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Work With, Don’t Eject, Troubled Students (Opinion)

To the Editor:

Chris W. McCarty’s opinion essay, “The Troubling Legal Gap in Schools’ Ability to Prevent Mass Shootings,” (Nov. 1, 2023) misrepresents the law and would worsen public schools’ efforts to keep all students safe.

The title of the piece coupled with McCarty’s opening assertion that many principals bring him violent threats they’re not sure how to act on, and the later focus on students with individualized educational programs can leave readers with the impression that students with disabilities are a major source of violent threats. However, there are no data that substantiates this. His call to unilaterally remove students for subjectively deemed “threats” is terrible policy. Pushing out students with behavioral and mental health needs makes them more likely to commit crimes and carry weapons. Schools must address student needs in a way that protects the safety of the entire school community.

Instead of calls to push students out, there should be calls for more trained educational professionals who can provide essential, evidence-based guidance, resources, and support.

Contrary to McCarty’s assertions, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has not created a “gap” in schools’ ability to manage the discipline of children with disabilities. When a student with prior suspensions exhibits behavior that is deemed threatening, a school district has many available tools, including seeking a Honig injunction from a court to place the child in an interim alternative educational setting; seeking a placement change via the IDEA’s expedited hearing procedures; or obtaining parental agreement to a placement change.

Public schools have the legal and moral duty to provide needed behavioral support to children with disabilities before implementing disciplinary removals. Instead of creating a class of uneducated, unsupervised, and unattached youth, as McCarty’s proposal would do, we must intervene and work closely with troubled youth so they can positively contribute to the school and larger community.

Denise Marshall
Chief Executive Officer
Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates
Towson, Md.

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