This issue is really getting to me lately.  It seems I have several clients right now who have bright kids who are perfectly capable of doing well in a general education classroom but for their behavior problems.  The schools I’m dealing with often want to transfer the kids to special education classrooms which are exclusively for kids with “emotional or behavior disorders” or to another type of classroom purely for kids in special education, such as a class for kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

“EBD” or Other Self-Contained Classrooms

EBD classrooms are generally “self-contained” that means that they have only special education students in them.  Generally speaking, they have a reputation of being filled with boys with discipline problems (as opposed to kids with other kinds of behavior problems, such as distractibility or anxiety).  At the very worst, some of the EBD classrooms are known for housing future or current juvenile delinquents – not a place anyone would want their kid to learn!

Labeling Kids

Though a school district is by law not supposed to place children in classrooms based on their “classification” or label, many school districts seem to require that all students in EBD or ASD classrooms be labeled as such.  While generally speaking, I don’t care so much about labels – I care more about the services a child is receiving – EBD is not a label I would want my own child to have.  EBD is a very broad category which tends to communicate that a child is “crazy” or has severe disciplinary problems.  That label doesn’t tell anyone much about how to educate that child well.  The ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) label is a different story because by definition it encompasses a “spectrum” of kids, and because there’s a lot of resources and political clout following students (and their parents) with that label.

That said, some self-contained classrooms are good ones because they are small, have well-trained teachers and provide kids with a highly structured positive behavior plan based on incentives and rewards for good behavior.  As a parent, you need to ask to observe the classroom before you consent to transfer your child there and see for yourself whether it would be a good change for him or her.

How to Stay in a General Ed. Classroom

If your son or daughter has any “behaviors” which interfere with their learning, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) they are entitled to positive interventions to help them function in the “Least Restrictive Environment.”  The Least Restrictive Environment means that school districts are required to educate students with disabilities in general ed. classrooms with their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate. (For more about the IDEA go to

When I say “positive interventions” generally I mean a system of incentives and rewards to improve poor behavior.   Under the law, students with significant behavior problems are entitled to a formal Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP).  But what I’ve found in Florida is that kids don’t get a written BIP unless they have serious discipline problems.  All too often schools offer a BIP, not as a true remedy, but only to “set-up” a student, that is, to create a paper trail to show he or she should be transferred to a self-contained classroom, or to create a paper trail for some other reason which is, unfortunately, not directly related to your child’s education.  

What I do for my clients in this predicament is to bring as much expertise and resources – this means I try to get expert teachers and administrators to attend the school meetings who can bring critical information and training (and sometimes funds) to improve your child’s situation.  I also help the school team to create or upgrade the child’s BIP so that it includes a highly structured, individualized and systematic behavior plan which is targeted to reduce that particular child’s problem behaviors.  I define problem behaviors broadly to include things like: inattention, off-task behavior or obsessive-compulsive behaviors, if those behaviors are interfering with their learning.

This post was originally published in December, 2007 and was updated as recently as September, 2011.