Skip to main content

See also:

Your special needs child can be arrested at school

With the rise of school resource officers (police officers) in public schools, students with disabilities such as autism can find themselves under arrest for assault should they have an outburst or meltdown.

Josh Bowman teaches Autism Speaks Surf Camp Aug. 22, 2013
Josh Bowman teaches Autism Speaks Surf Camp Aug. 22, 2013
Getty Images
Special needs kids can be arrested at school
Getty Images

The problem with arrest is that while the school may dismiss the charge, the legal system cannot.

If your child has a disability that includes the need for a behavioral plan, make sure it's in place and being followed.

Because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), there are specific rules about how much information a school can share with a school resource officer (SROs) without parental written permission. However, if a school official deems a situation as involving "serious threat to health or safety," the school can release any information without a signed release.

To avoid arrest, parents must be proactive and talk with the School Resource Officers, and even invite them to the IEP meetings when discussing Behavior Intervention Plans and goals. It's also a good idea to have the officer meet the child and develop a relationship with them so the officer sees them as a person, not a threat.

In her paper, Manifestation Destiny: the School to Prison Pipeline, Educational Attorney, Isabel Raskin writes:

"The inability of courts and administrative agencies to dismiss criminal charges brought by schools against disabled children whose needs the school has failed to adequately serve in violation of special education laws and regulations, rewards schools for ignoring or purposely disregarding children's needs and their mandate to meet those needs. Schools need to be held accountable and should not be allowed to use juvenile courts to unilaterally exclude and punish children for precisely those foreseeable behaviors caused by their own failures. Inviting courts to step in effectively provides an incentive to schools to abrogate their responsibility, criminalize disabled children, and continues to insure that disabled children will be denied the services they require to have a successful future."

Parents must be proactive and up to date on laws that govern their child's rights. The knee-jerk, nervous reactions of schools in today's climate of preventing school violence, makes it imperative to avoid damaging the futures of students with disabilities.