School Discipline Often Goes Unrecorded

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A series on discipline of special education students.

A series on discipline of special education students.

Although the tracking of discipline at schools has increased in recent years, many disciplinary actions are not recorded.

Joy Turner, an attorney with the Oklahoma Disability Law Center, which handles special education law, said she is concerned about the number of students sent home early from school for misbehaving.

The action isn’t marked as a suspension, which means parents cannot formally appeal to the principal or district officials. It also isn’t reported to the U.S. Department of Education, which means federal measures of school discipline are incomplete.

Districts act if they’re doing the family a favor by not reporting as discipline a student sent home early, Turner said, but they’re denying the family their due process rights.

“You can’t just call a parent to pick their kid up from school and not call it a suspension,” she said. “Technically, they can’t come back to school.”

Parents of special-education students have mixed feelings about the practice. On the one hand, they don’t want their child left in an environment experienced as traumatic. On the other hand, the school is supposed to do its job as spelled out in an individualized education plan for the student. Sending a child home can suggest the school is giving up. Some schools tell parents they can either pick up the child early or campus police officers will be summoned.

In general, missed classroom time from suspensions, expulsions and being sent home early can add up and set students back, said Lawton Public Schools Superintendent Tom Deighan.

“It hurts his or her education program,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”

In Oklahoma, special-education students receive lower scores on assessments and are less likely to graduate, according to state and federal data.

During 2013-2014, about 77 percent of Oklahoma’s special education students received a high school diploma, compared with 84 percent for other students. Among special-education students who graduate, only 15 percent go on to higher education within a year. Less than half find a job or attend college within a year.