One of the hardest things for any parent to do is leave their child at the schoolhouse door. When a child faces bullying or harsh discipline, it becomes even more difficult. This issue hits home for students with learning and attention issues. These students often struggle with behavior. They may also be bullied because of how they learn or act at school.
Schools have the responsibility to create safe, respectful places to learn. Sadly, the traditional response to misbehavior has been to punish. The response to bullying has been to ignore it—or worse, treat it as a normal part of growing up. Neither of these responses is acceptable. To serve all students, schools must move away from punishment and toward positive forms of discipline. Using holistic approaches focused on supporting kids, schools can create environments where every child can learn.
“Schools must use positive discipline practices focused on prevention, not punishment, with support for kids who need help managing behavior.”
Students With Disabilities Are Punished and Bullied More Often
It’s no secret that students with learning and attention issues are punished more often in school. Here are key facts from our report The State of Learning Disabilities 2014:
- One out of every two students with learning disabilities (LD) has been suspended or expelled.
- More than half of all people with LD will have some involvement with the criminal justice system within eight years of leaving high school.
- Students receiving special education services are twice as likely as other students to be arrested or referred to the police because of behavior at school.
Likewise, bullying has a big impact on students with learning and attention issues:
- Sixty percent of students with disabilities report being bullied regularly, compared with 25 percent of all students.
- Students with LD and ADHD are more likely to be bullied than their peers.
Whole-School Approaches to Discipline Are Proven to Work
Despite the challenges, there is hope. Today, most educators agree that schools must set high academic and behavior expectations. To be effective, expectations for behavior must be clear. Students must be taught these expectations. According to studies, a whole-school approach that combines high expectations with support for students who struggle with behavior can improve school discipline.
One such approach is called positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS). With PBIS, the focus is preventing misbehavior, rather than punishing. In schools using PBIS, students are suspended less often. Bullying decreases. Students do better academically.
NCLD Supports Positive Discipline in Schools
We support positive forms of discipline to reduce bullying as well as suspensions and expulsions for students with learning and attention issues. Here are the policies we advocate for:
- An End to Zero Tolerance Policies
Some schools use so-called “zero tolerance” policies. These policies punish any violation of a rule, even if caused by a mistake, accident or a child’s individual circumstances. The use of such policies is unfair to students with learning and attention issues. It must stop.
- Comprehensive Approaches to Positive Discipline
As discussed, the evidence shows that whole-school approaches to discipline, like PBIS, work best for all students. Schools should use these approaches.
- Legal Rights Under Special Education Law
Students covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) have a right to a free and appropriate public education. Schools must ensure that bullying doesn’t violate students’ legal rights under IDEA. As just one example, removing a victim of bullying from a general education classroom to try to end bullying could violate legal rights.
- Bullying Laws
The federal government and states should enact laws that directly address bullying. Any law should specifically mention bullying based on disability, or how a child learns or acts at school. However, any bullying law must be consistent with a whole-school approach to discipline.
- The School-to-Prison Pipeline
Schools should not refer students to law enforcement, except as a very last resort. The juvenile justice system must work to address the needs of children with learning and attention issues.