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School "refusal" and denial of FAPE


Megan Williams
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Hi! My son is Autistic (suspected ADHD and 2e) in 1st grade in the extended resource room, a placement that worked well for him in Kindergarten. After the first six weeks of school, he's started to refuse to go, usually once we've made it to the playground and are on school property. He always says school is "boring and hard" and he feels "scared" or "nervous" to go. My husband and I have tried many strategies, but most of them won’t work more than 3-4 school days. Having a para come meet him and offer that he can work on something novel or more related to his interests than circle time doesn't always work, but it has helped in the past. 

This morning, he stopped in the parking lot and refused to move or be picked up. As I often do, I messaged his teacher to see if someone could come out to help him. She told me she talked to the principal and can no longer send people out to help us — parents need to bring students in the building. Additionally, she noted that my son seemed to calm down quickly when we physically forced him into the building, as though repeatedly violating his bodily autonomy is a viable solution to his school refusal.

This sounds suspect to me. What if he were refusing to get off the school bus and we weren't there? Is arrival to school arrival to the inside of the building, even though most students' school days start on the playground? Without some assistance getting into the building, he's not able to access FAPE.

I scheduled an IEP meeting for November back when this seemed like it was only going to be a temporary issue as I’m also currently working on our first Medicaid plan, which is taking up the time I would normally spend working on his IEP. However, I’m wondering:

  1. Would it be beneficial to request his IEP meeting be moved up to address these pressing concerns? I truly believe that when he refuses it’s because he can’t go to school, not that he won’t, we just don’t know what he’s avoiding besides the “boring and hard” feeling.
  2. Is refusing to help him into the school from school property a denial of FAPE? Should I be getting an advocate or lawyer involved if this continues? We’re starting to receive letters about his absences as though we haven’t been trying everything to get him to enter the building from the playground.

Thanks in advance for any insights on this matter!

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I'm in PA and when a student is restrained at school, the school is required to write a report to the Pa Dept of Ed about the restraint.  (I know the employee who reviews these to look for patterns.)  Restraint is only supposed to be used in a school setting when a student is a threat to self or others.  Given this, I feel that physically moving him from school grounds to the school building is not something that should be done.  What PA does have is a PNSP - positive behavior support plan.  This is developed from the date gotten through an FBA - functional behavioral assessment.  Restraint tends to not be therapeutic & can cause trauma - another reason not do drag him into the building.  He will grow & get bigger so this isn't something to be done long term.

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I hit ctrl/edit to start a new paragraph and it posted my reply.  This is the rest of what I wanted to say.

What is a denial of FAPE is the school not addressing his behavior via his IEP.  The behavior is what is preventing access to an education.  He needs an FBA & a BIP or PBSP to help fix the behavior.  You can move up the IEP so you can ask for this at an IEP meeting or you can write a letter with this request where you have a paper trail.  I like paper trails.  I'm not sure your team members will be available at an earlier date.

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4 hours ago, JSD24 said:

I hit ctrl/edit to start a new paragraph and it posted my reply.  This is the rest of what I wanted to say.

You should have an edit option. If you click the 3 little dots on your response, you should see it. If you don't, please let me know as it's a setting I'd have to look into.

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School refusal is something that is really trending right now, my guess is covid had something to do with it.

While you're waiting for the meeting, I would chat with your son when you have natural opportunities--in the car, meals, etc. What does he like about school? What doesn't he like? What upsets him?

Document his responses.

I find very few teams really get at the core or root of the issue--what is so triggering for the child that they just cannot bring themselves to even enter the building? Most take a behavioral approach like "hey if you go in, you can use the ipad at the end of the day." 

It rarely works.

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