Is the grouping in a special education class of disruptive children and children easily distracted, appropriate?

The appropriateness of functional grouping in special education classes is often not an easy question. This is especially true when there are disruptive students in the class.


Comments from the NEUROLOGIST, Madeleine Kitaj

An 11 year old male patient returned for a follow up visit. He is in special education and has dyslexia, processing problems and ADD. His mother told me that her son is in a class with students who apparently have serious emotional problems. His mom went to observe his class and she saw one child acting out when frustrated because he did not know an answer, another constantly
pushing the stapler down, making noise, and a third seemingly quite aggressive
towards his classmates all of which distracted her son who had attention
problems. One of the other parents told the mom that her child was classified
as a child having a “serious emotional disturbance.” The mom told me that it
was impossible for her son to learn in this environment. She said that he does
not belong in this class as he has no behavioral problems and is easily
distracted by them. She asked me if the school district was allowed to “mix and
match” this way. I asked the attorney.

Comments from the ATTORNEY, Michael Kaufman

A typical legal answer: “It depends”. The facts, as is often the
case, can push this in either direction and there is more that needs to be known.
Although the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not speak
about functional grouping for special education students, the New York State
Regulations do. The Regulations seek to group students in special education
classes “by similarity of individual needs.” More specifically, it is the similarity of the individual needs of the students according to: levels of academic or educational achievement and learning characteristics; levels of social development; levels of physical development; and the management needs of
the students in the classroom.

Based on what the mother reported what stands out is the “management needs” of some of the other children in this class. The specialized instruction necessary for the child with processing problems and dyslexia and who has attention problems is likely going to be interfered with by the management needs of some of the other children in the class. In order for this grouping to be appropriate, it must be shown that these management needs “do not consistently detract from the opportunities of other students in the group to benefit from instruction.”

While it may be possible to break the class down into different groups depending upon their academic needs that is usually not the case with respect to their management needs. The question has to be asked: What plans, and were they adequate, were in place to deal with disruptive conduct. Were they sufficient to allow the other children in the class, especially distractible ones, to receive educational benefit?

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