Students with special needs and disabilities face alarming challenges amidst the COVID crisis and school closures. Without reliable in-person professional support for these students, and because virtual teaching and related services largely have not been designed with special education in mind, these students, and their families, are facing unprecedented significant challenges and risks.
Parents need to assess the emotional and academic harms caused by distance learning and work with their IEP team to create a remedy to protect their child from further regression and mental health decline.
If we lose our kids, we lose the country.
Suicide rates have increased by 50% for students in special education. So, why isn’t the news talking about the decline of our children’s mental health and the dramatic increase in student suicide rates?
National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) states, “Funding was cut by $20 million in the Fiscal Year 2012 budget and has not been reinstated. Restoring this funding would help Education respond to the specific and substantial challenges for special education through the COVID crisis and its fallout—and will help improve support and opportunities for students with disabilities well into the future as education increasingly uses digital technology.”
The new Relief Bill framework includes $82 billion for education, but will districts actually use these funds to improve distance learning? They’ve already received billions back in March of 2020 and our kids continue to decline both emotionally and academically. We’ve been in distance learning for 10 months now, yet school districts continue to fail to meet the needs of students on an IEP.
Here are the “red flags” to look for regarding your child’s mental health:
- Loses control when angry
- Threatens to hurt others
- Says, “I hate myself.”
- Says, “I want to die” or “I wish I were dead.”
- Says, “I want to kill myself.”
- Self-injurious behavior
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of interest in things they once enjoyed
Parents and school districts must work together to address these red flags before a child develops suicidal ideology. Districts are obligated to take action by implementing the Mental Health and Behavior provisions listed in IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). Sadly, it is not uncommon for IEP teams to simply disregard these kinds of reports, expecting the parents to take care of it through insurance or out of pocket intervention.
There are hundreds of heartbreaking stories of kids being placed in psychiatric hospitals and prescribed heavy doses of medication. There’s been an increase in kids cutting themselves and self-harming, using drugs, and vaping to cope. Why aren’t the news stations reporting on these stories? Recently, a 6th grader shot himself in the head on a classroom zoom call.
Here are some of the things parents can request if their child’s mental health is at risk:
- Request an Educationally Related Mental Health Services (ERMHS) assessment to determine eligibility for counseling and Mental Health Services.
- Request a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and develop a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) with related goals.
Parents should disclose information in writing from their child’s doctor to strengthen the district’s obligation to act promptly. Upon learning any information about a child exhibiting a mental health risk, safeguards under special education federal and state laws are triggered. Once the district is informed of a child at high risk, school districts are liable if the student attempts or completes suicide and parents could hold each IEP team member liable through a civil lawsuit.
Education is obligated to offer a remedy that helps rather than harms our most vulnerable children.
Don’t wait to get help from an advocate to hold your district accountable to provide the supports your child is entitled to under IDEA. If your child is exhibiting any of these red flags, seek immediate help from your doctor.
Our nation is failing our kids by not reporting on the alarming increase in suicide and mental health decline into depression, need for medication, and self-harm. Not only do students need to return to the classroom, but school districts need to improve distance learning. We have a lot of work to do.