Students with “Emotional Disturbances” Face High Rate of Suspensions

Connecticut Public Radio
May 19, 2019

It’s still hard for Keyanna Tucker to talk about what happened to her when she was six.

“I was molested,” Tucker said. “I didn’t know how to cope with it … I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew it wasn’t right. So I started becoming a bully.”

Tucker, who is now 22, recalled other problems. Her father was incarcerated, which was another layer of stress. And as time went on, her behavior slowly got worse.

Eventually, school officials at Simpson-Waverly School, a pre-K-to-grade-eight school in Hartford, told her she had an “emotional disturbance,” a federal special education classification for students with mental health and behavior problems. And the disturbance she lived with led to problems in the classroom. . . 

Some districts work with a board-certified behavior analyst to develop this plan and individualize it to each student.

Except that doesn’t always happen, said Kathryn Meyer, a lawyer with the Center for Children’s Advocacy. “A child who is classified as having an emotional disturbance is a client that we see very frequently, whose needs are not being met,” Meyer said.

The school is a community,” Meyer said. “When one member of your class is not successful, it impacts the whole class.” Meyer said students with an emotional disturbance students often present very challenging behavior, like classroom outbursts or other aggressive actions that can disrupt the class and pose dangers to other students and staff members.

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