The disciplinary exclusion of children with behavioral health conditions is rampant in public schools in the United States. The practice of suspending and expelling students with behavioral challenges, caused in part by a lack of understanding of the causes of children's behavioral challenges and failures by schools to implement appropriate behavioral supports and interventions, results in the isolation and segregation of some of the most vulnerable students. Research has clearly established that these exclusionary practices are ineffective both in addressing behavioral challenges and in keeping schools safer. In fact, disciplinary removals result in lost educational opportunities, increased dropout risk, criminal justice involvement, increased public expense, and lost opportunities for economic self-sufficiency in life. Yet, while we know that exclusionary discipline practices destroy the lives and opportunities of young people, public schools persist in suspending nearly three million students per year, including nearly 700,000 students with disabilities. A disproportionate number of these suspended students are students with behavioral health conditions and particularly students of color with behavioral health conditions.
Students with disabilities lack sufficient legal remedies to stop this tremendously harmful cycle of disciplinary exclusion. This article proposes (1) amendments to special education laws and new guidance from the United States Department of Education, (2) increased oversight and vigilance in the enforcement of special education laws, and (3) increased funding for educational advocacy to ensure that students with disabilities, particularly those with behavioral health conditions, have access to an education and meaningful opportunities beyond.
L. Kate Mitchell, We Can't Tolerate That Behavior in This School: The Consequences of Excluding Children with Behavioral Health Conditions and the Limits of the Law, 41 N.Y.U. REV. L. & SOC. CHANGE 407 (2017).