Should we eliminate segregated behaviour classes?

A principal colleague of mine and I have the unique privilege of being administrators in a school where there is a Behaviour Intervention Program (BIP).  This program is described as:

The Behaviour Intervention Program is provided for exceptional students who exhibit extreme difficulty coping in the community school. Typically, these students will have exhibited many or all of the following behaviours: verbal aggression, physical aggression, profound inability to build or maintain interpersonal relationships, excessive anger, severe non-compliance, extreme lack of impulse control, extreme low self-esteem, extreme defiant behaviour, extreme difficulty coping in the community school, an inability to learn that cannot be traced intellectually, sensory or other health factors. The focus of the program is to provide a structured learning environment and an opportunity to develop appropriate prosocial behaviours.

From the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board website

Sounds like a scary place doesn’t it?  I will admit when I got news that my appointment as a VP was at a school with this type of classroom, I was initially terrified.  But very quickly, as I got to know the 8 boys in our Intermediate (grade 7-8) BIP, my apprehension melted away and I fell in love with them.  All are wonderful kids with complex needs, and coping with situations that would knock me on my you-know-what.  And they came to school to learn.  Wow.  (And two boys especially were absolute rock stars as kindergarten helpers!  Nothing like an embarrassed, trying-to-look-tough 13-year old with a 4-year wrapped adoringly around his leg!)

But not everyone feels that way about them.  When calling for guest teachers or casual educational assistants, when they heard that it was for a BIP, there was often an audible gasp followed by a long pause at the other end of the phone line. Cue the desperate pitch: “Really, they’re very good kids.  There’s an EA in the room at all times”, or “The teacher’s been in this program for a long time.  Just follow his lead”,  or “I’ll come up and check on how everything’s going as often as I can”,  and on and on.  Reluctantly they would agree to come in, and I would be more than a little miffed that such a deep stigma was attached to students in this classroom.  This stigma can seep out into the student body, the staff, parents and the school system. 

But back to my colleague.  One day early in the school year, he dropped by the school for a visit.  We chatted about our different sites, the various extra-curricular activities we had going on, etc.  Eventually the conversation turned to the BIP programs, and not just ours, but those system-wide.  He shared his vision for the BIP programs in our board – namely to not have them anymore.

This is when he got really excited.  “These are kids with learning disabilities, like any other student with an LD,”  he said. “Their issues with social skills have impeded their abilities to learn, just as a student may have cognitive challenges that affect their learning. Then we throw them in a class together, where they trigger each other.”  I have to say that I agree.  Especially when you have an intermediate program where you throw the usual pre-teen issues on top of  the challenges these kids are already struggling to cope with, and you can get nuclear real quick. 

His idea for an alternative?  Dismantle the classes altogether, have an EA buddied up with any student identified with behavioural exceptionalities in any homeroom class and go from there.  Now I’m sure my colleague has thought further down the road on his vision, but since his visit, the thought has stuck in my head.  I have no idea what the ramifications are budget-wise, but really, ideally, if it’s money that goes towards student success, then what’s the problem?

Curious as to the thoughts of others on this.

4 thoughts on “Should we eliminate segregated behaviour classes?

  1. My previous school had a behaviour class. It was great. The teacher was experienced and was wonderful with these kids and their families. The full-time child care worker was also great. The kids were mainly integrated into the regular classrooms. When a child has difficulty, the teacher and ccw are there to support. If the child just needs some quiet time, he knows where to go. The kids and teachers all feel supported with this model. So much so, that the teachers often call the behaviour teacher/ccw for assistance with other challenging children who are not even “in” the behaviour program.

    This program supports the whole school, not just those who are in the program. At least this is how it is in my previous school. Things could be changing though. The teacher who has taught in this class for almot 20 years retired in June. So often the success of programs is staff-dependent.

    I am not too sure if providing each student who would be in a program like this would meet the needs of the student. It may, if the right special ed assistant is placed with the student. If not, it could be disasterous. Budget-wise, I think it would be moch more expensive than the current system.

  2. Thanks Tia. We had about 4 kids integrated for part of the day. The BIP class was an area for them to come back to, but I found it was used mostly as a punishment, adding to the stigma. And true, our BIP teacher was often called upon to support other students, which was helpful. It is a VERY tight line I find between a class that supports, and the class that doubles as a detention room/jail cell. It can be a slippery slope, and it comes down to the staff members in the room. Overall, I am a firm believer in positive begets positive, and if people starts off being scared of kids in these programs, it’s a hard cloak to shake off. I still like the idea of dissassembling the program, maybe in the intermediate grades as it’s so hard for them to come to terms with the class they’re in and their need to seem “like everyone else”.
    I appreciate your thoughts.

  3. It’s interesting to hear how the program is run so differently. Here, the main goal is integration. That integration actually happens most of the day for all of the kids. The kids are on the integrated class list. They check in with the program first thing in the morning, at recess, lunch, and at the end of the day. They are also checked in on regularly throughout the day. The program is seen as supportive, not at all punishment. The kids in this school are all very accepting and tolerant. There is no stigma attached to the program here. That is another reason why this program works so well at this school, I believe.

    If the program is dismantled in the east, it will be interesting to hear how it is managed, how the kids succeed, and who picks up the slack.

    Very interesting, indeed.

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