, had various goal areas from Reading to Writing to Math and did not have the same specially designed instruction needs. The sped teacher was on a temporary certificate with no Reading endorsement.  What were we doing to this child?  Would the child actually make more progress; even if the child remained discrepant from peers; staying where they were at and receiving the services through the general education/Title 1 program?

I know what is supposed to be special about special education.  It’s the specially designed instruction (SDI), the centerpiece of why we entitle a student.  We are supposed to look at the myriad of super-duper assessments we give in special education, reach into our toolbox of targeted instructional interventions, provide the SDI through a highly qualified teacher who has been trained to provide sped services to a roster of students while not only knowing the right SDI to deliver, but also know the content in the core curriculum, and then close the gap so the student can be staffed out of sped and return to the regular classroom.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, shall we? In too many instances, we don’t know what Specially Designed Instruction looks like that moves students forward in the grade level core curriculum and reduces the gap.  We have the best picture in the early grades in Literacy, but, even then, I am not convinced that we are providing anything more special during sped time than we are during Title 1 or the tiered interventions under RTI that are provided to all students.  We know less as students get older.  What does SDI look like for an 8th grade student with a Math goal?  An 11th grade student with a Reading goal?  A 6th grade student with a behavior goal? We know where the SDI takes place; either in a sped classroom with a sped teacher or in a co-taught classroom.  We have options with the where; it’s what we do when the kid gets there that is the big question mark.

Part of the problem is that students are not grouped for instruction when they go for their SDI with the sped teacher.  The bigger problem is knowing what the SDI should look like even if students are grouped for instruction, let alone if they are not.  I cannot tell you the number of times I have walked into a secondary sped classroom to see students working on noun worksheets, dividing multi-digit number worksheets, reading a story and answering questions from the Jamestown probes, getting an all-group lesson on social skills, working on homework, the sped teacher co-teaching as a glorified paraprofessional in the back of the room, etc. It is not always because I am observing a teacher who is inept; it is because the teacher does not know what effective instruction looks like within specially designed instruction.

I have seen the flowcharts for RTI on literacy, even attempted to implement this system in the SDI classrooms at a high school.  We gave the BRI, put kids into the four box quadrant, bought the instructional materials such as Rewards, put the kids into groups, and then provided SDI around the narrow skills areas where we assessed the student to be discrepant.  We saw some limited progress; unfortunately the progress was in the narrow skill area and did not generalize to the big picture skills such as comprehension and other grade level standards.  The big question is how do we provide SDI that moves the student forward in the grade level core content standards while, at the same time, recognizing that there are times when providing SDI in a narrow skill area makes sense for a particular student?

We have to decide what is special about special education.  If there isn’t anything special (or effective) about it, we need to stop telling ourselves, and parents, that there child is now entitled to all the special pieces that special education has to offer.

(October, 2013)


Why the Prior Written Notice is Your Best Friend

This form, at the link below, is your best friend. Look at it right now. If you are not from Iowa, you should google “prior written notice” and the name of your state and look at that form. It is required under federal law, so you all have one.

The Prior Written Notice is the notice to parents of the action proposed or refused as a part of the special education IEP process. It is the one thing that really documents the decision you make, or don’t make, for a student. On this form, you describe what is being proposed, all the things that were considered when making the decision, and the decision.

It is vital that you have this form, or forms, when you go to due process. Attorneys look for these, and, if you don’t have them, it didn’t happen. I have had the misfortune of sitting at a table with lawyers while the team described all the meetings they had and all the things they considered and tried and didn’t work and how this child ended up self-contained all day after many serious, serious situations. They met and reviewed the plan multiple times and made adjustments to the child’s schedule and services. AND then there is one on no PWNs for the child. Even though the staff have notes, and the meetings are on their calendar, and everyone agree all this happened, it didn’t happen as far as the documentation is concerned.

It is a PRIOR written notice. So, I do it before the meeting, right? NO! You write the form prior to communicating a decision and it would be very bad for you to fill out a PWN before you meet with the team and consider the decision. So, ignore the word “prior”. You are never wrong to do a PWN, so do one any time you think you should. If a staff person asks me if they should do a PWN in a situation I tell them, “If you are asking the question, the answer is yes”.

Even if you do an amendment to the IEP, it doesn’t give you the information the PWN gives you. And you fill this out when you REFUSE a change as well. For example, parent asks for a para and the team considers it and denies the request. You don’t make a change to the IEP in this situation, but you definitely document the discussion and decision on a PWN.

Make sure you include all the things you considered when making the decision. You didn’t only consider a self-contained classroom. Maybe you considered a para, or more time in the special education setting, or homebound, or a shortened day, or letting the student take a break when needed. This will be critical information to have as new teams work with the student in the future and weren’t present for all these discussions.

Additional information can be found at

To summarize:

  • Fill out a PWN any time you make a decision about a student.
  • Saying no to a request is a decision.
  • Lawyers LOVE a PWN and will eat you alive if you don’t have them