CA Dept. of Education


On Haitus

Behavior Archive 2009


Dru Saren, Ph.D
Behavioral and Education Specialist

I have taught pre-school through graduate school; general and special education; in public, private and psychiatric hospital schools; in New York City, New Mexico, and California. I received my doctorate in education, with a specialization in working with students with behavioral and emotional disorders, from the University of New Mexico in 1986.

Much of my success and failure in implementing behavior strategies, as well as maintaining some sense of humor about it all, can be credited to a 27-year post graduate course offered by my daughter, who has Down Syndrome, and her younger brother and sister, who have substituted when things were going too smoothly.

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  • Is moving students across town from one campus to another acceptable?


Hi Dr. Saren,

I am trying to get my arms around an issue in my school district.  My district has 2 high schools; one high school is the "home" of the district's BD/ED program. If a student across town is displaying behavior that is impeding their and their peers’ education they are then placed on the campus of the other school and placed in the BD/ED program.  There is nothing different from one high school to the other except there are more staff dedicated to the BD/ED program.  I have a couple of questions:

1. Is moving students across town from one campus to another acceptable?

2. Is there any legal implication with not providing the appropriate services on the home campus of a student?  The only reason for the "breaking out" of services is to save money.  Is this reasonable?




Hi Ron,

Thanks for your question. I sense that you feel that students with emotional disturbance might have face exacerbation of their condition if they must move to another school, particularly in high school years when peers are everything. The general answer to your question, though, is that students who qualify for special education must be offered placements where their needs, as determined by their IEPs can be met. The IEP goals determine the setting. There is nothing to say that the setting must be ideal for the particular student, just that it provides the special supports and services the student requires.

In answer to your first question, it’s hard to say what “acceptable” means but legally, yes it is. The standard that is always referred to is whether the student was afforded a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive setting. I assume that the legal procedures for a change in placement that resulted in this student moving to a special program in another school were followed. Here is where the student would be protected from an unacceptable change in placement.

To answer your second question, building a case for a student failing to make progress, when provided the supports and services called for by his or her IEP, solely because he or she was not attending the school of residence would be very unlikely. As far as “reasonable”, in the current fiscal crisis we face here in CA, with class size being increased, staff being laid off, and other serious cuts in education, saving money is reasonable. The cost of creating two placements with identical characteristics so that students could stay at their home school is not reasonable.

I’m sure you have the best interest of the student at heart. Sometimes, the needs of the individual are subsumed for the greater good of the many; this is one such case.


Dru Saren

  • There is much confusion over what is legally required in various behavioral situations.


Dear Readers of Ask a Behavior Specialist:

It seems to me from questions I get at schools that there is much confusion over what is legally required in various behavioral situations. Below is a question received by Diana Browning Wright in her capacity as Director of PENT (The Positive Environments, Network of Trainers is a California Positive Behavior Initiative designed to provide information and resources for educators striving to achieve high educational outcomes through the use of proactive positive strategies. Evidence-based positive practices and helpful information is disseminated statewide through this website,, in which Diana explains why she doesn’t think a PBIP would be required in the case presented.

PENT Supporter message:

“We have a due process filing in which the student’s attorney claims her two incidents of fighting (one, drunk at an evening football game, one where she jumped out of a car and attacked another kid after school) constitute serious behavior under the Hughes bill.  I am taking the tack that they don’t, that these incidents coupled with two office referrals over two years for defiance do not constitute serious behavior as intended under this law, and thus a BSP based on an FBA is adequate.  What’s your take on this question?  The kid is in a rehab facility in another state for substance abuse and in special ed under SLI and SLD.


Dear PENT Supporter:

Thanks for contacting me! My take on this situation (A BEHAVIORAL AUTOPSY) is as follows.

Background facts other readers may wish to recall:

  • Fact: She had two incidents that may constitute “assault.” Each episode should have triggered “emergency intervention reports” if she needed to be contained/restrained at the time. An IEP meeting would then procedurally need to have been scheduled to evaluate whether an FAA was required. I am unclear from your message if she had been contained for an emergency or not, or if the IEP team was convened if this occurred.

  • Fact: Regardless of the “emergency,”  occurring or not occurring,  if she now received a suspension beyond 10 days in this process, or if an INVOLUNTARY placement change, such as an expulsion or mandatory removal, a manifestation determination meeting would need to have occurred. Each incident resulting in cumulative suspension beyond 10 days needs to have been evaluated separately.  The two prong test to examine manifestation would occur.  (1. IEP in relating to behavior was NOT being implemented correctly and 2. There WAS a relation of her SLI and SLD to the behavior.) An FBA would then be done if the conclusion was that either prong was present. There is a form for FBA in disciplinary contexts. 

  • Fact: California mandates FBA under the circumstances above, but the team can choose to do an FBA any time they wish as an IEP team function.

  • Fact: Under general IEP law, special factors considerations, we are required to discuss whether “behavior impedes learning” of the student or peers. If the answer is yes, then positive behavioral interventions, strategies and supports need to be developed. Many call this the “BSP” portion of an IEP.

Speculation: Diana’s thoughts:

Regardless of whether all of the above requirements have been met, I think your reasoning about BSP/FBA is sound for the following reasons:

  • We are required to conduct an FAA not just for serious behavior. Keep that in mind. It has to be serious behavior for which lesser interventions specified in the IEP (e.g., a BSP) has not been effective. If you have just developed the BSP, following the second behavioral episode which might be called an “assault,” developing a BSP would be a sound first step. The two referrals for defiance would not have generated a BSP in most cases, but rather other simple disciplinary or counseling mediations appropriate for all students, with and without IEPs, under the circumstances. The first episode of “assault” may or may not have required a behavior plan, depending on your analysis of the facts surrounding the behavior, your assessment of the likelihood of a repeat, etc., of which I do not have details. 

  • Be aware that California has had hearings on when a PBIP is required for serious behavior. Within the last year, there was a student with a BSP for self injurious behavior who was responding well to the interventions. Imagine that! Implementation with fidelity, sound progress monitoring! No further FAA or PBIP was deemed necessary, though the SIB was not entirely reduced yet, just greatly, greatly reduced. It isn’t the serious behavior that triggers the intensive assessment; it is the documented failure to respond to earlier interventions. 

  • The most critical element in this case is what happens to her behavior now that a behavior plan has been developed, not to mention the substance abuse services. Be sure to get very regular reports from the facility and prepare the transition back to your district so that seamless behavior supports are provided.

  • When she returns, consider:
    • Check in/check out procedures with a mentor at the school to assess her state before and after classes.
    • Self management strategies. Ask the mentor to give her the self-management report form on anger management (or whatever behavior you are monitoring) for her to monitor her progress throughout the day.
    • Developing school/home notes to communicate her response to interventions and to allow the family to report her progress at home. In other words, use two-way reporting.
    • Involving the student herself in the plan development and supervision.
    • Coordination with any local after-care providers following her return.

For those of you responsible for making calls like this, I hope this is helpful. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.


  • Why are some schools only using full inclusion with ED students?


Why are some schools only using full inclusion with ED students?

Hello,  I found your website in doing some research on a situation at our school.
I am a parent who is not familiar with IEP programs but in the past month have learned a lot!!!  Our school district has had an outbreak of violent acts this school year and we (group of concerned parents) are figuring out that the perpetrators have ALL been IEP students.  These students for years have been reeking havoc in our schools.  A large group of parents have formed to tell the school we are highly concerned for the safety of our children and want a policy change to make ALL student subject to expulsion or alternative placement. 

I've been doing my research on this topic and frankly am shocked at how well protected these students are.  I have great concern for how the schools are placing a false illusional ball of protection around them and then shuffling them off to the real world.  Their punishment never fits their crime and now we all know that their leash of tolerance is much (much) longer than my kid's leash.  When we talk to school personnel we get a lot of Spec Ed speak.  So I've done my research on the IEP, FMA, BIP, LRE, etc.  I FULLY understand the privacy laws too! I've been told them by the Principal, Super, and BOE. 

My kids don't have an Advocacy Team working for them though.  They have to tolerate an Aide in the classroom with a disruptive student.  They have to tolerate hearing about another bomb threat.  They have to evacuate their classroom multiple times in a year because of ED students.  Just this year, a student tried to poison a girl by bringing a pill to school to put into her water bottle; a student repeatedly runs away from school and has to be tracked down by the janitor; a student set fire to his locker; a student stabbed another student in the leg with a pencil; and a girl beat up another girl and caused thousands of dollars worth of dental work. 

Are we parents of well behaved children at the mercy of the IEP Director who insists on full inclusion and will not use alternative placements as a means of disciplining these behaviorally disturbed students?  How can we penetrate the ball of protection and get through the privacy rights of the IEP students to talk to the school about this situation?  They keep telling us 'it's none of your business'.  I'd like to meet with the district IEP Director to talk about how the years of full inclusion have shown it's not working.  The same kids who have been suspended multiple times and have had Aides are still causing major problems as high schoolers.

Please advise!  Who do I talk to and what can I say in these meetings?

Thank you so dearly,

Karen Cavendish


Dear Ms. Cavendish,

Thank you so much for your heart felt question. Your frustration sounds warranted. The situation is much like many issues in government: how to protect the rights of a minority while not impinging upon the rights of the majority. In this case, it’s trying to balance the needs of exceptional children with those of typically developing children.

There are many sticky issues involved that you have ably listed: the law protecting students with IEPs; privacy issues; least restrictive environment. A particularly ironic piece for students who are emotionally disturbed is the Manifestation Determination. The law requires that the student’s IEP team determine whether having his or her disability affected his or her ability to follow school rules. It is rare not to find the misbehavior of a student who has an Emotionally Disturbed handicapping condition as a manifestation of the disability.

In my years of experience, I have encountered school administrators who flagrantly disregard the rights of students with disabilities, and, on the other extreme, administrators who will go to great lengths to avoid actions which they fear might subject them and their district to law suits, even if their actions are within the law. Your district seems to fall into the latter category.

As thorny as Special Education law is, it truly does have procedures to protect the rights of all students to a safe and supportive learning environment. Students with IEPs can be expelled for dangerous behavior as well has placed in more restrictive environments.

Rather than delineate the laws that apply to the circumstances you mention, I’d like to address your last question: what should you do at these meetings? First of all, never underestimate the political clout of the Parent Association. If your fellow PTA members agree with you, ask the district to provide parents with a training on Special Education law, particularly as it relates to behavior issues. Request that the trainer be the district’s lawyer, or someone else conversant with this specific area. If this request is refused, bring the matter to the School Board. Also, find out the school procedures for when a student is hurt by another student. Are the police called?

My professional life has focused on students with behavioral and emotional disabilities. Often, I see them as underserved or poorly served. I don’t want them to be the subject of vigilante groups but is doesn’t sound to me that your desires are unreasonable. I think they deserve protection, but as you point out, it makes no sense not to prepare them for real world consequences.

I wish you the best in trying to adjust the fulcrum to the center, and I am sure that your own children are fortunate in having your passionate advocacy and support.


  • Is there a free behavior assessment tool I can download from your site to gather data?


Is there a free behavior assessment tool I can download from your site to gather data?




Your links are below, but let me first use your question to make a commercial about the importance of data keeping.

Data keeping:

  • Gives you information on the behavior that you might have missed (e.g., “Oh, this behavior happens most often when Horace is making a transition from a preferred to an unpreferred task!”)
  • Prevents this: You: “I think he’s calling out less. What do you think?” Your aide: “Yeah, it’s a little better.”
  • Can be attached to the IEP and BSP to document progress or to indi cate that the intervention wasn’t working and that the team then revised it.
  • Means you are using evidence-based methodology to provide the required supports and services for your student.

Go to (if this link doesn't work, go to and look for the Behavior Support Manual, Section 3)

See Section 3 for a discussion on observation, and all the forms a body could want!

Happy watchin'!


  • Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.


Dear Dr. Saren,

Clemson University and Hazelden Publishing have partnered together to create a new site –, which was designed around the award-winning Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. With Clemson's permission, we are in the process of requesting the links that currently point to Clemson now be directed to the site, and would very much appreciate you making the change to your site:

The new Olweus website listed below contains much more comprehensive information both on the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, and on bullying prevention in general.  We feel this site will provide your site visitors with a wealth of knowledge.

Pamela Foster, Content Development Editor: Violence Prevention
Hazelden Publishing
PO Box 176 Center City, MN  55012
Direct: 651.213.4814


Dear Pamela,

I am so glad you brought this to my attention so that I can let my readers know where to locate your valuable website. I am also going to take the opportunity to reiterate the importance of responding to bullying in schools, in our county and worldwide.

Making schools safe for all has two distinct parts:

  1. Instituting school and district wide programs that teach acceptance and tolerance and reject victimization and bullying
  2. Once a threat of any sort is made, having a procedure in place, involving a team, to assess, refer, monitor, and support the student involved

Effective programs share the characteristics of being school wide, having rules against bullying known to all and consistently reinforced, and the development of a school climate that is warm, accepting of differences and has much adult involvement

Proper monitoring of students’ behavior, their mental health status, and looking for bullying and victims at the school, in other words, a proactive stance, may prevent future horrible scenarios like the recent shooting where a seventeen year old killed fifteen people at a high school in Germany.

There are many excellent resources to use in staff development, such as the Olweus website cited above

I have updated all the resources since my 2007 column:

The Schwab site in now at:

For younger students, a nice updated web site is: Many of the students who later erupt into violence first experienced victimization in elementary school.

Since 2007, cyber bullying has spread to epidemic proportions and has caused deep hurt to many. It contributed to the suicide of the thirteen year old girl. A school that has a good anti-bullying program can influence the out of school environment by providing shared values that make victimization understood for what it is. School staff need to increase their awareness of what is happening on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. See Olweus also offers a free webcast on preventing cyber bullying.

Also, create awareness of the vulnerability of students who are or are perceived to be gay or lesbian. Gay/ lesbian/ bisexual/ transgender (GBLT) teens have to deal with harassment, threats, and violence directed at them on a daily basis. They hear anti-gay slurs 26 times a day or once every 14 minutes. Even more troubling, a study found that thirty-one percent of gay youth had been threatened or injured at school

Early Warning, Timely Response: A Guide to Safe Schools  from OSER offers research-based practices designed to assist school communities in identifying warning signs early and developing prevention, intervention and crisis response plans. It can be found

Once a threat has been made, there are resources now available for administrators. A key website helpful to schools, from the Virginia Youth Violence Project, is , a manual for how to respond. Also see: for threat assessment procedures.

Thank you, Pamela, for encouraging me to let readers of Ask a Specialist Behavior know of the updated Olweus website and for reminding me of the critical importance of this issue.


  • 14 yrs old, Agenisis of the Corpus Collosum, nonverbal, 200+ lbs.


Dr. Saren,

I have been working with students with Multiple Disabilities for the past 9 years.  I have recently changed school districts and am stumped with the behavior of a student.

The behavior that we are having is that the female student (14 yrs old, Agenisis of the Corpus Collosum, nonverbal, 200+ lbs.) is running into the bathroom to escape activities getting undressed and staying in the restroom for extended periods of time.  While naked in the restroom she goes from extreme anger (screaming, climbing on the sink, scratching at her breasts to the point of bleeding) to extreme euphoria (laughing, happy sounds and rubbing her genitalia).  She is using a communication device to state that she is ready for "help" getting dressed yet when we enter the restroom, she shoves us out the door and goes into her "rage" again. 

I understand that a functional and appropriate behavior needs to be introduced in order to stop her current behavior, yet I am not quite sure what that is.  Any thoughts?


Erin Curtis


Dear Erin,

I am impressed by the severity of behavior in students that educators try to address. You sound like someone well grounded in behavior theory and practice in an untenable situation.

Using the RtI model for behavior, I suspect you are seeing this girl as a Level III. Leaders in the field of behavior are suggesting that we consider adding a Level IV. Students in this level exhibit behavior that does not respond to even the more intensive interventions on Level III.

From reading your description of the student, I would posit that she requires the services of professionals who have the training and experience in working with people who are multiply handicapped, self abusive, and assaultive, and people with dual diagnoses (mental retardation and mental illness) . This team, in addition to the usual special educators, would include:

  • A behavior analyst
  • A psychiatrist
  • A mental health professional

There are students for whom a regular school campus is not sufficient to meet their needs. Consideration of the least restrictive environment does not preclude segregated sites where these types of services are available.

Of course, you don’t just leap to this kind of setting without going through all the usual steps: a behavior support plan, if that doesn’t work, a functional analysis with a positive behavior intervention plan, keeping data and making changes to increase the probability of success.

In short, this student sounds like one who requires the level of services and the types of professionals not available on a school campus. She is a danger to herself and others.

Special educators often feel that it is their responsibility to serve all qualifying students but there are times when their best efforts cannot be enough. I have seen a student who had two actual bona fide body guards and a one to one aide because of the degree of his self injurious and assaultive behavior. He did not belong on a high school campus!

Feel free to speak up and acknowledge the limitations of a school setting to meet the needs of a student when the team has given its best efforts and they are not sufficient! You may have to be the canary in the coal mine.

Best of luck.


  • Is it legal to have a teacher teach a student with severe disabilities to masterbate?


Is it legal to have a education to teach a student with severe disabilities to masterbate?  Worried if the Teacher is in the wrong. 

Thank you,



Dear Rick,

A very interesting question! I agree with your concern that the teacher is plunging into some very dangerous waters. He or she is, at the very least, showing poor judgment. If the IEP team approved this goal, the members are misunderstanding behavior support.

I am assuming that the student you are talking about is mentally retarded and adolescent and that people feel that the function of his (or her, but let’s say it’s a male for the sake of clearer writing) behavior is sexual satisfaction. The team has decided that if this student knew how to masturbate, he would take care of this need and be available for other activities. And most likely, what he is doing instead is not acceptable.

Usually when a behavior support plan is developed, we look at the function of the behavior and try to replace the problem behavior with one that is more acceptable. The function of that behavior seems to meet a sexual need.

However, sexual behavior is never appropriate at school and never appropriate between teacher and student. This is true whether the student is handicapped or not and whether the student and teacher are the same sex or opposite sexes.

Since a replacement behavior cannot be considered, the behavior needs to be eliminated from this setting. I’m assuming that the student is doing some inappropriate touching of either himself or others.

Environmental change:

  • The classroom should be a “No Touch” zone. Teachers should not hug other students. Teach students to ask each other for a non-sexual touch (not hugging) such as knuckle knocks or high fives and teach them to say and honor “No”.

New Skill:

  • Teach the student to understand rule cards that say “Hands Down” and “Step Back”. Accompany the words with pictures and hand and feet movements. Review daily.

Reactive Strategies (what to do if he touches):

  • Staff carries Rule Cards and uses them to prompt him if he begins to touch, using a neutral voice that sounds like you expect him to comply.
  • Praise enthusiastically, “You put your hands down. GREAT!”; be specific and don’t say “Good boy (or girl).” (“Great woman” or “Perfect young lady”).
  • If he doesn’t comply, go back to step 1 and use a sterner voice, making sure you have eye contact, but just say it once.
  • If he still touches, wait a few moments and then have him sit down (not with the person he touched) and review the cards again.
  • If he touches more than two or three times, review the plan and try changes to make it more successful. Look at the time and place it occurs and see if more interesting activities or less unstructured time could prevent the behavior.

What ever happened to common sense, Rick? You seem to have it. Speak up. The emperor has no clothes!!

Good luck!


  • Behavior problems at school.



I am writing because my son is having behavior problems in his kindergarten class. The truth they are very normal behavior problems from a 5 year old. Today, I was called by the principal because my son had spit another boy in the face. Well I spoke to him and told him not to do that and so on! He said that the other boy had hit him and so he was called in the office and was asked if that was true. Of course, he said NO! The classroom environment is lots of seatwork and children are bored and not learning in a playful way! Could this be the problem or does my son have an internal aggressiveness and needs to be evaluated! He comes home with his behavior log always in blue or yellow. He does not follow instructions, does not control talking and rummages other kids backpacks while walking down the hall. At home is just normal and sits down and studies with me, my husband or his sister. He does no everything, but at school he is a total different child!

Please advice me and write back soon!

Thank you very much!

Leslie Herrera


Dear Leslie,

Many thanks for your question. Here is the short answer for your question (could the boring classroom be the problem or does my son have a lot of aggression and need professional help):

I’m sure you know that I can’t tell what is really going on without seeing it for myself. However, spitting in a peer’s face is not something that is typical of a kindergartener. While it is less aggressive on the surface than hitting another, spitting on someone in our culture is seen as more disrespectful.

In any case, some of his school behaviors are different or severe enough to have called attention to the teacher and the principal while he is still in kindergarten. As a loving parent, this is your warning that your son needs more help than his peers in learning acceptable school behavior, and you must act. At this time, the best course of action is to set up an alliance with school staff to provide positive behavioral supports to get your son on track.

Now here’s the long answer:

The problem may not be either/or. That is, the curriculum in your son’s classroom may be unmotivating AND you son’s ability to comply with the behavioral expectations at school is not up to par with his peers.

Kindergarten curriculum has gotten more demanding, and you will not be able to change that. Some teachers can make work more motivating and you are not likely to be able to select your son’s teachers. Where you can be effective is in participating with his school staff to improve his school behavior. Starting now, while he is still in kindergarten, you have a greater likelihood of success than if he were older.

What can you do?

  1. Make an appointment for you and your husband to see his teacher. Make sure it is at a time when she can give you at least 45 minutes. The outcome that your desire of this meeting is that you and the teacher will feel like you are a team.
  2. Try your very best to leave your naturally protective attitude at the door and come in with an open mind and open heart. Tell yourself and your husband to believe that the teacher is trying to do the very best she can for all the students in her class including your son.
  3. Attempt to establish a collaborative relationship with the teacher. Acknowledge that your son is having some difficulties following rules in school and you want to work together to help him get on track. 
  4. Ask her to prioritize the behaviors that are most troublesome.
    1. If the worst is one that can lead to suspension, and spitting in another student’s face is liable to qualify, plan an attack on this behavior first.
    2. On the other hand, if he is rarely or mildly aggressive, you might decide (together, you are a team!) to focus on a minor behavioral infraction, like talking too much.
  5. You may or may not decide to write a behavior plan. (A written plan is usually best but you may not want to make things so formal at this point.) No matter what behavior you decide to focus on, you will want to do this:
    1. Define the behavior with clarity and specificity. For example, if the behavior is “does not control talking” you will want to know what that looks like.
      1. Is it talking to other students?
      2. Is it the time he chooses to talk that makes in inappropriate, or
      3. Is it that he talks too much when he is called on?
    2. Then you will want to know when this happens.
      1. Is it when the students are supposed to be doing work independently?
      2. Is it when they are supposed to be listening to a lesson?
      3. Is it when the lunchroom staff asks for quiet before letting the children leave for the play yard?
    3. Next, from knowing your son as you and the teacher do, guess why he does this.
      1. Does he want attention?
      2. Is he trying to avoid seat work? If so, is the work too hard? Too easy?
    4. Now, how could the environment be changed to diminish his need to talk? Let’s say he talks when there is seat work because he doesn’t like paper and pencil tasks. Ask the teacher for ways she might modify the assignment so that he does not perceive it as overwhelming. For example, fold the paper in half for right now.
    5. Then figure out what new skills your son needs to develop around this problem behavior. For example, he could learn to advocate for himself by saying, “Ms. Green, this assignment is long for me. Can I ask a friend to help me?”
    6. (Almost at the end!) What would reinforce your son for talking less? Because he is very young, the reinforcement has to happen pretty soon. He could stamp a paper after 15 minutes of quiet during a time that he usually was talkative, and take this paper home to you. He could earn some privilege, such as being the line leader, when he has 15 minutes of quiet. Always make sure the goal is within his ability. Initially, the goal might be THREE minutes of quiet time.
    7. Finally, establish a method so that you and the teacher communicate regularly, such as daily email or a slip that your son brings home. Be sensitive to the teacher’s responsibilities by not asking for communication that is very time consuming.

Continue to provide him a warm and loving home life. When he doesn’t make his goal for the day, talk with him about it. Don’t listen to excuses or denials. Just reiterate exactly what it is that you and his teacher expect from him, and assure him that he will do better tomorrow and move on with the evening’s activities. Before he goes off to school each morning, tell him how proud you are of him, that you know he is trying hard and encourage him to make his goal.

Look upon the spitting incident as an opportunity to mold your child’s behavior before the clay hardens! It is much easier to work on problem behaviors now. The key is to avoid creating a contentious relationship with the school staff and to be proactive in participating with them in creating a positive behavior plan so that he can learn school behaviors.

Best of luck to you.