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Get This Child Out of My Room

Carl’s behavior had changed after his parents’ bitter divorce three months ago-- from self abuse to aggression towards his new classroom teacher, Mrs. Nancy Taylor. Susan, just out of college and in her first job as a special education teacher, is finding it difficult to adjust to the demands of a rural school cooperative system where resources and services are shared and supervision is minimal.

 

Susan Green had been hired right out of college as a special education teacher by the Skyler K through 12 Comprehensive School. Skyler was in the Fulton School District, one of 16 school districts covering a rural area--800 miles of pine trees, mountain vistas, family farms, small ski resorts, and granite mining. The 16 school districts formed a cooperative that shared resource services such as psychologists, nurses, and social workers. Susan lived in Monroe, the closest town to Skyler. Compared to Skyler's 250 residents, Monroe seemed a metropolis with a population of 5,000. In good weather it took Susan about an hour to drive the 30 miles to school.

Out of necessity, the Fulton School District had a creative administrative hierarchy designed to enable this struggling rural area to conserve money while also providing services to small schools. The district had one superintendent, who spent one day each week in the schools in each small township. Each set of schools (high school, middle school and elementary) also had a teacher who was designated as the assistant superintendent. This teacher carried a full teaching load in addition to handling day-to-day paperwork and minor problems.  They also kept the superintendent informed about major issues or concerns of the faculty or parents.

The school year started off well and Susan was easing into her new position. She had been hired to replace Mrs. Lewis, who had been the special education teacher at Skyler for the past 25 years. Mrs. Lewis had become a real institution at the school and Susan was trying very hard to fill her shoes.

During the 6th week of school, Susan encountered the first big challenge of her teaching career. After school that Monday afternoon, Susan looked up from her desk and saw Nancy Taylor standing there. Nancy was the 3rd grade teacher at Skyler. She had been teaching for about ten years and was perceived by the faculty to be a good teacher. Susan had met Nancy during the second week of school before an IEP meeting for Carl Hughes, one of Nancy’s students who was identified as behavior disordered. At that time, Nancy had suggested to Susan that she should follow the simple IEP style that Mrs. Lewis had used to create a behavior management plan for Carl. Carl was self-abusive and he had been placed on a consequence and reward program that was working--for the most part.

"Hi, Mrs. Taylor. Can I help you? " Susan smiled as she invited Nancy into the room.

"You have to do something with Carl. His behavior is totally inappropriate. He is escalating out of control. Today, he deliberately sharpened a pencil and threw it directly at my head. He's too big for me to restrain and I'm really concerned about the other children in the room. The behavior management system doesn't seem to be working. He doesn't care if he loses all his privileges or not. You have got to take him out of my class," Nancy stated.

"So, his behavior has changed from being self-abusive to being physically threatening to teachers and classmates?" questioned Susan, trying to figure out what was happening to Carl.

"Well, he has directed his anger only towards me so far, but I am afraid," responded Nancy.

"Carl has been diagnosed as having a behavior disorder and we can't change any part of his educational goals and objectives without another IEP meeting with the parents," said Susan. "I don't know if it's appropriate for him to stay in the resource room all day. The resource room was designed as a pull-out program with different students scheduled for classes throughout the day."

"Well, you better come up with some course of action. He was throwing rocks from the bus at the teachers as they were leaving today. Someone is going to get hurt. Besides, his mom said at the last IEP meeting that we could do anything at all with him.  She doesn't care. She said she can't do much with him herself. If we need to have the parents come in, can you hurry up and set up a meeting?" requested Nancy.

Susan wanted a more collaborative relationship with Nancy and thought they could work together to resolve the situation with Carl. She asked Nancy to meet her the following afternoon after school to develop a plan.

"Talking and planning is not going to do any good," responded Nancy. "Carl needs to be taken out of my room!"

Recognizing the frustration in Nancy’s voice Susan felt she had to do something quickly. Although she felt Carl’s behavior could be managed within the general education classroom, she knew it would be difficult to convince Nancy. She told Nancy that she would work on the problem and get back to her soon.

As Nancy left the room she again pleaded, "Hurry!"

Susan decided to call Mrs. Wills, the district coordinator of special education. After Susan told her about the situation with Carl, Mrs. Wills advised her to come up with an intervention system to remove Carl from Mrs. Taylor's class whenever he got out of control. She suggested Susan find a male teacher or administrator to accompany her because Carl was large for his age and might need to be physically restrained.

Susan began working immediately on developing a framework for an intervention plan. She then arranged a meeting with the superintendent during her planning period the following morning. During the meeting she was able to get the superintendent to approve the new intervention plan, which was designed to change Carl's focus by removing him from the classroom environment whenever he became aggressive. The superintendent told Susan to schedule a new IEP meeting to obtain parental approval for the revised program. Susan immediately began trying to reach Mr. and Mrs. Hughes. She left several messages over the next two days and eagerly awaited their response. Her work ended every day that week with Mrs. Taylor appearing at her door to list Carl’s latesttransgressions. The list usually included such things as slamming books down on desks, throwing objects across the room, and yelling at the other students to stop looking at him.

On Thursday, Susan told Mrs. Taylor that Mr. and Mrs. Hughes had finally returned her phone messages.  They would be at school the following day for an IEP meeting. The superintendent couldn't be there, but the assistant superintendent would attend in his place.

According to the anecdotal records in Carl’s file, Mr. and Mrs. Hughes had divorced three months earlier. The parents had been awarded joint custody of their three children. Carl's older brother and sister were both in junior high and were receiving services for emotional problems. The records indicated that divorce proceedings had been very heated, and Mr. and Mrs. Hughes’s arguments had required police intervention more than once. The parents had obtained separate domiciles, with Mrs. Hughes retaining most of the child-rearing responsibilities. She had sought employment outside of the home in order to maintain the family.

On Friday, as the meeting began, Mrs. Taylor took the initiative to speak first to Mr. and Mrs. Hughes.

"Your son is such a cute little boy, but I'm concerned that, with so many children in my class, I can't give him all the attention he needs to reach his intellectual potential. I really want him to be placed in the right educational environment."

Mrs. Hughes acted as though no one else was in the room and nothing had been said. She turned to her former husband and in a very bitter tone muttered, "I hope you are satisfied! If you hadn’t left us I wouldn’t have to work 50 hours a week just to put food in the kids’ mouths. How can I control him when I’m at work all the time? Besides that, when was the last time you took him for a day?"

Then, as though she finally remembered that others were present, Mrs. Hughes quickly apologized for the outburst and, with tears coming to her eyes, sat down. As she wiped her eyes, she looked at Susan and said, "I don't know what to do. Should I give him some of his brother's Ritalin? Would that help?"

"Well, Mrs. Hughes, I think you should talk to Carl’s doctor about that first," Susan responded, totally taken aback by the previous exchange. Not knowing what else to do, Susan decided to explain the new plan to remove Carl for short periods of time from the classroom whenever his behavior became hostile. She went on to explain that she would take him to the resource room and help him calm down so that he could return to Mrs. Taylor’s classroom.

"Do whatever you have to do. Give me the papers to sign, I have to get back to work," said Mr. Hughes.

Then Mrs. Hughes began to sob softly. She kept repeating that she really tried to be a good mom, but there was only so much she could do. She signed the paper and indicated that she was going home to talk to Carl.

After the meeting, Mrs. Taylor grumbled, "When Mrs. Lewis was here, she would just take problem kids out of class and put them in the detention room with a workbook." Then she left the room without so much as a glance backwards.

Susan had put a lot of thought and effort into the new intervention plan for Carl. According to the psychological profile, Carl had no problems with intellectual functioning and his emotional problems were not severe enough to warrant full-time services. Susan tried to figure out what had precipitated Carl’s new aggressive actions. She observed in Mrs. Taylor’s classroom and even talked to Carl but there did not seem to be any clear pattern. His outbursts seemed to come "out of the blue," and when asked about the reasons, Carl just shrugged his shoulders and stared at the ground. After the meeting with Carl’s parents today, Susan had a better perspective on his situation. But who would work with him? It seemed that all the adults in his life were so absorbed in their own problems, no one had time for Carl. What could she do?

 

 

Discussion/Study Questions

 

  1. List what you know/learned about each of the characters in the case.
  2. What do you think is motivating the thoughts/actions of each of the characters?
  3. What are the issues/problems in the case?

 

Additional Questions

 

1.    Based on what Susan learned about Carl’s current family situation at the meeting, do you think that his past psychological          profile is still applicable?

2.    List some possible reasons why Carl might be making physical threats against his teacher, Mrs. Taylor.

3.    Do you think that Mrs. Taylor’s concerns about Carl’s agressive behavior towards her are warranted?

4.    Do you think that Susan’s intervention plan for Carl will be effective? Why or why not?

5.    Do you think that remaining in the resource room all day with Susan might be an appropriate temporary placement for          Carl?

6.     Do you think that Mrs. Taylor’s attitude has contributed to Carl’s behavior in her classroom?

7.    What are appropriate strategies for crisis prevention/intervention that could have been used in this situation?

8.    Is it realistic to expect Susan and Mrs. Taylor to develop a collaborative relationship regarding Carl? If yes, list some           strategies Susan can use to develop this relationship. If no, what would be the best solution for Carl and all concerned?                            

CEC Competency/Knowledge Areas Addressed in the Case

Major Areas:

Teacher attitudes and behaviors that positively or negatively influence student behavior.

Other Areas:

Strategies for crisis prevention.

Developing individual student programs working in collaboration with team members.

 

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