When a student’s behavior gets in the way of their learning and/or the learning of others, the school is responsible to figure out how to support behavioral expectations. One way to do that is to assess why the student might be acting out and use that information to consider how positive behavioral interventions might teach the student what to do instead.
The end of this article includes a sample letter to ask the school to begin a specific evaluation called a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA). Data from the FBA is used to build a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP).
PAVE provides a video training called Behavior and School: How to Participate in the FBA/BIP Process.
Ideally a school will notice if a student’s behavior has patterns of disruption and begin the FBA/BIP process before a student with disabilities is disciplined. PAVE provides an article: What Parents Need to Know when Disability Impacts Behavior and Discipline at School.
A teacher or school administrator might alert parents and request consent to begin an FBA. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is the state agency for Washington schools. OSPI provides guidance about discipline in a Technical Assistance Paper (TAP #2). Included are best practices for schools to follow when there are persistent behavioral concerns:
- Develop behavioral goals in the Individualized Education Program (IEP)
- Provide related services needed to achieve those behavioral IEP goals (specific therapies or counseling, for example)
- Provide classroom accommodations, modifications and/or supplementary aids and supports (a 1:1 paraeducator, for example)
- Provide support to the student’s teachers and service providers (staff training)
- Conduct a reevaluation that includes a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA)
- Develop a Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP), as defined in the Washington Administrative Code (WAC 392-172A-01031)
If an FBA process begins after a student has been excluded from school through a disciplinary removal (suspension, expulsion, or emergency expulsion), families can review their procedural safeguards to understand rules related to a special education process called Manifestation Determination.
Here are the basics: When a behavior “manifests” (is directly caused by) a disability condition, then there is recognition that the student has limited fault for violating the student code of conduct. Management of behavior is part of the special education process. A Manifestation Determination meeting is to talk about how a student’s services can better serve their needs to prevent future behavioral episodes that are getting in the way of education.
Students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) may not be excluded from their regular educational placement, due to discipline, for more than 10 days in a school year without the school and family holding a Manifestation Determination meeting. According to the Washington Administrative Code (WAC 392-172A-05146),thestudent’s behavior is considered a manifestation of disability if the conduct was:
- Caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to, the student’s disability
- The direct result of the school district’s failure to implement student’s IEP
When these criteria are met, the school is responsible to review and amend the student’s services to ensure that the behaviors are addressed to prevent future escalations. If there isn’t a BIP, the school is required to develop one by initiating an FBA. If there is a BIP, the school is required to review and amend it to better serve the student’s needs.
Request FBA formally, in writing
Family caregivers can request an FBA/BIP process any time there are concerns that a student’s behavior is a barrier to their education. Families have the right to participate in all educational decision making for their students. See PAVE’s article: Parent Participation in Special Education Process is a Priority Under Federal Law.
Make any request for an evaluation in writing. This is important because:
- There will be no confusion about how/when/why request was made.
- The letter provides critical initial information about what is going on with the student.
- The letter supports a written record of family/school interactions.
If the family wishes, they can attach information from outside providers with their request. For example, if an outside therapist or counselor has recommendations for behavioral interventions at school, the family has the option to share those. The school district is responsible to review all documents and respond with written rationale about how the information is incorporated into recommendations. Families may choose to disclose all, a portion, or none of a student’s medical information. Schools may not require disclosure of medical records.
Family caregivers/guardians must sign consent for any school evaluation to begin.
The FBA/BIP might prevent a shortened school day
According to OSPI, serving a student through a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) is a priority. OSPI discourages schools from reducing the student’s schedule because of behaviors:
“District authorities should not use a shortened school day as an automatic response to students with challenging behaviors at school or use a shortened day as a form of punishment or as a substitute for a BIP. An IEP team should consider developing an IEP that includes a BIP describing the use of positive behavioral interventions, supports, and strategies reasonably calculated to address the student’s behavioral needs and enable the student to participate in the full school day.”
Special Education is a service, not a location within the school
Please note that a request for behavioral support is NOT a recommendation to remove a student from the regular classroom and move them into an exclusive learning environment. Federal and state laws require that students eligible for special education services receive their education in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to the maximum extent appropriate.
Special Education is a service, while LRE refers to placement. PAVE’s article provides further information: Special Education is a Service, Not a Place.
General education classrooms and spaces are the least restrictive. A child may be placed in a more restrictive setting if an IEP team, which includes family participants, determines that FAPE is not accessible even with specially designed instruction, accommodations, modifications, ancillary aids, behavioral interventions and supports, and other documented attempts to support a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) within the general education environment.
If the student was removed from their previous placement prior to a manifestation determination meeting, the school district is responsible to return the student to their placement unless the parent and school district agree to a different placement as part of the modification of the student’s services on their IEP and BIP.
Sample letter to request an FBA
Below is a sample letter family caregivers can use when requesting a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA). You can cut and paste the text into your choice of word processing program to help you start a letter that you can print and mail or attach to an email. Or you can build your letter directly into an email format. Be sure to keep a record of all requests and correspondence with the school.
City, State, Zip
Name (if known, otherwise use title)
Title/Director of Special Education/Special Services Program Coordinator
City, State, Zip
Dear Name (if known, otherwise use district person’s title):
I am requesting a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) for my [child, son, daughter], NAME, (BD: 00-00-0000).
I have concerns that (NAME) is not receiving full educational benefit from school because of their struggles to meet behavioral expectations due to their disability circumstances. Their condition includes [brief summary of any diagnoses], which makes it difficult to [brief summary of the challenges]. I believe this has become a pattern of behavior that needs to be addressed with a positive behavioral support plan so my child with special educational needs can receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
I understand that the FBA will look for triggers and seek to understand what is happening in the environment when my child’s behaviors become problematic. I have learned that these are “antecedents” that the school can identify through data tracking. I hope we can begin to understand how [name] may be trying to communicate their needs through these behaviors. Here are some of my thoughts about what might be going on:
- Use bullet points if the list is long.
- Use bullet points if the list is long.
- Use bullet points if the list is long.
I look forward to discussing the results of the FBA and working with school staff on development of a Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP). I hope we can choose a small number of target behaviors to focus on in the BIP. I understand that we will work together to identify replacement behaviors that the school can teach [name] to do instead. I hope these will be skills we can work on at home also. I look forward to learning how we can partner to encourage the learning that I know [name] is capable of.
I have attached documentation from [any outside providers/therapists/counselors who may have provided letters or reports or shared behavioral recommendations].
I understand that I am an equal member of the team for development of educational services and that I will be involved in any meetings where decisions are made regarding my child’s access to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). I will also expect a copy of the FBA and a draft of the BIP before our meeting.
I understand you must have my written permission for this assessment to be administered, and I will be happy to provide that upon receipt of the proper forms.
I appreciate your help in behalf of [child’s name]. If you have any questions please call me at [telephone number] or email me at [email address, optional].
CC: (Names and titles of anyone else you give copies to)
You can email this letter or send it by certified mail (keep your receipt), or hand carry it to the district office and get a date/time receipt. Remember to keep a copy of this letter and all school-related correspondence for your records. Get organized with a binder or a filing system that will help you keep track of all letters, meetings, conversations, etc. These documents will be important for you and your child for many years to come, including when your child transitions out of school.
Please Note: PAVE is a nonprofit organization that provides information, training, individual assistance, and resources. PAVE is not a legal firm or legal service agency, and the information contained in this handout is provided for informing the reviewer and should not be considered as a means of taking the place of legal advice that must be obtained through an attorney. PAVE may be able to assist you in identifying an attorney in your area but cannot provide direct referrals. The contents of this handout were developed under a grant from the US Department of Education. The contents do not represent the policy of the US Department of Education and you should not assume endorsement by the Government.