US Education Department Issues Guidance on Supporting Students with Disabilities

The U.S. Education Department has issued an important guidance for schools and other agencies to clarify their responsibility to provide children with disabilities appropriate behavioral interventions and supports that are necessary to ensure they have meaningful access to their education. This Dear Colleague Letter on Supporting Behavior of Students with Disabilities was issued on August 1, 2016.

The repeated use of disciplinary actions may suggest that children with disabilities may not be receiving appropriate behavioral interventions and supports. When schools fail to consider and provide for needed behavioral supports through the Individualized Education Program (IEP), it is likely to result in children not receiving the free appropriate public education to which they are entitled under federal law.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) entitles each eligible child with a disability to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet the child’s unique needs. Under the IDEA, the primary vehicle for providing FAPE is through an appropriately developed individualized education program (IEP) that is based on the individual needs of the child.

In the case of a child whose behavior impedes the child’s learning or that of others, the IEP Team must consider – and, when necessary to provide FAPE, include in the IEP – the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports, and other strategies, to address that behavior.

This Education Department letter is organized into five areas:

1) IDEA’s procedural requirements regarding evaluations, eligibility determinations, IEPs, and behavioral supports;

2) IDEA’s IEP content requirements related to behavioral supports;

3) Circumstances that may indicate potential denials of FAPE or of placement in the LRE;

4) Implications for short-term disciplinary removals and other exclusionary disciplinary measures; and

5) Conclusion, including additional information for parents and stakeholders.

Resources include a summary, the guidance, and a guide to evidence-based classroom practices for teachers.

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Last updated November 23, 2020

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