Children in Grades K to 12
Schools should help all children–including children with mental health needs–become successful adults who can hold jobs, live independently, and be engaged in their communities. To accomplish this, schools must set ambitious academic goals for all children and provide them the support they need to succeed. In our view, such support should not require enrollment in special education.
Federal law requires that children receive mental health services when needed for school success. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that mental health services be provided to children with “emotional disturbances” when necessary for them to succeed in school. The Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT) program of Medicaid requires that Medicaid-eligible children receive mental health services, including school-based services, when needed to “ameliorate or cure” their condition. Required services include social skills training, mentoring, behavioral aides, family psychoeducation, family therapy, and, for adolescents, supported employment services. Unfortunately, many schools do not provide these services and rely solely on medications and office-based counseling, which alone are usually inadequate to meet the needs of children with significant disorders. Many schools also inappropriately rely on seclusion and restraint in the absence of adequate services. Schools have also tried zero tolerance policies and corporal punishment to improve behavior, but neither has been effective in teaching social skills and maintaining a positive school climate, and both raise significant civil rights concerns.
Like all of society, schools should be inclusive. Children with disabilities should be educated in classrooms with their non-disabled peers and they should participate fully in school life. With appropriate services and supports, virtually all children can be integrated into schools in their own communities. To be effective, schools must offer a safe environment conducive to learning. School-wide positive behavior supports (SPBS) are effective in creating such an environment. SPBS creates a climate that builds on students’ capabilities and promotes success—a climate where students are rewarded for good behaviors and are therefore more likely to stay in school, achieve academically, and graduate.