Your Local Indiana Attorneys

Teacher Injuries Symptom of Bigger Problem

A local investigative journalist did a story on teachers being injured by students who’ve had tantrums, outbursts or meltdowns at school. Unfortunately (but as predicted), her report prompted a lot of public comments by uninformed “keyboard commandoes” suggesting that their parents are responsible. These comments reveal a basic misconception about the reasons why some of our public education professionals are being hurt by the very children they’ve dedicated their careers to helping.

As a special education attorney who represents parents, my perspective on this topic is admittedly biased. But it is also informed. Many of my clients’ children have disabilities which can cause them to engage in undesirable behaviors at school, ranging from noncompliance, disrespect and using profanity to eloping (running away), making threats, self-harm, property damage and physical aggression.

Even when parents get their children an IEP at school and obtain professional treatment with medication, intensive therapy and counseling, they may still become combative—even violent—and damage property or injure themselves, other students, school teachers or staff.

Although I am not a mental health professional, over the past 10 years I’ve read hundreds of IEPs, thousands of pages of medical records, behavior logs and therapy notes. I’ve spoken with dozens of psychologists, physicians, therapists, counselors and teachers. In my experience, the behaviors exhibited by these children are rarely motivated by a desire to hurt someone or the result of “bad parenting.” Instead, they can usually be explained by the student’s psychological or neurological inability to control himself.

This is often lost on school administrators, who may treat these behaviors as a disciplinary matter which (in their minds) warrants disciplinary action—the old hammer-and-nail adage comes to mind. I see this in my law practice on a daily basis: my clients have been physically restrained, placed in seclusion (and kept there after the perceived threat has passed), sent home early, put in detention or sent to an “alternative school,” suspended, expelled and arrested. In almost every instance, the behavior which got them in trouble was directly related to a mental illness or developmental disability.

What they need is help—not punishment. Their teachers and classroom aides need help, too: more training, more resources, additional staff and support from their administrators. Let’s help everyone instead of blaming parents and punishing their children.

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