Burns: When Student Behavior Is Not an IEP Issue

The title of the TSD Conference Sunday session, “Not All Behavior is an IEP Matter: The Case for Pushback,” certainly leaves us wondering what the rule really is. If behavior that’s at issue is not addressed in the IEP, then isn’t finding a way to minimize disruptive behavior a matter of discretion rather than mandate?

BurnsPeggy A. BurnsThis question points to an essential component of compliance found in federal law: Strategies and programs used with a child with a disability must be designed to address the unique needs of that individual child. And therein lies the trickiest part of “compliance” with IDEA and Section 504 – it can look quite different depending upon the child and the context.

Presenters Lisa Arbogast, Pete Meslin, Alexandra Robinson, and Suraj Syal cautioned that this must be addressed when behavior potentially interferes with a student consistently riding the bus because of the temptation to remove him from transportation. Neither removal nor a behavior plan, however, is always the answer. Instead, consider positive behavioral strategies that are available for all students.

Consider, too, the child’s ability to learn skills that may stop or minimize the behavior. Look at whether creating a new structure – e.g, a new routing plan, a new seating plan – that involves all the students on the bus will have the effect of changing the behavior of the student at issue, without ever touching his IEP. 

The presenters cautioned that implementation of any change must be preceded by the thorough collection and study of data.  Such data may, for example, demonstrate that a different way to view the problem can trigger ideas about strategies that have at least a likelihood of being successful in resolving behavior issues for a particular student. 

If a driver fails to report data, either because “they won’t do anything about it, anyway,” or “I’ve already reported this,” another compliance issue is implicated. Drivers must comply with a school district- or company-levied mandate to report all incidents to their supervisor and/or the school principal.  Information about whether the behavior occurs across a variety of settings is important in determining whether or not the behavior should be addressed in the IEP.

The bottom line: When bus behavior is considered, don’t jump first to special education remedies. Don’t search for a rule to comply with. Instead, consider the whole context and the student as “just” another bus rider and don’t overlook strategies that might well be effective for a non-disabled student.

P.S. Jumping to another matter altogether, and one which has little to do with compliance and everything to do with respect and dignity, an attendee reminded us that “a student with autism” is a preferred label. “Autistic student” puts the disability before the person. Respect and dignity come before compliance as attention-getters for all of us!


Peggy A. Burns is Tenured Faculty, Emeritus of the TSD Conference as well as former school district in-house counsel, editor of Legal Routes, and a consultant on student transportation compliance issues. She has written numerous articles for School Transportation News and is a past contributing editor of the magazine.

Last modified onMonday, 27 March 2017 15:29