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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

CNP News San Antonio runs Judge Walker's column, 8-3

Students In the Courtroom
Addressing Special Needs Students in Court
Judge Steve Walker - Peace Justice Pct. 2
San Antonio Bureau

By law, special needs students fall under different guidelines than regular students in the classroom when it comes to citations for disorderly conduct, inappropriate language or disruption of class.

According to the federal guidelines for special needs students, they should not be sent to Justice Court for example, for violations of cussing or inappropriate language if they suffer from Turrets, a disability that expresses itself in uncontrollable verbal outbursts of profanity.

When a student has been tested and diagnosed with a disability, be it learning, physical or mental impairment, it is the school's responsibility to offer an alternative curriculum or classroom setting to allow the student to function, however limited.

Tools used in the special education program include an Individual Education Program (IEP) Behavioral Management System and the Admission, Review & Dismissal (ARD) meeting which is normally attended by the student, parents, advocates, teachers and any specialist deemed appropriate to participate.

It is during those called meeting that the welfare of the student is discussed and an IEP is introduced and tailored to fit the student's needs to allow that student to be successful in completing their studies as modified by the program.

Examples of an IEP may include but not limited to: abbreviated tests, allowing students to answer questions verbally rather than written, additional time to complete their assignments, more one on one interaction with the teacher, and more focus on life skills than academic skills.

The behavioral management portion of the ARD identifies specific behaviors that the student must maintain and adhere to in a controlled environment based solely on their diagnosed disability. While many special needs students are able to function in self contained units rather than mainstreamed into regular classes, the goal is always to build a structure for the student to allow the special needs students to work within, and through time, transition into the mainstream classroom.

Since special needs disabilities vary widely in nature from student to student each case must be based on its own merits. In turn, logic says that disabled students cannot be judged in a court of law the same as regular students without disabilities. This is not free pass for unacceptable behavior by the disabled student, but the law. As a retired Special Education teacher, I remind schools that they need to follow the law on this issue and not let the disabled students fall through the cracks unnecessarily. For special needs students, the remedy lies at the schools, not the courtroom.

Lastly as always, if you are due in court, be sure to show up to court on time. It is in everyone's best interest.

Justice of the Peace, Pct. 2 Steve Walker is a Vietnam Veteran and a former Journalist.

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