Note to parents: If it's not working, change it

One of my golden rules of parenting is, “If it’s not working, change it.” We need to get creative if our bedtime routine, mealtime rituals, discipline techniques or outside activities stop meeting our family’s needs. Parents who are inflexible can get locked into power struggles that don’t fix the problem.

Des Moines Register editorial writer Linda Fandel’s follow-up on Isabel Loeffler reminded me of how well things can work out when parents are willing to question and change what isn’t working. In the summer of 2007 I was outraged by Fandel’s feature story on how a Waukee elementary school disciplined Isabel, an eight-year-old on the autism spectrum. She repeatedly spent long stretches in a timeout room as school staff kept resetting the clock when Isabel tried but failed to meet nearly impossible demands. The inappropriate and punitive use of the timeout room didn’t improve Isabel’s behavior and certainly didn’t create a good learning environment for her. Her parents pulled her out of the school and moved to California. Fandel writes:

Officials in the Waukee school district and the Heartland Area Education Agency, which helped prepare Isabel’s individualized learning plan, insisted they had done nothing wrong. But an administrative law judge in 2007 found that the district and AEA used interventions not consistent with accepted practice. That decision was upheld on appeal. A civil suit is pending.

Isabel’s father, Doug Loeffler, recently e-mailed Fandel to say that his daughter “loves school and is very active in several community groups that provide opportunities for children with special needs to work together with children without handicaps.” He also said there is growing interest nationally how schools misuse timeout rooms and physical restraint.

Last year the Iowa Board of Education adopted stricter rules on timeout rooms and certain kinds of physical restraint. I’m glad to know this is part of a national trend, but public policy is no substitute for parents who are willing to get involved and learn what is going on in their child’s school. If the Loefflers had not asked for a videotape to find out why their daughter wasn’t responding well to discipline at school, they never would have realized how inappropriate the school’s policy was.

This thread is for any comments on education, discipline or parenting.

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