Like Cody Beck, thousands of special education students in Mississippi lose valuable time in school through suspensions, expulsions and arrests each year. According to federal data, more than 8,000 special education students in Mississippi received an out-of-school suspension in the 2011-12 school year — about 14 percent of all special education students in the state.
Experts say a suspension can lead to bigger trouble for students later on, including time in jail. By comparison, just 5 percent of Utah’s students with special needs were given an out-of-school suspension, one of the lowest rates in the country.
Keeping all students in school is a priority, said Utah Department of Education director of special education Glenna Gallo. Although she couldn’t speak directly about a student in Cody’s situation, she said Utah educators are taught to prevent disruptive behavior from leading to arrest. “We have quite of a few of our staff trained in crisis de-escalation,” she said, adding that teachers and administrators are given strategies for calming down students with behavioral disabilities without touching them.
The Utah Department of Education has provided administrators with workshops in crisis intervention strategies, which include referring special education students to mental health services instead of suspending them. Sending a student to a private treatment program, as in Cody’s case in Mississippi, would only be a last resort. “Utah generally keeps their students within the school community,” Gallo said.