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Press Release from Executive Director John M. Flanders

June 14th, 2018

Last week Governor Malloy’s vetoed PA 18-89, An Act Concerning Classroom Safety and Disruptive
Behavior. We are asking the members of the General Assembly to allow the veto to stand and to work with all
stakeholders to create a new bill that will support the admirable goal of classroom safety, but without sacrificing
the rights of children with disabilities. We believe that this bill, although clearly well intended, will deprive
students with disabilities of their right to an appropriate education; and it will exclude too many children with
disabilities from classrooms for actions related to their disabilities, actions that their education programs should
be helping them to address.

It may seem strange that an organization like CPAC that provides support for children with disabilities would
oppose a bill promoting classroom safety. It has been plainly established that students with disability are
subject to bullying and injury in school at a rate far higher than typical students. We do so reluctantly. We do
so because his bill, unfortunately, tries to achieve classroom safety, but at the expense of the protections
provided to students with disabilities under state law and the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(IDEA). Simply put, the cost PA 18-89 will exact from students with disabilities is too high to justify the possible
benefit in classroom safety.

IDEA provides controls over when a student with a disability can be removed from a classroom. It defines a
process for determining: where they should be educated, and what supports and teaching they may
require. Supports designed to enable them to learn how not to act in ways that disrupt their classes or even
potential harm their classmates or teachers.

The authors of Public Act 18-89 clearly do not seem to have understood this process, nor to have considered
how this law would conflict with the rights and responsibilities under the IDEA. It is not surprising that they
would not. Far far too often schools fail to follow the process, and students are deprived of the education they
are entitled to under law. Every year our office receives dozens of calls for parents whose children have acted
out and even caused injury because they have not yet been taught how to respond appropriately. Far too
many of these situations result in discipline and anger and not the planning and programming for the education
and support the children so clearly need. In these situations, we work hard to empower parents to persuade
their children’s schools to do the evaluations and the planning necessary to craft Individual Education Plans
that appropriately address behavior problems.

The process should even work for students who are not in special education. IDEA requires schools to take
affirmative steps to identify those children who have conditions that interfere with their educations. Clearly an
action that causes to potential for injury and requires the removal of the child from education should raise the
question of whether this child has a problem that requires support. In that case IDEA has a process for
evaluating the child and bringing together educators and the family to determine if he has such a problem, and
if so what would need to be done to address it. Teachers, administrators and others with knowledge of the
student’s education are all encouraged and required to refer a child for evaluation and planning when warning
flags like this occur.

The bottom line is that mechanisms to address the problem of students engaging in dangerous and disruptive
behavior already exist. Unfortunately, they are so often ignored by schools it is not surprising the authors of
this bill would think new methods were needed. Were the special education process used as we believe
Congress intended, bills like 18-89 would not be needed.

A further problem with PA 18-89 lies in the real danger that this law will disproportionally impact children with
disabilities, as well as students of color. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that students with disabilities and
those of color are subject to school discipline well beyond what should be expected. For those with disabilities
discipline is often applied despite the fact that the student’s condition caused the behavior and the school had
failed to provide an appropriate program to teach him appropriate understanding and control. It is even often
applied when the student has a plan to modify the behavior in question that was not being followed by the
educators. Just this week we heard from a mother whose eight-year-old child with autism was removed from
school and arrested for throwing a hula hoop at a teacher.

Although this is ostensively not a law covering discipline and punishment it does allow students to be removed
from a class by a teacher virtually without limitation, and requires a process that need not consider the
educational impact on the student to enable him or her to return, a process that clearly meets the legal
definition of suspension. History has shown us that this process is going to fall too often on students with
disabilities. Whether the removals are called suspension or any other name, a student with a disability, one
who badly needs educational support is going to be taken from the educational environment.

CPAC regrets finding itself in a position of arguing against a law that intends to promote classroom safety. Nor
do we like opposing a bill that calls for support for students and teachers. We are convinced that it is possible
to craft another law that promotes this aim without unduly impacting children with disabilities or depriving them
of their legal rights. We would have been very happy to have been invited to participate in the crafting of such
a law. We encourage the Legislature, educators and parents to approach this problem again, and use our
experience to help craft a law that will improve classroom safety and protect students with disabilities.

Sincerely,
John M. Flanders, Esq.
Executive Director