The U.S. Department of Education is calling on schools to avoid the use of suspensions and other similar practices when disciplining students with disabilities.

The agency wants “state and local leaders to double down on their efforts to reduce their reliance on exclusionary discipline practices,” and to instead focus on “creating safe, predictable learning environments for students and educators.”

The message is relayed in a blog post this week from Valerie C. Williams, director of the Education Department’s Office of Special Education Programs.

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In the posting, Williams noted that nearly 1.6 million children with disabilities were subject to disciplinary removals from school during the 2019-2020 academic year, a figure that’s been fairly static over the last decade. And, she said that often these methods are counterproductive.

“While removal may be warranted in selected situations, particularly those related to safety, removal alone rarely provides us with the true remedy we are seeking: to support students’ behavioral needs and minimize or prevent challenging behaviors before they occur,” she wrote.

Rather, Williams pointed out that taking children with disabilities out of school disrupts their routine, which can be distressing, and makes it harder for kids to learn.

“We can’t suspend our way to better behavior; we must take a more thoughtful, evidence-based approach,” she said.

Williams acknowledged that many teachers are underprepared to handle behavioral issues and she included tips from two technical assistance centers funded by the Education Department on implementing preventative models for addressing behavior.

The posting is the latest in a push from the Education Department to highlight how students with disabilities are being disciplined in the nation’s schools. It is part of a series Williams is writing on discipline and behavior and it follows the release last summer of a wide-ranging guidance package from the agency on the obligations that schools have when disciplining children covered by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act as well as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

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