I'm sorry, Mrs. Smith, but Billy was hitting at school again. I don't want to have to do this, but it's the second time in two weeks he has hit another child. I am suspending him for three days.”

So comes the call from your child's public school principal. A feeling of bewilderment comes over you. Billy has never been suspended before! What is going on?

How will you manage with Billy home when you work full-time? Why is the school reacting this way? In your day, kids got in fights all the time and teachers never intervened. No one was ever punished.

You wish someone at the school would understand and help, rather than send him home.

Stay calm and take a deep breath. The school must deal with lots of these situations on a daily basis, so they aren't always able to find the perfect solution without some gentle (or not so gentle) nudging by a parent. You are your child's best advocate and he needs you now.

Billy is one of many children crying out for help. A child may be experiencing trouble with adapting to a new school, bullying from students or adults, the demands of schoolwork and homework, or separation anxiety. Learning disabilities, mental health issues, and physical challenges can make learning and attending school difficult.

Unfortunately, this can result in behavior school officials may take seriously, particularly in the wake of Columbine and Newtown.

While disciplinary penalties for school infractions are supposed to be progressive, some behaviors are serious enough that schools impose out-of-school suspensions for first-time offenses which can last for weeks or even months.

Now these already-troubled students are not with their peers. They have too much time on their hands. Will they get in more trouble? You wonder: what is the point? What are we achieving? My child is basically a good kid, right?

Today's suspensions are the result of zero tolerance policies that school districts have imposed in the wake of school shootings, like Columbine.

Parents need to swing into action. Do not wait and hope things will get better. They will not. This is an attention-getting device by the school!

The best policy is to view yourself as a researcher and educator, one who wants to help the school do a better job with your child. The school may not know how to meet your child's needs. The school may not be as interested as you are in going that extra mile to help.

It has been noted by behavioral therapist Ross Greene, Ph.D., that children will always perform to the best of their ability.

If the child does not already have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 plan and related services such as counseling, resource room, or other help, he or she should be evaluated for special education by the school district.

As a parent, you must make the request for an evaluation in writing as soon as possible. Once the letter is written, a consent form will be sent for your signature. The evaluation must be done within 15 days of the date you signed the form. The committee on special education (CSE or IEP) team must meet to discuss the results within five days of the completion of the evaluation.

If it is within your budget, or if your insurance makes partial payment towards it, you can also get a private evaluation to screen for learning and emotional issues. This is known as a neuropsychological evaluation. It should be administered by a neuropsychologist or neurodevelopmental pediatrician and may include add-on tests for areas of concern, such as psychiatric, reading, etc. You can request a CSE meeting to review the results of your child's private testing, and you may be able to bypass the school's evaluation altogether.

If you ask the school to do the evaluation, you should request that it be done in all areas of suspected disability. You may indicate your areas of concern. It is better if you ask for a specific test, but that requires research on your part or an advocate to tell you which test to request.

By law, the school's evaluation should encompass several parts including a social history, a screening for psychological issues by the school psychologist and an educational evaluation (often an IQ test).

The school should conduct what is called a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) conducted by a behavioral consultant (BCBA), in order to look at issues which are triggering Billy and how to reduce those triggers. The FBA will result in something called a positive behavior plan (BIP). This should lead to better results at school.

After 60 days the CSE/IEP team must meet to discuss whether the child needs services. They must also consider the results of any private evaluation you have done.

A private evaluation is usually preferable because of the fact that you get to pick the evaluator and a report may be generated, which makes recommendations for services and placement. It also gives you leverage as part of the IEP team. Parent participation in CSE meetings is the law. Based on the current economic climate, schools will often recommend a basic, in-district placement. Having an outside expert is important as it ensures your child gets more than minimal help.

At this point, you may have an IEP and a decision as to class placement and program, as well as a positive behavioral intervention plan (BIP) resulting from the findings of the FBA. Some children will require the services of a school psychologist, social worker and/or behavioral consultant who can monitor and help the child in or out of class for awhile. The school and you will hopefully have a working relationship as to how to handle future problems.

If counseling is indicated outside of the home, this may help reduce the number of future suspensions and possibly even reduce the amount of time out of school the child is assigned. However, the school should also provide additional in-school counseling. That way, all members of the school-home “team” can work together towards an understanding of your child.

Occasionally, you may need to remind the district that this is the law and sometimes you must do more than that. If you are feeling alone, or do not understand what is happening, it is appropriate at the very least, consult an attorney to ask “what rights do we have?” and “what should we do?”

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