Columbine, 10 years later

April  20 will mark the 10th anniversary of the Columbine murders. Teacher Magazine is hosting a forum for discussion on what we’ve learned — or failed to learn — about school violence.

Psychologists now more widely accept that these high school gunmen suffered from personality disorders and that the media wrongly portrayed the shootings as simple bully retaliation.

Do you think we understand student violence better today than we did a decade ago? Are schools addressing student violence differently since Columbine? How has the Columbine shooting changed teaching? Are you personally worried about student violence? Is enough being done at the local and national level to prevent similar tragedies in the future?

Registration is required to join the discussion, but it’s free.

Coddling young delinquents is costly, writes Caitlin Flanagan in the Wall Street Journal. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were arrested for petty theft before the massacre — and allowed to return to school, she points out.

Today only the most incorrigible young offenders are removed from their guardians’ care and forced to live and study in correctional facilities. Furthermore, to expel a student in most public school districts is an arduous business. An expulsion hearing is required, and parents may choose to appeal the decision, a process that rains down a world of legal woe on whatever teachers and administrators have been involved in the action.

In the attempt to rehabilitate delinquents, we leave their classmates at risk.

Update: Two fifth graders in San Jose were suspended for five days and transferred to another school for a switchblade attack on a classmate.  One boy allegedly paid another to attack the victim, who dodged the knife and ran away. The school didn’t report the incident to the police. A district official told the victim’s mother that if she doesn’t want her son to attend middle school next year with the attackers,  she should transfer him to another school. She plans to leave the district.

About Joanne


  1. Prior to the shooting, Eric Harris had stockpiled guns and ammo in his bedroom in his parents home. I’ve always wondered what his mom thought about that when she went into his room to dust or leave his laundry.

  2. It is nearly impossible to expel a dangerous student until he or she actually does something very violent. If they have an IEP for Emotional Disturbance, it is actually impossible because no matter what they do, it is related to their disability. BTDT many times.

  3. Ponderosa says:

    I agree with you Joanne: we could and should identify and isolate the dangerously mentally-ill kids. I see a small but steady stream of sociopaths or worse come through our middle school, yet I feel helpless to do anything about it. As a mere lay person as far as psychiatry is concerned, I have no standing to tag a kids as mentally ill. Even if I did say something and sympathetic school psychologist and administrators were willing to do testing, the grief and friction the district would encounter from indignant parents etc. would be a most unwelcome and probably insurmountable obstacle.

  4. The treatment of disturbed, violent children was a factor in our decision to shift to private schools. Our school had had a series of incidents with a student, who threatened his peers. In the process of trying to justify the actions of the administration to other parents, I found online the legal frameworks schools must follow in our state when dealing with students who threaten or attack others. Yikes. The laws treating behavioral IEPs were particularly eye-opening.

    In combination with the relatively new laws on confidentiality, I came to the conclusion that one’s child might very well be in danger from schoolmates. The administration might know that the other child could be a danger, but couldn’t inform you of that fact, and couldn’t act to limit the danger until the child went “too far.” Too bad if your child’s the lucky victim on that day, eh?

    The murder of a student at Lincoln-Sudbury High School reinforced my concerns. Before he stabbed another student to death in a bathroom, in two separate incidents, the murderer brought a pocketknife and fake handgun to school. The psychologist at school confiscated the items from him each time, but then returned the items to him at the end of the day. Neither incident was reported to the school administration, nor to police. This student was, by all reports, fascinated wtih weapons and violence. (

  5. The reason you feel helpless to do anything about dangerous kids is because you are helpless to do anything about dangerous kids. The people who have the authority to take some action are motivated by considerations that put doing nothing and hoping it’ll just go away near the top of the list of responses.

  6. Yeah, lock up those porno-kids 🙂

  7. Margo/Mom says:

    There is so much misinformation that floats around, particularly regarding kids with disabilities. Many of these kids are are greater danger from their “normal” peers than any danger that they pose. If you want an anecdotal incident consider the cognitively disabled high school girl who was either coerced or forced to perform oral sex backstage at her high school during lunch hour.

    But the data show that kids with disabilities are suspended or expelled far more often than kids without disabilities. Yes, they deserve a process to ensure that they are not being disciplined for manifestations of their disability. What this amounts to is a non-legal hearing in which a bunch of school employees sit down with the student and his/her parents and decide whether the school was following any behavioral requirements in the IEP and whether the behavior was related to the students disability. These are the only two procedural requirements in the law. In my district, it comes down to a vote. I sat through one such hearing in which the teachers had no problem testifying that they were not carrying out the behavior plan called for–and it didn’t appear to be anyone’s responsibility to set up the requirements, communicate to teachers what they were suppose to do, or hold anyone accountable for doing so. In spite of this, the school principal “voted” that the IEP was being followed. Fortunately the special ed director did not agree. But the vote of school employees did override the vote of a specialist who was pretty clear that an incident that occurred was almost a given, as bullying and harassment had continued for some time (directed at the area of difference/disability) and exceeded the ability to continue to buck up or walk away.

    Yes, there are options for responding to kids with emotional disabilities in schools. One problem is the tendancy to see removal as a solution. It is possible to change the location of services if it is unreasonable to provide services where the student is (as in the regular classroom, or a resource room within a regular school). It is difficult to determine the appropriate location in which to deliver services when school personnel are conditioned to see the location AS the service. Isolation is not a service. Neither is a restatement of the school rules (and punishments) written into an IEP and called a behavior plan. Time spent with a counselor individually or in a group might be a service that could be helpful in moving behavior–but it seldom occurs in schools. There might be an assignment to some kind of social work/mental health person. This becomes the “crisis” person (and they are generally allocated to too many buildings to function effectively in this position either).

    The education programs that serve kids with mental health needs exclusively quickly become overwhelmed hell-holes. They serve a wide range of kids with legitimate disabilities (autism, tourettes, bipolar disorder) as well as kids suffering from various socio-pathologies AND kids who just arent’ learning well and become behavior problems as a result (and have parents too poorly resourced to be able to stop the march from location to location that their kids are put through).

    I cannot speak to why a student with a knife or gun was allowed to continue going to school without consequences–except that there is no law that calls for this. In fact, in the case of students with disabilities, there is a big line drawn around weapons. They are not an exclusion–regardless of disability. A disabled student with such a weapon may be dealt with according to the same rules (ie: zero tolerance) as any other student. I have read some increadibly stupid due process cases that went very far in the opposite direction–very young and impulsive students being expelled for having possession of things that only LOOKED like a weapon (not brandishing, mind you, not threatening, merely possessing–in a bookbag).

    Certainly one problem is the embarrassing lack of mental health services for children and young people–which becomes even worse for kids committed to the justice system.

    Ponderosa, you are right, you are not trained in the identification of sociopaths. If you are going into a testing situation with the attitude of diagnosing sociopaths, you deserve every bit of grief that you get from indignant parents. There are certainly ways to force an evaluation. Once requested, there are legal parameters for a district to respond. But, again–a request couched in terms of rooting out sociopaths (or getting difficult kids moved out)–deserves skepticism, from psychologists, parents and administrators. An evaluation should always be for the purpose of diagnosing and responding to a problem that a student has. Not a problem that you have with a student.

  8. And with Margo’s response we see a large part of the problem. Once again, it is the school that made the poor child snap. While children with disabilities are often a target of bullying, that should not inform our response to a child who is a violent bully. You are clouding the issue.

    At the moment I have a student making credible Columbine-style threats that we are trying to figure out how to keep out. Would I like this student out? You bet! I know I’m a potential target as one of the student’s teachers. And my kid is in that building.

    A few years ago I had a similar student who did threaten me. He was removed from my class, but we couldn’t get him expelled due to his IEP. A few months later he beat another kid so badly he needed reconstructive surgery on his face.

    Oh, and another student with the same profile I taught recently murdered (with a baseball bat) a second student — off campus at least.

    I absolutely agree these students need counseling, services, etc. But we can’t control the 1500 other kids on campus so they don’t set these mentally ill kids off. School is not the right place for them.

  9. I have trouble accepting that it has to be either a mental disorder or the result of bullying, or even that there is some discrete segment of the population who are clearly sociopaths, with the rest clearly not. So I’m not sure what actions you could reasonably take based on some diagnosis.

    I was just reading the novel Shogun, by Clavell. I think most of the 16th century characters would be considered sociopaths by today’s standards. There’s not much empathy in a samurai who hacks people into pieces, or a sea captain who drives his crew to starvation and whose charter includes pillaging enemy ports.

    The point is that I don’t believe it’s that hard to create sociopaths. I suspect part of the problem is the kind of socialization that goes on in schools, particularly when the academic pursuits are not challenging enough to take away from the time and energy available to spend on social games.

    If you put a number of chimps in an enclosed area, some will spontaneously become leaders, some rank-and-file, and others outcasts. Some of the latter may resent their positions and go rogue or become violent. Rather than try to figure out how to cull the outcasts, it might be better to limit spontaneous socialization by providing for more structured interaction, avoiding forced idleness, and instead channeling energy into something productive.

  10. If schools do not cause anti-social behavior, explain this.

    “Psychologists now more widely accept that these high school gunmen suffered from personality disorders and that the media wrongly portrayed the shootings as simple bully retaliation.”

    More like, “After 10 years, school psychologists have coordinated their stories in defense of their employer.”

    From: Hyman and Penroe, Journal of School Psychology.
    “Several studies of maltreatment by teachers suggest that school children report traumatic symptoms that are similar whether the traumatic event was physical or verbal abuse (Hyman,,1988; Krugman & Krugman, 1984; Lambert, 1990). Extrapolation from these studies suggests that psychological maltreatment of school children, especially those who are poor, is fairly widespread in the United States….”
    “While 1% to 2% might not seem to be a large percentage of a school-aged population, in a system like New York City, this would be about 10,000 children so traumatized by educators that they may suffer serious, and sometimes lifelong emotional problems (Hyman, 1990; Hyman, Zelikoff & Clarke, 1988). A good percentage of these students develop angry and aggressive responses as a result. Yet, emotional abuse and its relation to misbehavior in schools receives little pedagogical, psychological, or legal attention and is rarely mentioned in textbooks on school discipline (Pokalo & Hyman, 1993, Sarno, 1992).”
    “As with corporal punishment, the frequency of emotional maltreatment in schools is too often a function of the socioeconomic status (SES) of the student population (Hyman, 1990).”

    “Furthermore, according to a report for UNESCO, cited in Esteve (2000), the increasing level of pupil-teacher and pupil-pupil violence in classrooms is directly connected with compulsory schooling. The report argues that institutional violence against pupils who are obliged to attend daily at an educational centre until 16 or 18 years of age increases the frustration of these students to a level where they externalise it.” –Clive Harber, “Schooling as Violence”, p. 9, Educatioinal Review V. 54, #1.

    “…It is almost certainly more damaging for children to be in school than to out of it. Children whose days are spent herding animals rather than sitting in a clasroom at least develop skills of problem solving and independence while the supposedly luckier ones in school are stunted in their mental, physical, and emotional development by being rendered pasive, and by having to spend hours each day in a crowded classroom under the control of an adult who punishes them for any normal level of activity such as moving or speaking. (DfID, 2000, pp 12, 13)” Quoted in Clive Harber, “Schooling as Violence”, p. 10, Educatioinal Review, V. 54, #1.

    “…(M)any well-known adolescent difficulties are not intrinsic to the teenage years but are related to the mismatch between adolescents’ developmental needs and the kinds of experiences most junior high and high schools provide. When students need close affiliation, they experience large depersonalized schools; when they need to develop autonomy, they experience few opportunities for choice and punitive approaches to discipline…”(Linda Darling-Hammond, professor of education, Stanford University), Kohn, “Constant Frustration and Occasional Violence”, American School Board Journal, September 1999.

    “Violence at school is a prevalent problem. According to a national survey of school proncipals (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1998), over 200,000 serious fights or physical attacks occurred in public schools during the 1996-1997 school year. Serious violent crimes occurred in approximately 12% of middle schools and 13% of high schools. Student surveys (Kann et al, 1995) indicate even higher rates of aggressive behavior. Approximately 16.2% of high school students nationwide reported involvement in a physical fight at school during a 30-day period, and 11.8% reported carrying a weapon on school property (Kann et al, 1995).”
    “Research on victims of violence at school suggests that repeated victimization has detrimental effects on a child’s emotional and social development (Batsche & Knoff, 1995; Hoover, Oliver, & Thomson, 1993; Olweus, 1993). Victims exhibit higher levels of anxiety and depression, and lower self-esteem than non-victims (eg., Besag, 1989; Gilmartin, 1987; Greenbaum, 1987; Olweus, 1993). Karen Brockenbrough, Dewey G. Cornell, Ann B. Loper, “Aggressive Attitudes Among Victims of Violence at School”, Education and the Treatment of Children, V. 25, #3, Aug., 2002.

    “Results showed that the over-representation of Black males that has been cited consistently in the literature begins at the elementary school level and continues through high school. Black females also were suspended at a much higher rate than White or Hispanic females at all three school levels.” Linda M. Raffaele Mendez, Howard M. Knoff, “Who Gets Suspended From School and Why: A Demographic Analysis”, Education and the Treatment of Children V. 26, #1, Feb. 2003.

    “Criminal violence emerges from social experience, most commonly brutal social experience visited upon vulnerable children, who suffer for our neglect of their welfare and return in vengeful wrath to plague us. If violence is a choice they make, and therefor their personal responsibility, as Athens demonstrates it is, our failure to protect them from having to confront such a choice is a choice we make, just as a disease epidemic would be implicitly our choice if we failed to provide vaccines and antibiotics. Such a choice-to tolerate the brutalization of children as we continue to do-is equally violent and equally evil, and we reap what we sow. …” Richard Rhodes, Why they Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist.

    “August 1, 1939”

    I and the public know
    What all schoolchildren learn,
    Those to whom evil is done
    Do evil in return. –W. H. Auden–

    “The issue of social skills. One edition of Home School Researcher, Volume 8, Number 3, contains two research reports on the issue of social skills. The first finding of the study by Larry Shyers (1992) was that home-schooled students received significantly lower problem behavior scores than schooled children. His next finding was that home-schooled children are socially well adjusted, but schooled children are not so well adjusted. Shyers concludes that we are asking the wrong question when we ask about the social adjustment of home-schooled children. The real question is why is the social; adjustment of schooled children of such poor quality?”

    “The second study, by Thomas Smedley (1992), used different test instruments but comes to the same conclusion, that home-educated children are more mature and better socialized than those attending school.” …p. 277
    “12. So-called ‘school phobia’ is actually more likely to be a sign of mental health, whereas school dependancy is a largely unrecognized mental health problem”….p.281
    Roland Meighan, “Home-based Education Effectiveness Research and Some of its Implications”, Educational Review, Vol. 47, No.3, 1995.

  11. Margo/Mom says:

    “And with Margo’s response we see a large part of the problem. Once again, it is the school that made the poor child snap. While children with disabilities are often a target of bullying, that should not inform our response to a child who is a violent bully.”

    No–what it should do is to inform the steps that we take in order to prevent violence. We cannot condone certain kinds, by certain groups and expect that some groups of kids just cannot be helped and must be excluded for the good of the rest. BTW–in the case instance I was talking about, we were not dealing with a “violent bully,” but a kid who after many confrontations with someone–who was in fact bullying–was goaded into giving back a shove. In all likelihood no one would have cared too much except that when the teacher tried to intervene she received a hit that the bully intended for the other kid. Each kid received a maximum (10 day) suspension and was charged in court. The bully, owing to prior offenses was found guilty and placed on probabtion. The other kid, with no priors, eventually ended up with a juvenile finding that can ultimately be expunged. The teacher BTW–the only adult witness, did not appear at the manifestation determination or at any court hearing. On return, the bullied kid was able to get a schedule change away from the bully–but was still in another classroom with the teacher who had allowed it to continue for half of the year. The teacher stayed out and the class had subs for 6 weeks. Apparently the contract allows this.

    Maybe the behavior of 1500 students cannot be “controlled.” But there certainly is a role for the adults to take on leadership. When teachers talk blithely about middle school sociopaths and how to get rid of kids who share a “profile” with someone violent, I don’t think that is what is going on.

    Cleveland Public Schools just completed an evaluation of their capacity to respond to kids in trouble (in response to an in-school shooting). The lack of mental health capacity certainly cropped up. But so too did the “move ’em” out policies that moved troubled kids from building to building (a right guaranteed to teachers by contract). It doesn’t help.

  12. Margo/Mom says:

    Wall Street Journal has a well-balanced article on effective responses to Columbine. Not necessarily the most expensive. Lots of things boil down to looking into ways that adults can be more present with students.

  13. Columbine forever changed the way we discuss school safety. Zero Tolerance, among a handful of other policies, can all be attributed to this tragic day. It is important to remember this day, but also examine if we are doing the RIGHT steps to prevent it from happening again.

    Hall Monitor

  14. It is so very unfortunate what occured at Columbine. The following will assist in arriving at what should be investigated in relation to that and similar incidents:

    It is a known fact that psychiatric mind-altering drugs, (Ritalin®, Adderall®, Concerta®, and so on), prescribed to children/adults for ADD (attention-deficit disorder) and ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) have a high potential risk in respect of adverse effects they can, (and do), create. There are, unfortunately, many documented cases.

    Information that people generally may or may not be aware of is that there is also a connection between psychiatric drugs and violence. (This subject is not easy to digest mentally but I feel you will agree that we do need to face up to the truth. This is the only way to progress . . . eradication of agreed upon, unwanted influences in society, equals pro survival for humanity). Here are a few occurrences, (including Columbine), of where violence occurred in connection with psychiatric drugs:

    On 14 February 2008, 27-year-old Steven Kazmierczak, DeKalb, Illinois, shot and killed five people and wounded 16 others before killing himself in a Northern Illinois University auditorium. According to his girlfriend, he had recently been taking Prozac, Xanax and Ambien. Toxicology reports showed that he still had trace amounts of Xanax in his system.

    On 5 December 2007, 19-year-old Robert Hawkins, Omaha, Nebraska, killed eight people and wounded five before committing suicide in an Omaha mall. Hawkins’ friend told CNN that the gunman was on antidepressants, and autopsy results confirmed he was under the influence of the “anti-anxiety” drug Valium.

    On 7 November 2007, Jokela, Finland, 18-year-old Finnish gunman Pekka-Eric Auvinen had been taking antidepressants before he killed eight people and wounded a dozen more at Jokela High School in southern Finland, then committed suicide.

    On 10 October 2007, Cleveland, Ohio, 14-year-old Asa Coon stormed through his school with a gun in each hand, shooting and wounding four before taking his own life. Court records show Coon had been placed on the antidepressant Trazadone.

    On 16 April 2007, in Blacksburg, Virginia. The psychiatric drug history of Seung-Hui Cho in the Virginia Tech Massacre was never made public. Initial reports stated that “depression medication” was found among Cho’s belongings. But neither his toxicology reports, nor his recent medical history were ever released to find out whether Cho had been in withdrawal from psychiatric medication. (33 were killed and 29 injured, but this was not included in the total of dead and wounded cited above).

    On 20 April 1999, Columbine, Colorado, 18-year-old Eric Harris was on the antidepressant Luvox when he and his partner Dylan Klebold killed 12 classmates and a teacher and wounded 23 others before taking their own lives in the bloodiest school massacre in history. The coroner confirmed that the antidepressant was in his system through toxicology reports while Dylan Klebold’s autopsy was never made public. Harris and Klebold underwent “anger management” and “death education” classes.

    How many more disasters need to occur, similar to those listed above, before mind-altering psychiatric drugs, and their high potential risk of adverse effects on children/adults, are investigated, and accordingly preventive measures put in place? Could a couple of the underlying reasons for not taking action, be: ‘Drugs are big money’, and, ‘Conflict of Interest’ occurring, re sanctioning of mind-altering psychiatric drugs into society? If this is so, then it’s at the expense of our children/adults, under continual threat of the high potential risks of ill effects being created from ingesting these psychiatric drugs!

    The ever expanding environmental damage to our planet and the global financial economic crisis were both left, in the main, as unattended problems . . . until it was nearly too late!

    A similar situation exists in respect of the inattention given to the ongoing critical problem and blatant disregard of conditions occurring from the continued introduction of these mind-altering psychiatric drugs into our society!

    There are, thankfully, alternative, sane, workable solutions (holistic, nutritional, medical) in treating children/adults with attention, behavior or learning problems, (commonly called “ADD” or “ADHD”), (without, of course, the use of psychiatric drugs). Please view ‘Sources of Help’ http://www.adhdtruth/testimonials.html for details.

    All the very best,
    Ray Pem

  15. From Margo/mom’s link:

    “But Ms. McCarter said her best inspiration was to order teachers to stand in the hallways between classes, instead of taking a break at their desks. The adult presence has transformed the school, Ms. McCarter said.”

  16. Most readers would much prefer to live in the United States than Communist China. However, the difficult balance between protecting individual rights and maintaining the security of a whole community is specifically a democratic problem. Non-democratic countries typically don’t care about the rights of individuals. I guess I’m thinking that I’m glad individual rights are protected.

  17. starviego says:

    There is much more to this story. Stuff you are not being told. If you want to find out what really happened at Columbine I suggest you read what the eyewitnesses had to say:

  18. Margo, a kid who shoves someone (even an intervening teacher — and I’ve been in that situation, so I’m not talking hypothetically) is not even on my radar in regards to this issue. Have you an argument for kids who go on to murder their classmates?

  19. It was an inspiration to have the teachers in the hall between bells? You’re kidding. I’ve never heard of a school in which that wasn’t an expectation. Sometimes we don’t get out there because we have to deal with students, but we’re always supposed to be monitoring the halls.

    A healthy building atmosphere can go a long way to solving a lot of problems. We have social workers and even a fully staffed therapeutic classroom for children with emotional issues. I am amazed at how functional the kids really are — we have about 25% of our pop. with disabilities, and it is not a hostile environment for them at all. But there are always a few who can’t be in a high school and function.

    Absolute Tolerance is every bit as insane as Zero Tolerance.

  20. “When teachers talk blithely about middle school sociopaths and how to get rid of kids who share a “profile” with someone violent, I don’t think that is what is going on.”

    I don’t think any of the regular commenters on this blog are in favor of removing kids who get around the internet filters, or bring a butter knife to spread their butter, or strike some observers as “creepy,” or “a problem waiting to happen.”

    Not all violent students are misunderstood. When a student has threatened to beat up or molest other students repeatedly, and has attacked others, there comes a point when that student should not be sitting in a “regular” classroom, unless the school system cares to appoint a large, fit minder for that child. Preferably one of the same gender, who can follow him or her into a bathroom.

    It’s all very well to describe what should happen, if everyone follows the laws and procedures, and the student cooperates. Too often, what does happen does not follow the game plan. For one thing, the staff who have close contact with such students may see it as a “failure” on their part if he or she is not kept in school. I could believe that something of the sort may have influenced the psychologist in the Lincoln-Sudbury incident.

    There are also the knock-on effects of having an unpredictable, violent student at school. Other children may find that student glamorous–after all, they’re able to tell if adults are afraid of another student, and for some, that’s very powerful. Yet other children may themselves bring weapons to school. I’m not condoning that; however, if you’re required to spend the day in the presence of someone who could hurt you, it may seem to be a logical response.

  21. Margo/Mom says:


    Again–your experience in your school is far different from what I have witnessed in many buildings within our urban district. No–teachers do not stand in the hallway between bells. I recall a conversation with one of my son’s teachers. I was in the classroom when the bell rang–and all hell broke loose, which was the norm. The teacher–who was really someone who knew his stuff behaviorally–leaped up to respond to some crisis, muttering how much he hated transitions. He share with me that in other schools he had taught in the teachers were required to stand outside their doors during passing times. He clearly knew how badly it was needed–but couldn’t make it happen. In many conversations with teachers and principal in that school over three years I encountered this sense of impotence repeatedly. Teachers who knew what to do somehow lacked any means of making it happen. The principal claimed that the teachers had all kinds of contractual barriers that kept her from making such improvements. I really never did figure out the problem-but it was by no means unique to that building. For the most part everyone thought that they were doing the best that was possible (with the kinds of kids that they got).

    And, in fact, the kind of response that I described to a shoving match was SOP in another building. In Cleveland–according to the report I mentioned–teachers are contractually guaranteed the right to transfer a kid out. Such “discipline transfers” existed within my memory in our own district. All of which is just by way of pointing out that it is certainly more than possible to “get rid of” problem kids.

    With regard to kids who go on to murder someone–perhaps you would be willing to share which traits were predictive? And how reliably predictive? And what laws, policies, or practices currently stand in the way of identifying and treating a student with homicidal indicators.

  22. MK,

    I know that many CA high schools have permanent police presence and that police get involved in matters that might be dismissed or ignored when school is not in session. Not sure how this effects the data. Although I’m inclined to assume that the mere gathering of children into one place without a lot of immediate adult supervision can provide opportunities for problems.

  23. Walter_E_Wallis says:

    Less concern about why, more about what.

  24. Every year I have anywhere from 0-5 kids in my school on IEPs who are there because they are living in a residential juvenile justice rehabilitation program. Their offenses range from property and drug offenses to sexual offenses, arson, and assault. At one point I was starry-eyed about rehabbing these kids. These days I’m not. If they were ED, I’d have more hope.

    Margo, there is a BIG difference between a child who is emotionally disturbed and a child with conduct disorder. The child with conduct disorder is more likely to act out than the ED kid. You can rehab the ED kid–not the sociopath, the antisocial personality disorder kid, any of those whose behaviors are conducty and often made worse by poor socialization.

    The juvenile justice system often wants to classify these kids as ED. They’re not. They’re the product of poor socialization–by the parents and family–and they have antisocial/sociopathic behaviors. I think I’ve encountered only one that I’d honestly consider as ED–coupled with a low IQ.

    Don’t confuse emotional disturbance with personality disorders. My school psych tends to resist labelling kids with personality disorders as having emotional disturbance–because a kid with conduct and personality disorders is a very different kid from an anxious, obsessive, schizophrenic, PTSD or depressed kid. You can remediate a kid with an emotional disturbance. You can only manage a conduct/personality disordered kid, and hope that he (usually he) doesn’t blow up on your watch.

  25. Malcom, Lightly Seasoned,

    This. You two just won the thread. 🙂

    “We cannot condone certain kinds, by certain groups and expect that some groups of kids just cannot be helped and must be excluded for the good of the rest.”

    Why not? It works in adult society. Why do sociopathic and psychotic kids get a pass, just because they’re kids? It may be sad, but the fact is that some people – thankfully, very few – in society are a permanant threat to themselves and others, at any age. We all wish that wasn’t the case, but all of our experiences tells us otherwise.

    “It is nearly impossible to expel a dangerous student until he or she actually does something very violent. If they have an IEP for Emotional Disturbance, it is actually impossible because no matter what they do, it is related to their disability. BTDT many times.”

    Same here. In some schools, the principal won’t even let the teachers send those students to the office, out of fear of legal retribution from the parents. So these students just stay in the classroom, yelling, cursing, walking around and bothering other students, etc. during class like they have a free pass (because in that case, they do!)

    And yet it’s the teacher’s fault anyway if the students in that class as a whole don’t perform as well as they could have on standardized tests that year. Also, the principal might choose that particlar class to be the class they randomly walk in and do an evaluation of them on. How is that fair?

  26. That’s a great distinction, joycem… thank you. We have more than one group home in our district, and have anywhere from 25 – 30 juvenile offenders in the building at a time (they come and go). I have a knack for working with this type of kid, but I harbor no illusions about changing them.

    I’m fortunate that my administration is aware of the difficulties of working with these kids and is very supportive when I ask for something. I’m not holding my breath on the state testing this week, though.

  27. Margo/Mom says:


    Read the law. Find out what the actual protections are for kids with disabilities. Yes–the limitation on suspension is ten days. Because the expectation is that the school is to be DOING something in response to the disability–including any behavioral ramifications of the disability. If more than ten days is called for (unless a weapon or illegal drugs aren involve–in which case expulsion is allowed, as long as that is what would be meted out to a kid without disabilities). If the behavioral difficulties are continuing beyond the 10 days, despite what the district is doing, a Functional Behavioral Analysis is called for–to identify causes of behavioral difficulties and to make recommendations for ways in which to deal with them. This would also include the opportunity to consider whether the placement is an appropriate one in which to deliver services.

    The “legal retribution” that is available to parents is a due process challenge–which begins with administrative review within the district and progresses through additional steps outside the school if agreement is not reached (and parents don’t get tired and give up). Legal representation is on the parent’s dime, unless there is a judgement against the school (in which case the school pays). All of these steps require parents to take time away from work–as well as having a pretty solid knowledge of what the school is supposed to be doing that it isn’t. The better part of a school year can pass before anything is resolved. The student may be allowed to “stay put” where s/he is in some, but not all cases. Personally I have seen more error in violation of student rights than the other way around. It’s just too easy to get away with.

    A couple of years ago in Pennsylvania a kid with disabilities attacked a teacher and the injuries ended up in the teacher being paralyzed. Terrible story–many have heard it. Scratch deeper and you find out that the kid did not initiate anything. He blew up when another student pushed the teacher into him. Look even further and you find out that the kid’s father had not only agreed to, but had advocated for, a more restrictive placement–essentially a return to a setting in which he had experienced more success. The move had never been completed because no one had written an up to date IEP.

    Joycem is right. There are big differences between kids who are emotionally disabled and those who have conduct disorders or are sociopathic. It’s not terribly supportive to know that if your kid is being placed in a “special” classroom or school for “other kids like him.” Yes–the ED placements are holding pens for all of these kids. Not supposed to be (read the definitions contained in IDEIA)–but that is how it is. I have not experienced the juvenile justice system doing anything in the way of diagnosis. But jj is not the first step for any kid. They only get there after years of being labelled in many many ways by every school employee from the lunch lady to the bus driver to the janitor. Not to mention all the teachers who believe they have Xray eyes into the sociopaths or recognize the profile of future killers. I have had school employees tell me that the kids in the ED program are not kids with disabilities, “they’re just bad kids.” Despite research to show considerable overlap between kids who exhibit behavioral difficulties and those who have learning difficulties, schools want to see these as separate disorders–which results in ping-ponging kids back and forth between programs.

    And then we have the kind of advice that Ray is throwing around. I can’t deny the motivations of drug companies to sell drugs, but throwing around blanket statements based on anecdotes regarding killers that did or did not have amounts of any one of a number of drugs in their system as evidence that the drugs are the problem–well, just a tad irresponsible. Were the drugs the cause, or did going off the drugs spur an event? Is the problem the drug, or the mismatch between the drug and the condition? Personally, I’d vote for further research.

  28. SuperSub says:

    Questions for all –
    1) Is it right to expose ‘normal’ students to ED kids who often disrupt classes and/or can cause harm to those students? While it may be the best for the ED student, the regular ed teacher and students all pay the price for usually a nominal benefit to the ED student.

    2) If the ED student is to be removed from the reg ed classroom, what do you do with them? Our district pays more than 10x more to place ED student in an environment where they are truly safe than for a LD student. Often, this huge difference in cost is the prime reason why ED kids are kept in reg ed classrooms… not any nonsense about imrpoving the outcome for the ED student.

    We recently had a student who was the closest thing I’ve ever seen to Hannibal Lector. He was extremely smart, but due to his horrible family life (drugs, prostitution, anything else you can name) he would torment other students and teachers – even threatening the school resource officer. The thing is, though, he was labelled ED and kept in reg ed and AIS classrooms.

  29. Margo/Mom says:


    Show me the data: specifically that which regards harm to “normal” kids from ED kids, substantiates class disruption from ED kids, that which demonstrates only “nominal” advantage to inclusion.

    I can tell you where the ED student goes when removed from the regular classroom. If they are lucky they go to a “resource room” down the hall. Their teacher is far less likely to appropriately certified–particularly to teach core content. The next step is a “special school.” Again–same conditions pertain. There might be a proliferation of aides–and depending on how long it has been since the last time they were sued for abusing kids, locking them in closets, etc. there may be some actual therapists around. Both of these options have a lower student teacher ratio–and a far wider range of need, due to the fact that they are basically the dumping ground for kids who “don’t fit” for a variety of reasons. While the legal definitions specifically exclude kids who are “maladjusted” they center around kids who exhibit an inability to learn that can’t be identified in any other way. In short–no actual mental health diagnosis is required. Nor is any mental health service (not excluded–just one of the possible “individual services” that might be included in an IEP–if the parent asks, they are likely to be told, “we don’t have that”).

    Locally, the district has created a new label–outside of IDEIA. This is “chronic disrupters.” Guess what we have for these kids–a “special” school. There is a something of a paperwork trail that must be traversed to get a kid in there–and parents have to agree. But I’ll wager that parents are willing to sign when faced with repeated suspensions of expulsion of their elementary kids (we already had an upper level “special school”–a place to “put” kids that we’d rather not have in the classroom). Now–do we have any data on the progress/success of any of these “special” places? Even in a large urban district with a special ed population bigger than many rural districts? No. Can we point to any “methods” used (successfully or otherwise) across the board? No. In terms of any required reporting, these “places” are invisible. Only very recently has data of any kind been reported by the state on the “special schools.” It was terribly embarrassing to the district (who must have known–the kids had scores, they were just hidden among those of the referring school). Single digits and zeroes. I can report that this has spurred some improvement. The “special” high school, in two years, became the school with highest graduation rate in the district (and the local newspaper started including their scores in reports–instead of an asterisk indicating it was “special”). Of course the principal that pulled this off was immediately transferred to a “better” school. So–it remains to be seen if this will continue.

    Of course, by high school, it’s possible to induce these students to drop out, or to arrest them and move them off to the juvenile justice sytems (where resources are even sparser).

    Let me just share one anecdote–even though I am not a big believer in anecdotal evidence. Because I have a son with a mental health diagnosis, I am frequently approached by adults with the same diagnosis who offer their stories to me. I can tell you that without their sharing, I would not have a clue that they are “ED,” any more than I would recognize a diabetic or someone with heart disease. Many are people that I have met in the workplace, where they are completely functional adults. This does not mean that they have not lived through some period of hell prior to diagnosis, or through a long (often very long) period of misdiagnosis. Most recognize the subtlety of the line that divides them from homeless people on the street talking back to their demons, or driven by fears or protected by compulsive rituals. Diagnosis, treatment and appropriate medication are extremely important. Arriving at these things is frequently a long, long road, across years. I have never had anyone recount to me what a super time they had during those years.

  30. Bill Leonard says:

    Mr. Wallis has it right: less concern about why, more about what.

    MargoMom, I’ve read through all of your verbiage, and I have yet to be convinced that you have any appreciation for what the real problems can be. For instance, you don’t think the other 26 or 27 kids are “harmed” when, with an ED kid in the classroom, everything invariably slows down to that kid’s pace, or to deal with that kid’s problems?

    The shorthand for your position is this: It’s why more and more parents are home-schooling and moving their kids into private shcools.

  31. Margo/Mom says:


    Show me the data.

  32. ” Lived through some period of hell prior…I have never had anyone recount to me what a super time they had during those years.”


    That is what placing kids who cannot function appropriately in the usual classroom setting does to the rest of the class. How about gifted teenagers in a heterogenous classroom who are forced to deal with a disruptive kid several academic levels below them in groupwork every day? (after a quarter of that fun, the group asked for her reassignment, the teacher refused and admitted that she didn’t want to deal with the kid herself) How about a first-grade class terrorized by one classmate who screams,kicks, bites, hits and attacks with scissors or anything else handy? (and needs 3 adults to remove her from the room) How about a foul-mouthed, disruptive high-schooler who responds to any attempts atbehavior correction with “you can’t make me; I have an IEP”?

    School is an academic setting – or is supposed to be – not a psychiatric or correctional setting. SOME KIDS SHOULD NOT BE IN THAT SETTING.

    As said above, lawyers and administrators and school boards have ensured that the elephant in the room is not discussed and the problems are not adressed. Heterogeneous grouping and group work allow the pretense that all are progressing, as was said above.

  33. (Mango Mom): “Show me the data.”

    Do you really doubt that disruptive ED kids degrade instruction? Seems wilfully obtuse to me. Chubb and Moe found a statistically significant relation between “tracking” (by which they meant ability grouping) and school performance. To suppose that disruptive students do not degrade institutional performance is to suppose that instruction itself has no impact on school performance.

    (momof4): “Heterogeneous grouping and group work allow the pretense that all are progressing, as was said above.”

    Yes; and immunize schools against “disparate impact” anti-discrimination lawsuits, at enormous cost.

  34. When heterogeneous grouping was first advanced as an effective educational method, none of the children with severe cognitive or emotional problems ever entered the public school system; they were in institutions or cared for at home. Moreover, it was explicitly stated that the lowest ten percent and the highest ten percent of the school population should not be included in heterogeneous groups. No wonder the current situation doesn’t work. BTW, I don’t believe in heterogeneous grouping for anyone; everyone should be in a class where the material and the pace matches their abilities and the level should be advanced as necessary.

    Malcolm is right; only deliberate obtuseness can argue that disruption has no effect. It has been cited many times as one of the major factors the poor performance of urban schools (but is certainly not limited to them). Apply common sense and remove the disruption.

  35. Also, refuse to consider any reform proposals based on the magical emergence of vast numbers of superteachers who can do everything for everyone all of the time; it’s impossible. There aren’t enough superstars in any field to achieve this.

    However, I believe that the effectiveness of most teachers can be increased with Direct Instruction and a content-rich curriculum. The military does it all the time, in hundreds of fields, and with teachers who may not have college degrees. They are, however, taught HOW to teach and provided with well-designed instructional materials.
    Creativity is overemphasized; the fundamentals have already been discovered – especially at the elementary level.

    Also, teachers are not psychologists, social workers or nurses and should not be expected to deal with significant problems in those fields. The likelihood of improving academic performance will be much greater if teachers are expected to concentrate on it.

  36. Margo/Mom says:


    The issue is not whether “disruptive students degrade instruction,” but whether ED students equal disruption (or a slower classroom pace).

    Not sure what it is that you believe the Chubb and Moe substantiated–“Chubb and Moe found a statistically significant relation between “tracking” (by which they meant ability grouping) and school performance.” And the relation was what?

    I tried to scope it out. Closest I could come was Chubb, in Bridging the Achievement Gap, who summarized his chapter on tracking and the achievement gap with: “…race matters for tracking and tracking matters for racial difference in measured achievement.” In other words–the path into the college prep vs non-college prep track (and he was examining high school exclusively, which leaves a lot of wide-open territory)–is determined at least in part by race. Students in the college prep track benefit by being there. I believe that he also found greater racial gaps in the non-college prep track achievement–as well as suggesting some potential for reinforcing both student self-image as good learners vs those who are not good learners.

    Momof4, when you say: “Moreover, it was explicitly stated that the lowest ten percent and the highest ten percent of the school population should not be included in heterogeneous groups,” stated by whom, I wonder?

  37. Margo/Mom says:


    in response to


    No–what I would like, without having any reason to expect, is that every other child in that class, or their teacher or parents, not be a part of creating that burden.

  38. Bill Leonard says:

    MargoMom, I seriously doubt there is any data being kept that contradicts the status quo on this matter. However, you have had considerable anecdotal evidence given to you in reply. Let me add a bit more:

    Three or four years ago my daughter-in-law had a fifth-grade class with a kid in it who was autistic, hyperactive and incredibly anti-social. His parents demanded he be mainstreamed, and showed up with an attorney at every metting called to discuss the situation. My daughter-in-law freely adcknowledged, as did her principal, that the kid was essentially uncontrollable in those circumstances, and that everything else in the class too often ground to a halt in order to deal with that kid.

    My niece, a second-year teacher, was transferred into a barrio school this year. First day in her fourth-grade class, one kid actually threw a desk at her. Her principal essentially did nothing.It has been a struggle all year. As a junior teacher on the seniority pole, she has received the standard layoff notice. But guess waht? She doesn’t want to go back, and I doubt many can blame her.

    Malcolm and Momof4 both have it right: only the deliberately obtuse can argue that effectively perpetually disruptive situations have no effect on the progress or much of anything else for every other kid in the class.

  39. Margo/Mom says:

    Bill–if you and others who post here are to be believed, the “status quo” is all over the map. In my district it takes an attorney for the district to place a kid in a “regular” classroom if they (or the teacher) doesn’t want him/her there. As far as I can tell, not much of anything can make them teach such a kid, meet his/her needs, or follow the IEP or behavior plan. But, as regards research, there has been research that is generally supportive of increased growth for kids with disabilities in inclusive situations, and none to show adverse effects on the other kids.

    But as with all things, there are better and worse ways to do so. Personally, I would not advocate for a kid such as you described be placed in a classroom with a first year teacher. Given that scenario, it’s pretty hard to discern what, exactly, was going on. I assume that your long-distance diagnosis is that the desk-thrower was an ED kid, unless the assumption is that this is normal “barrio” behavior. I would just throw out that “inclusion” does not consist of sticking a kid with problems in with other kids and pretending that the problems aren’t there. An IEP is supposed to specify the services necessary to maintain the kid there–which should include from others beyond the classroom teacher. If we could get off the in vs out of the classroom debate, perhaps we could make progress in understanding the level of support that is needed and see that it is included in a plan. In fact, a well written plans should lead directly into obvious next steps if they succeed or fail. Far too often, however, the plans are generic, heavy on spelling out what the kid can do to “earn” punishments (or exclusion) and lacking in any specifics that might indicate whether the plan was implemented or ignored. This is too bad all around. It means that kids who can be well supported with their typically developing peers are not, and kids who need more than what can be provided in a classroom are pushed (sometimes quite deliberately) into crisis to “prove” that “they don’t belong.”

    Let me suggest to you that only the deliberately obtuse can argue that perpetual exclusion can have no negative effect on mental health.

  40. Bill Leonard says:

    MargoMom, I hate to be a name-caller, but in this situation I believe it is warranted: You are a fool.

    I will not comment further, so you may have the last word.

    But I believe the rational thinkers here have your number.

  41. The fact that attorneys run the K-12 school system in the U.S. – with principals as their puppets – is the reason that the K-12 school system in the U.S. is so completely broken.

    “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” That should be the title of a book about the history of IEPs.

  42. My daughter was attacked/bullied/held underwater in swim class against her will by a kid, about 10 years ago. At the time, I was too clueless to make much of a fuss, and quietly removed her from that swim class. She’s set to graduate from high school in a month, and he’s in juvie. His middle-class, hand-wringing well-intentioned parents kept making excuses, until he finally messed up, drove drunk, and injured someone. His private school, well-regarded crunchy-granola alternative school in Pasadena, feels bad he can’t graduate with his class.

  43. Ray– all your examples don’t mention any ADD/ADHD drugs. You troll. There’s no correlation between violence and medications for ADD, although if I wasn’t on Adderall, I’d hit you.

  44. I don’t think Ray was trolling. He brings up a good question, even if his post is a full editorial. How can it be good when >60% of the American citizenry is on various psychoactive drugs – not just the kids, but the adults, too?

  45. Do emotionally disturbed students disrupt class? Depends on the category of disturbance and the institution you call a “class”.

    One of the gentlest, most able students I ever taught was labeled “Emotionally handicapped”. There was nothing at all wrong with her that a lobotomy wouldn’t have cured. If you have a 180 IQ, you figure out sometime around sixth grade that for the nest six years people who are much slower and often less informed than you will be telling you what’s what. She took the GED and left schol at 17. Our loss, perhaps. Maybe not. We wern’t doing her any good. Boys act out, girls get depressed and slit their wrists. A teqacher’s years of experience have very little to do with classroom management. Humans are apes (remember that chimp attack?); they are managed only if they want to be.

    Consider a “class” of 500 homeschooling Alg I students in an on-line “virtual” school. No management problems there, even if 25 of them are ADHD. Consider 100 students reading independently, for a self-paced English Lit. class in a cafeteria/study hall. Anyone who wants to move around is free to leave for the Auto Shop or run around the track. Few management problems here, either.

    You have problems when one student’s behavior affects others. Put one or two determined wreckers in a 25-student Chemistry classroom operating with standard methods and curriculum, and you will definitely have problems. There is NO WAY around the problem once you require that teachers manage students who do not want to be there. That is, once you accept the principle of compulsory attendance and instruction delivered live, in person.

  46. Richard Aubrey says:

    If a student causes a teacher to take one solitary minute to manage a disruption, that minute is not available for instruction. That’s a cost.
    Margo knows that data for this cost, whether one minute per period or ten minutes, are impossible to get. That’s why she keeps asking for it.
    You can’t get this data without getting the wayback machine cranked up and re-running the class without the disruptive kid and comparing the grades at the end.
    Margo is not dumb.
    Comparing schools with different methods of handling disruptive kids is a process with far too many variables. Margo could certainly find enough to back up a dismissive comment. Not that it would be true, but in response you’d have to be trying to prove a negative (i.e. that the other differences weren’t the source of the differing results).
    Call me crazy, but I don’t think the ordinary student is required to be a punching bag for the buttheads. Even if it helps the buttheads’ self esteem.