Las Vegas Sun

October 31, 2014

Currently: 76° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

Education:

Special-needs student’s classroom outbursts led classmate’s parents to seek restraining order

Effort came to end after elementary school, CCSD officials transferred disruptive student

An 8-year-old special-needs boy was transferred from a Clark County School District classroom late this spring after a classmate's parents filed court papers to seek a restraining order against him.

In May, Robert and Sara Soncini filed a motion in Clark County District Court to place a restraining order on the special-needs boy after he allegedly threatened their 7-year-old daughter in class. Both children were second-graders at Conners Elementary School in the northwest valley.

Over a three-month period, the boy allegedly threatened the girl with scissors and pushed and punched her in the stomach, the Soncini parents said. Other students in the classroom allegedly were hit with a book and a lunchbox, and a teacher was punched and kicked, they added.

The parents found out about the incidents when their daughter came home crying one day, they said.

"She told us she's scared to be around this boy," Robert Soncini said. "We're upset that our child is being assaulted and threatened with sharp objects."

The boy's behavior apparently became so disruptive the teacher created a "safe word" to inform students to leave the classroom during the boy's episodes, the Soncini parents said. These "classroom evacuations" allegedly happened about three times a week, they added.

"The school never contacted me about this," Sara Soncini said. "None of the parents knew what was going on in the classroom."

The parents tried working with the school's leadership, but the officials said their hands were tied because of the boy's rights under federal law. Exasperated, the parents began the process of seeking a restraining order in an attempt to protect their young daughter.

"I don't want to have to put a restraining order on this kid, but this is our last resort," Robert Soncini said. "It's ridiculous. It shouldn't have to come to this point."

•••

Since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) became the law of the land nearly three decades ago, mainstreaming of children with special needs has become a common occurrence.

Mainstreaming is the practice of educating children with special needs in regular classrooms instead of separating them into a special-needs-only classroom.

IDEA mandates that public schools place students with less severe mental and physical disabilities in a regular classroom but provide them with supplemental resources and services. If a child's Individualized Education Plan calls for a more specialized classroom, that would be a secondary option considered only after mainstreaming failed.

Proponents argue mainstreaming helps students with special needs do better in school and develop better social skills. They say other students also may develop a better understanding and tolerance for children with special needs.

Critics, however, point to cases like the Soncinis’, where a child with special needs disrupts the education of other children. Federal law requires equal opportunity for all children to receive a “free and appropriate” education.

Hence the question at the center of this debate: Does the right of a child to an appropriate education trump the education — and safety — of other children in the classroom?

"Everyone has a right to an education, but what about my daughter's education?" Robert Soncini said. "I'm all for giving due process, but when you're threatening other students, that's unacceptable."

"How is this learning?" Sara Soncini added. "One kid is affecting 23 other kids."

Cheryl Jung, a local advocate for children with special needs, argues schools aren’t providing adequate resources and services when placing children with special needs into regular classrooms.

"I'm always worried if schools are providing enough support and services," Jung said. "They often throw kids in there without any support."

Schools ought to be providing additional teaching staff trained to help special-needs students, who often exhibit a deficit in social skills and problem solving, Jung said. Schools should also create behavioral plans for each child — a sort of carrot-and-stick incentive method to encourage good behavior, she said.

If a student with autism or other mental challenges doesn't receive specialized attention and resources, she or he may resort to aggressive behaviors out of frustration, Jung said.

"There's a shortage in trained teachers and support staff," she said. "If behavior plans are appropriate and consistently implemented, it's more likely to have a better outcome."

•••

The School District would not release the boy's identity or that of his parents because of student privacy laws. Attempts to independently contact the boy's parents were unsuccessful.

School District spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said the principal at Conners and district staff worked with the parents of both students to come up with a solution.

However, the district would not share that solution, again because of student privacy laws, Fulkerson said, adding there were supports given to the child.

During a meeting toward the end of the school year, district officials "implied" to the Soncini family that the boy was transferred out of their daughter's classroom. It's uncertain how much of a role the threat of a restraining order had on the district's decision and whether a transfer would become the norm in the future.

"After the meeting (in late May), it's been expressed that (the restraining order) won't be needed," Sara Soncini said. "It seems like they've handled the situation. We're now in the process of dissolving it."

If the boy returns to the Soncini girl’s classroom next year, the district gave the Soncini family the option of switching their daughter out of his classroom, Sara Soncini said. She added that she hoped the boy would receive proper resources in a specialized classroom.

"It's unfortunate it had to come to this point," she said. "But when it comes to my kids, I take their safety seriously."

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 15 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

  1. Seems as if everything is a "privacy" issue when it comes to government accountability. The nutty "progressives" pushing their insane agendas are loud, vocal and quick to whine publicly when it suits their ends, but when it comes to defending them under the glare of public scrutiny, not so much. Most of their whacko ideas, like Communism, which look good on paper, are impractical and do not work in the real world. "Mainstreaming" violent, dangerous and/or disruptive children among "normal" students is more than just stupid; it's a threat to order, safety and what schooling is supposed to be all about: education. It's long past time to shut down government schools, which have become little more than test laboratories for "progressives" and their whacko ideas, in favor of vouchers and charter schools. The power to decide what's best for their children must be put back in the hands of their parents. It must be taken a way from unions and "progressives" who are primarily concerned with what is best for them - not the students.

  2. The public court of opinion needs to ask how much acting out, irrational, unsafe, disruptive, aggressive behavior they are willing to "tolerate" before removing any child from an otherwise functional classroom.

    Having a safe environment to dwell, be it in a home, workplace, store, hospital, or school classroom, is essential and mandatory! The safety and care of ALL individuals trumps the "accommodating" and allowance of a "disruptive" violent, "dangerous" acting out person. Any responsible adult will be mindful of 5150 which means you intervene "when a person is a danger to themselves or others". The question here is how do school districts interpret this at the school site and at the classroom level. The public and especially parents, should be asking about this and holding educators accountable for it.

    The safety of ALL children trumps the irrational behavior of the one. IDEA was not intended to put children in harm's way, ever. IDEA was meant to include children in a regular classroom learning environment where otherwise (especially back then) all children with any disability would be segregated to separate schools which only had populations of disabled or challenged students. It was never meant to compromise safety.

    It is unfortunate that people don't fully understand nor comprehend the "spirit of the law" with IDEA was not to put any soul in harm's way, but to provide a fragile, vulnerable, challenged individual to maximize their learning opportunities appropriately with their peers.

    ALL children have the RIGHT to a safe and appropriate learning environment.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  3. Please understand that I speak as a parent of a child who had an IEP and as an educator who deals with this situation on a regular basis at the workplace. Because I am older, I do remember during my childhood before IDEA was enacted, and have witnessed the ongoing evolution of implementing IDEA. Precious few are left in the profession currently with this unique experience of IDEA and the progressive implementing of IEPs.

    In today's world, there are huge populations currently identified and being served via IEPs. In at-risk schools, it is not unusual to have classroom that have a third of the students with IEPs or in the process being identified. Teachers face such challenges with support that mirrors the priorities of Lawmakers and the State. Who is most accountable according to "public court of opinion"?

    There is a great deal of decision making involved when placing an individual with an IEP into the "least restrictive environment" for their learning experience. At some point, it is a "judgement call" on what to do, how it will work, and be carried out or implemented. Some children with IEPs require constant 1 to 1 supervision, which has been difficult for some schools to provide due to availability of qualified and trained personnel. When support is missing, some children will take the opportunity to act out more often, at times escalating beyond what the regular classroom teacher is able to deal without total disruption of the whole class. No one can learn during these times, and it is traumatic for the children. They go home and report to their parents, and parents ask teachers to move their child away from the offending student.

    ALL children have the right to a safe and appropriate learning environment.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  4. I had a disable brother with special needs and if he was out of control it was all about, him being told what he was doing wrong by my parents in a long conversation. Then they explained to him what was the right way to handle these things. If it would continue depending on the situation they would take him to the Doctor. We understood the problem wasn't the other kids, but it was my brother. I understand that all children are very different but with some time, a lot of love, care and understanding and a lot of listing goes along way. We have seen both sides of it, my brother picking on kids and kids picking on him.
    It is not right for this little boy to get away with bullying these other kid's. It should have been taken care of right away and I blame the school for sitting on it for so long. This should of been brought out in front of the parents right away so maybe it didn't have to go so far. All children need to be corrected and told what their doing wrong, special needs or not.

    God Bless All

  5. At some point, the teacher runs out of "safe places" or options to accommodate parental requests. Yet, the district will not remove the acting out child, even when stick and carrot behavioral plans have been implemented and clearly are not working. This is not a teacher decision, rather it is an administrative policy decision, where there are precious few older, seasoned, experienced administrators left who remember when IDEA was first enacted and know it inside out and the spirit of it. Like politicians, administrators behave now according to public opinion, and you know the rest....

    Public schools must take all who enter their door (expulsions excepted). Although teachers do their level best to provide a safe and enriched learning environment, their hands are truly tied as to WHO is in their classrooms. Students are "assigned" to a teacher's roster for the year. Once that assignment is made, nothing except an act of congress will change it.

    If parents like a certain teacher, or if there is a concern about the school or classroom, then they need to speak with the school administrator. If they are not satisfied, they may speak with the district liason, and if need be, continue going up the ladder of hierachy, and persist until they obtain the desired results and are satisfied.

    At any time, a parent may request for their child to be evaluated by the school district if they believe their child has a learning disability, and this service if FREE to them. At any time when a parent has a child with an IEP, they may ask for a conference to discuss possible changes or ammendments to their child's IEP. Any child with an IEP has a mandated yearly review and conference to insure the IEP is relevant and working properly, and updated where need be, all are FREE services to the parent and child. Strict privacy is observed at all times.

    It is the goal to serve and protect ALL children in our schools so that they receive the best possible education. This happens when all parties involved are actively engaged in making this a reality.

    ALL children have the right to a safe and appropriate learning environment, and a teacher has the right to perform their job teaching in a safe and conducive environment.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  6. I obtained a elementary teaching credential about 23 years ago (never went into the profession though).
    I didn't think mainstreaming was a good idea then and I certainly don't think it is now.
    The majority of children who need to be mainstreamed, actually need very specialized education in a small group or even one on one.
    All mainstreaming does, is it forces the teacher to teach at the lowest common denominator, everybody losses when this happens. Which is why public education is so poor and is failing the masses.
    Sorry folks we aren't created equal and no amount of mainstreaming will ever change that fact.

  7. There is no problem having children with low IQ in the classroom. It is not hard to make sure that student gets the work at his/her level and continuing to teach to the other children's abilities.

    The problem comes when the child is a danger to others. I do not understand why the school district is so afraid to remove those children from the classroom. The regular classroom is obviously not the "least restrictive environment" for that child. I'd have gotten a restraining order had my child been threatened by another, too.

  8. There cannot be a double standard. If a person/child is dangerous, exhibiting threatening, antisocial, bullying, intimidating behaviors, they need to be removed, and separately given whatever they need to help them "transition" into being able to successfully mainstream into the regular classroom, or in the public at large.

    The public needs to take a stand. What will you "tolerate" in a public school classroom?
    Thank you.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  9. "I do not understand why the school district is so afraid to remove those children from the classroom."

    Unless a student is a direct danger to themselves or others nothing can be done to remove that student from a room. If a student is "going nuts" so to speak, but isn't a danger the other students will be removed so the student who is causing the problem doesn't have his rights infringed upon. It makes no sense, but until parents of students who don't have an IEP stand up en mass, nothing will change.

    The incidents of stabbing with pencils, in my experience (10 years at a middle school in CCSD) are the exception instead of the norm. A student who does this should be removed, but they are likely to be back the next day because students with an IEP can only be suspended a certain number of days per year. The law is severely tilted in the direction of students with disabilities.

  10. It might make more sense to raise the standard for mainstreaming -- clearly this child wasn't ready for it, nor were the other children prepared to deal with such disruptions. It looks like administrators simply dumped the child on the teacher, who undoubtedly did the best he/she could under the circumstances, and failed to follow up. In the end, both the child and the other students were poorly served.

  11. When it comes to a point where the teacher has to announce a "safe" word to evacuate the classroom...it's long past the point where this kid needs to be removed from the classroom. That much I do know.

  12. This is the reality of public education, and one of the REAL reasons it's failing.

    Bless these parents for doing what they did! This is what HAS TO HAPPEN in order for something to be done about the daily insanity!

    Until rights are balanced with responsibilities and common sense, such things will keep happening.

    And lest you think this is a left/liberal thing, be aware that this also adds to the right's wishes to turn education into a profit industry by making people want to flee the public schools - which I would, too, at this point, partially because of increasing incidences such as this.

  13. "Hence the question at the center of this debate: Does the right of a child to an appropriate education trump the education -- and safety -- of other children in the classroom?"

    According to THE LAW, yes it does. The schools are in a no-win situation.

    "Cheryl Jung, a local advocate for children with special needs, argues schools aren't providing adequate resources and services when placing children with special needs into regular classrooms."

    This is true, and it's because schools cannot afford them.

  14. This is a classic "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation.

    Parents of special needs students are well aware of every "right" afforded them under Federal law, and have many layers of due process available, all free of course.

    No wonder school administrators are so careful: to do otherwise would generate litigation by the busload.

  15. Mainstreaming is harmful in many respects. The idea that everyone will benefit is just not realistic. Special needs kids usually drag down everybody else even if they themselves "benefit" from immersion with average and advanced kids.
    I believe ALL the kids would benefit from SOME segregation based on abilities (note, NOT based on race, religion....) and performance. Disruptive discipline problems need separation--and a class of their own would benefit all of them learn how being more disruptive results in more restrictions. Similarly, special needs kids can help each other while they learn about each other and learn to understand each other. It would be just fine to have some agendas with ALL students where adequate supervision would preclude bullying, encourage understanding, high-light every person is an INDIVIDUAL. Sooner or later, K-12, parents and the public must admit we do not have endless funding to be all things for all people. Students must conform to some degree in order to attend school. Further, we NEED to put more of our time, effort, and money into the gifted and talented kids who can become our inventors, scientists, doctors, engineers, leaders.