How to address behavioral issues during COVID

Interviews with the student and parents can determine whether a functional behavioral assessment is needed—and with remote learning so prevalent identifying needs in this way is more important than ever.
By: | January 11, 2021
Getty Images, Drazen ZigicGetty Images, Drazen Zigic

Be diligent about identifying and distinguishing behavioral needs during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly when determining whether to conduct a functional behavioral assessment, one expert advises.

An FBA determination is going to have more to do with the impact the behavior produces than the topography of the behavior itself, says Paula Chan, assistant professor in special education in the Department of Teacher Education at Cleveland State University in Ohio.

“Is the behavior unresponsive to classroom interventions and does it interfere with the district’s ability to provide a free appropriate public education?” she asks. Such disruptive behavior that cannot be managed during the class session can be a cause to document the behavior and efforts to intervene.

Behavior versus environment

“Determine the relationship between the behavior and the environment,” Chan says.

Whereas hybrid and in-person learning environments increase opportunities to accurately observe behavior, educators have much less access to such observations in the remote learning environment. Chan says districts should consider how they observe behavior in person when they have students as well as how they motivate students. Behavior management plans should include strategies that motivate students, she advises.

Direct observation and interviews

“Take as much direct observation whenever possible,” says Chan. “Also, keep in mind that the behavior at home and the behavior in the time between is going to be very different.”

“Try to take data on what is happening in terms of the behavior and antecedent behavior,” she continues. “Was the student logging in on time? Was the student present and participating in class? It is limited data, but data that can still help inform.”

Student and parent interviews are going to become much more important as remote learning persists, she believes. Parents are willing to do more things like video logging and working independently with their child, teachers may get a more authentic snapshot of the student’s behavior in interviews. Tacher interviews for students who attend general education classes can help as well.

Data collection and documentation

“Take in a little bit more data to be sure that [you] are protected against claims of denying FAPE,” says Chan. “Teachers are facing a new challenge in managing students inside their homes. Make sure we are really thinking about ‘Is this behavior interfering with our ability to provide FAPE and manage a classroom?'”

Some behaviors during the pandemic may warrant help from a school psychologist, school social worker, or special education specialist, she adds.

Communicating more can give a better sense of what’s real challenging behaviors.

“The best coordinators I have spoken to have just been honest and vulnerable about speaking with parents,” she says. “Every communication should be documented. If you think there is some sort of potential for there being a need for an FBA, just have a log and document that. It shows the efforts that the district is making to ensure FAPE.”

Johnny Jackson covers special education issues for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication.