Exclusionary discipline in the virtual classroom

Today’s guest author is Lesley Butterfield, RN. Lesley works in the growing area of community health and serves on the Executive Committee of NAMI-Virginia. Lesley has four amazing children who are her heart and soul and they reside in the Roanoke area. Lesley is the owner of Open Doors Advocacy, which aims to empower parents in the IEP process.


My son is, Stryder, is in 5th grade. Stryder has autism, learning disabilities, auditory processing disorder, sensory processing disorder, and ADHD. This school year has been difficult for him to say the least. Stryder is in a hybrid model where he receives in-person instruction at school 4 days a week and on Wednesdays, he does virtual learning from home. The transitions are difficult for Strdyer because the expectations vary from setting to setting. Additionally, Stryder struggles with math and reading so during these subjects we tend to see increased behaviors that communicate he is challenged.

Last week, during his Wednesday virtual services, Stryder was kicked off his virtual math instruction for not putting away his worksheet and a toy after being asked by the teacher a few times to put the things away.

The principal came in the virtual meeting and threatened that if he would not listen then they would kick him off.

And they did.

For the remaining 45 minutes of the math instruction, Stryder was crying, saying he “didn’t mean to” and desperately trying to get back into his math class.

As a parent, I was immediately confused that his teacher did not communicate with me that there was even a problem at all.

This is a daily instructional service given in his IEP due to his learning disability in math. Stryder also has a behavioral plan that was not followed, but in fact, the opposite was done: his IEP services were taken away as a form of punishment.

I am still bewildered and speechless, wondering how and why any school administrator or teacher thinks it is EVER ok or acceptable to lock a student out of an online class especially when these services are allowed to my child by his rights under IDEA.

Make no mistake about it, what happened to Stryder was virtual seclusion and it should never happen to any student let alone, the most vulnerable and highest need of student populations.

I immediately followed up with an email and a phone call with the school about this incident. I will add that I do feel his case manager has been helpful. I expressed my concerns that FAPE was denied to my child and that virtual seclusion is never ok. We agreed that that the IEP team will need to look at updating his behavioral plan to include a virtual setting contingency plan. It will need to include measures for helping with virtual learning, particularly when he has behaviors related to difficult tasks.

As a parent who has extensive experience in the advocacy process, I am preparing solutions to bring to the table with the IEP team to decrease Stryder’s behaviors before they start. That is the key! I am also mentally preparing myself to move forward with resolve to keep educating others on the damaging effects of seclusion in any form.

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