SUPPORT FOR STUDENTS WITH MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES

MENTAL HEALTH

It is normal for children and youth to experience various types of emotional distress as they develop and mature. Let’s be honest, today’s youth are dealing with a wide assortment of topics and stressors that many of us did not experience when we were there age. There is widespread cyberbullying, drug exposure, immigration issues, unstable home lives, body shaming, community violence and abuse just to name a few.

Some students are not equipped with the “tools” to effectively handle their emotions in situations. Sometimes these students will act out in school, not to get attention but to get help and guidance.  As a society we need to look more closely at these “difficult” students to figure out if there is an underlying issue or if it is typical ‘kid’ behavior. When symptoms persist, it may be time to seek professional assistance.

Here are some suggestions for Parents:

It’s okay to make mistakes.  Unfortunately, when you child is born the hospital does not send you home with a manual on how to raise them and address issues that might pop-up. Remember that you are human and you will make mistakes and its okay. Seek out parent support groups so that you can interact with other parents who are dealing with similar struggles. Keep trying until you find the thing(s) that work best for you and your child.

Conversation Matters. Let your child know that they can speak to you about anything they are thinking about without judgment. Let them know that you are there to help them with their thoughts, feelings and/or situations they are dealing with. Be sure you do not get angry or pass judgment. Really listen to what they have to say – you do not have to agree with them but they need to know you hear them. Depending on what they express to you, it may be wise to seek professional support for them.

Parental Presentation. Create a safe haven for them when they are struggling and/or in crisis. Let them know that you will give them some time and space to settle down. When you do talk to them, use a low and soft tone of voice and short statements.  Do your best to remain calm and stable during this period so that your stress does not exacerbate their feelings. Help them process by asking them questions that help them critically think about what they went through “What can you do the next time you are in a situation like this?” or “What made you feel better the last time you felt this way?”

Here are some suggestions for Teachers:

Start Fresh. Do not allow other colleagues opinions of a student cloud your judgment before you get to know the student yourself. Develop your own relationship with the student and ask them what works well for them when they are struggling.

Use your experience to guide you not to limit you. As a former teacher, I can still remember the names of the most “difficult” students that I worked with. I had to constantly remind myself that each student is different and just because Billy and Johnny have the same behaviors, it does not mean the same techniques and approaches that worked for Billy will work for Johnny.

Be Patient. Most of my “difficult” students wanted to do well in school and wanted a positive relationship with me and their peers. I disagreed with colleagues who called these students “slackers” and/or “trouble makers.” I sometimes had to remind myself that turning in a worksheet might not be high up on the student’s to do list especially if they are dealing with abuse and/or neglect at home.  I would find the good in what the student did and praised it so that they knew I was paying attention and their had work was not being overlooked.

Be supportive. Review your student’s IEP to see what suggestions are stated therein. Reach out to the school’s guidance counselor and see if there are any evidence-based programs that you could easily implement into your classroom routines. It would not only support your “difficult” child but the entire class as a whole. 

When should you seek additional support? 

  • If it's an emergency in which you or someone you know is suicidal, you should immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room.

  • If you can wait a few days, make an appointment with your primary healthcare provider or pediatrician if you think your child's condition is mild to moderate.

  • If your child's symptoms are moderate to severe, make an appointment with a specialized doctor such as a psychiatrist. You may need to contact your community mental health center or primary health care provider for a referral.

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

SOME SUGGESTIONS ON HOW TO ORGANIZE AN IEP BINDER

How to Organize an IEP Binder.jpg

Over the years, I have tried several different ways to organize a student’s IEP data and other academic related information. The one tool that always works regardless of the amount of paper I’ve accumulated is a 3-ring binder. It may sound like a lot of work but once you have it set up, you can re-use the binder and its set-up year after  year.

What do you to get started: 

  1. 3-ring binder. I usually get a 2 or 3 inch binder but the size depends on how much paperwork you think your student will generate in the year.
  2. Some tabbed section dividers. I buy a set of 6 dividers, as well as two sets of the 8 dividers.
  3. A three hole punch, if you don’t have one.
  4. Some lined post-it notes. I like the medium sized ones but you should use whatever fits your needs best. 

First step:

Put the 6 sections dividers into the binder and label them. These are the labels I use:

  1. Current IEP
  2. Evaluations
  3. Communication
  4. Report cards/Progress Reports  
  5. Behavior/Discipline  
  6. Sample work
  • I divide Communication, Report cards/Progress reports, Behavior/Discipline and Sample work into the four school quarters using the section dividers from the two sets of 8 dividers I have already bought. 

Second step:

I gather all my paperwork together and sort into each of the sections. I file all documents in reverse chronological order - the most recent document on top. I also hand write in light pencil, bottom right of each document, the date I received/sent the document. 

Current IEP

In this section, I file the most current IEP, any meeting notices and my goal tracker sheet. I update the goal tracker sheet each quarter after I've received the progress report. 

Evaluations

If you are new to the process the first two documents will be your request for evaluation followed by your consent to evaluate. Again I keep this section in chronological order with the most recent report on top.  I sometimes forget what reports say in meetings so I usually create a table of contents for this section and will include a blurb or two of the key points in each report. I do NOT write on these reports. If a blurb is not enough I will put post-it notes with my notes in/on the section that is important.

Communication

In the first week or so of the new school year, I’ll reach out to my student’s classroom teacher and discuss what would be the most efficient way to have consistent communication regarding my student’s successes and difficulties. I have already divided this section into the four academic quarters, so whatever is agreed to, I print out copies of all communications and keep them in this section with the most current one on top.

If I find myself calling the school/teacher/etc. frequently; I will create a phone log and keep track of who I spoke with, the date/time and a summary of the discussion. I would file this phone log in this section too. I would also break the log up into the four academic quarters. 

Report cards/Progress Reports  

I have already divided this section into the four academic quarters. I file each report card and progress report accordingly in this file. I sometimes will put  my goal tracker in this section too just because it related to the progress reports. Either section is appropriate and you need to put it in a section that makes the most sense for you. 

I frequently review this section asking myself:  What is the data telling me? What data is missing?  What doesn't make sense that I need to follow up on. 

Behavior/Discipline  

My student's disabilities often come hand-in-hand with behavior/discipline issues. I keep a log for each academic period. The log tells me how often the student is escorted and/or restrained. How often the student is out of class, for what reason and what the resolution was of the issue. I also use these logs to help me understand if the student is making effective progress and whether or not the placement is appropriate. 

Sample work

I like to either ask the teacher for sample work or I collect papers that are sent home each quarter. I tried to have a couple of pieces of work from each class. I do not collect all bad or all good work. I try to collect work that reflects my student's strengths/weaknesses. This way I can have my own insight into their successes and/or difficulties that I can discuss with their teacher. 

Third Step - Optional Step:

Your binder should be individualized to your student and their needs. Here are some other sections and/or pages you could include in your binder....

Medical Section

If your child has a medical issue you should create another section and label it medical. In this section you could  include names/address/contact info for each doctor, a list of medications (as well as dosage and what it is for), doctors notes if  your child was sick etc

Summary Sheet

This sheet includes the student’s name, dob , grade, teacher’s name and contact info, Aides/Supports/etc. will also be listed here, the Team Chair’s name/contact info

Table of Contents

This sheet is exactly what it sounds like. I create a table of contents that breaks down each section and what documents are in each section. 

Have questions or concerns about your child's education? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com 

SCHOOLS ARE NOT LIABLE FOR INJURIES CAUSED BY BULLIES

Bullying

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has recently ruled a school district cannot be held financially liable for bullying that left a child paralyzed.  

The Supreme Judicial Court’s decision came in the case of Matthew Mumbauer. In 2008, Matthew was 11 years old and a student at the Brickett Elementary School in Lynn. A fellow student who allegedly (although court documents show Matthew had been repeatedly targeted) had been bullying him for years pushed him down a flight of stairs in 2008. As a direct result, Matthew was paralyzed for life. Matthew's family sued the city, school district and administrators, saying they were negligent in failing to act.

The Supreme Judicial Court stated in their opinion that they were not deciding whether or not the school was negligent for failing to act reasonably to prevent the bullying that led to Matthew’s injuries. The SJC accepted for the purpose of their limited review that the school was negligent but that their main concern was whether, under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, the public defendants (i.e. the city, school district and administrators) may be held liable for that negligence. 

The Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, establishes the procedure for asserting tort claims against municipalities. All claims for injury or loss of property or personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any public employee while acting within the scope of their employment are subject to this Act. The Court focused its attention on Section 10(j) of the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, which bars “any claim based on an act or failure to act to prevent or diminish the harmful consequences of a condition or situation, including the violent or tortious conduct of a third person, which is not originally caused by the public employer or any other person acting on behalf of the public employer.”

In short, the Court concluded that the act protects them from liability for such negligence. Justice Kimberly S. Budd writing for the court said in relevant part “These claims are barred by §10(j) because they originate from a failure to act rather than an affirmative act….”

Conclusion. There is no question that bullying is a serious issue. The tragedy that occurred in this case highlights the emotional pain of day-to-day harassment suffered by those who are bullied, as well as the horrific physical consequences that can result.[15]

In this case it appears, based upon the allegations of the complaint, that those working at the elementary school could have and should have done more to protect Matthew. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the Legislature has imposed restrictions on the act that exempt school districts from liability. See Whitney, 373 Mass. at 210 (“on the subject of sovereign immunity . . . barring any possible constitutional infirmities, the Legislature will have the final word”).
— Cormier, et al. v. City of Lynn, et al

To read the full case opinion please use this link: https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2018/02/27/12323.pdf

If your child is experiencing difficulties with bullies, please contact Attorney Curran to see how we may be able to help you:

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com