Special Education Students in School Safety: Include or Not?

The Special Education Dilemma in School Safety

The Learning Connection is on online community through the Indiana Department of Education.  Recently a question was posted that gives much food for thought for students in special education.  “Has any school dealt with students who are unable to participate in fire drills?  If so, what procedures have you put  in place to accommodate the children while satisfying the requirement to engage all students in the drill?”  Schools with special education students often struggle with including such students in their safety plans.  When do the needs of the students outweigh the safety needs of the school?  Or do they?

Special Education

Special Education students should be included with the rest of the students in safety drills.

Practice Realistically

There is an old sports saying, “Practice as you will play.” This basic truth is relevant to school safety. Everyone should practice safety drills as they would actually happen. It helps reduce errors, and will better assist in identifying gaps in planning.

This is especially true for students with special needs. I have seen some schools warn, some of their special education classes, about drills ahead of time. They feel it’s necessary to reduce the stress some of these students feel with the loud noises and world changing activity that occur with drills. While the concern is understandable, does it help them in an actual emergency? Emergencies occur without notice. Precious seconds can be lost attempting to assist students who react negatively to a sudden change in their routine. Not exposing these students to such situations until a real event, can put them and others at risk.

Individualized Education Plans and School Safety

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), special education students are required to have individualized plans. Different districts call them by different names, but the result should be the same. Identifying each child’s needs and a written plan specifying how their requirements are met, including emergency and safety issues. For children in special education programs, this requires additional scrutiny and thoughtfulness.

Will a special education student need more than one staff member to assist them? If so, who will it be? Will the student require special equipment, such as an evacuation chair to get a student down stairs? Will they need noise-reducing headgear to reduce audio stimulation? These and other similar questions may not be something considered for most students but for those with special needs they can be critical factors.

Just as a building’s age and characteristics would be considered in a facility’s safety plan, so should the uniqueness of special education students when identifying their safety requirements. In special education, individual needs are identified by a case conference committee, which includes the parents. This committee should then create a safety plan that includes the student’s involvement in safety drills.

As with all safety plans the input of local first responders should be sought whenever changes are made. This helps to ensure compliance with local, state and federal regulations. Never forget, the goal is to keep ‘everyone’ safe!

School Employee Attacks Student, 2 Employees Arrested

School Employee Attacks Student

An employee of Berks County Schools in Pennsylvania allegedly body-slammed a 17-year old student.  A teacher then allegedly lied to cover up the incident.  The incident occurred at the Paramount Academy, a school for students with therapeutic needs.

The allegations are as follows: The assaulter is a “behavioral specialist” that was working in the teacher’s room.  Students were being loud, and the specialist told the class that the next student to say something would be “body-slammed” through the door.  A short time later, the student, who was not loud earlier, asked if he could sharpen his pencil.  After the teacher gave him permission  he stood up, and the specialist grabbed him by the shirt and rammed him against the door several times.  He then pushed the student through the door, then rammed him headfirst into the wall, then pinned him to the floor.

The behavioral specialist is 6’4″, and weighs 280lbs, while the student is 5’8″ and weighs 162lbs.

The student suffered scratches and bruises to his upper torso.

The teacher was arrested for falsifying information during the investigation.

Everyone is presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law.

A person taken away from a school in an ambulance

Analysis of School Employee Attacks

Schools hire employees to care for students.  In doing so, they should do their due diligence to screen potential employees to try to find signs that such behavior has occurred in their past.  Past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior.  Yet despite background checks and interviews, sometimes schools hire people who are not suitable for working with children, especially children with special needs.  This can lead to incidents such as this.

When such an incident occurs, it is in the school’s best interest to be open and cooperate with law enforcement or child protective services investigations. The teacher alluded to interviewers that she lied because because she was told by her “higher ups” to clean up the incident.  If true, then this is unfortunate and the problem runs up the chain of command.

Don’t be that kind of school.

Meet Mackenzie – Special Needs & Bullying Mini doc


For more information on Mackenzie, visit http://mackenziescure.wix.com/mtmk

For more information on planning for special needs during a school emergency, visit our SafeTopics – Special Needs Planning page