Attorney James Sibley is a potent advocate for special needs students and their families fighting for fair treatment. In this episode of the Safety Doc Podcast, Attorney Sibley and host David Perrodin discuss the sprawling practice of limiting or exempting students with disabilities from school safety instruction, drills and access to threat reporting systems. James and David employ authentic stories that educators and parents will relate to in this vibrant discussion that is not about assigning blame and all about a more informed way for parents, educators and students to think about how to calibrate inclusive school safety. REASONS FOR EXEMPTING CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS FROM SAFETY INSTRUCTION. Attorney Sibley explains that educators think they are somehow "protecting" students with special needs by limiting their participation in safety drills. Many of these students present unique challenges during emergency situations and they shouldn't just be included in regular safety planning, there should be specialized safety plans in place for them. And, for those plans to be successful there needs to be preparation and practice. Dr. Perrodin adds that the hyper-realistic design of contemporary school intruder drills also prompts educators and parents to limit students with special needs from exposure to these types of drills. However, the question also arises of the appropriateness of these drills for all students and staff. Has the threshold of “reasonable” safety drills been crossed? LAWS FOR STUDENT SAFETY INSTRUCTION: IDEA and ADA. Attorney Sibley describes two of the primary laws that impact student safety instruction. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a piece of legislation that ensures the approximately 8 million students with a disability are provided a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that is tailored to their individual needs. Students with disabilities that receive special education or related services have a plan developed by the school team and parents to meet the needs of the child. That plan can, and should, include specific instruction and supports to ensure the student’s safety is maintained during a crisis situation. The other significant piece of legislation addressed by Attorney Sibley is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). People commonly think of this in terms of ramped entrances and accessible bathrooms. However, he brought awareness to Chapter 7 Addendum 2: The ADA and Emergency Shelters: Access for All in Emergencies and Disasters identifies that one of the government’s (including schools) primary responsibilities is to protect people during disasters and emergencies and to provide shelter that accommodates all persons, including people with disabilities. INCORRECT APPLICATION OF THE IEP PROCESS RELATIVE TO STUDENT SAFETY. First, you can’t do something in the IEP that would violate the ADA. The IEP has a portion that includes testing accommodations and Attorney Sibley mentioned that as teams discuss this section it is sometimes incorrectly broadened to include participation in safety instruction. Ultimately, students can’t be exempted from school safety instruction or drills for any reason. ASKING QUESTIONS IS THE WAY TO LEARN ABOUT A STUDENT’S SAFETY INSTRUCTION AT SCHOOL. Attorney Sibley believes much can be learned when parents adopt an inquiry-based approach to learning about their child’s school safety instruction and participation in drills. He gave the example of the following questions a parent might pose to school staff: “Are these drills designed to increase and enhance the safety on the campus? And if the answer is yes, is there some reason that you don’t want my child to be safe – as I want them to be safe and I assume you do, too.” WE UNDER-ESTIMATE THE POTENTIAL OF CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES DURING CRISIS SITUATIONS. Dr. Perrodin gave accounts of educators that exempted children with special needs from drills only because they anticipated that they would not perform well during the drill. In fact, the student had never been afforded the opportunity to demonstrate competency in the drill. Attorney Sibley added a story of when he was a Scout Leader and the Scouts, including some with disabilities, needed to respond to a rapidly rising river. Although the Scouts hadn’t practiced for that specific scenario, they had practiced for unforeseen situations and also recognized a chain of command. They processed the flood without panic and, as Attorney Sibley underscores, students with special needs will surprise us with how well they can handle emergency situations.  FOLLOW DR. PERRODIN: Twitter @SafetyPhD and subscribe to The Safety Doc YouTube channel & Apple Podcasts. SAFETY DOC WEBSITE & BLOG: The Safety Doc Podcast is hosted & produced by David Perrodin, PhD. ENDORSEMENTS. Opinions are those of the host & guests and do not reflect positions of The 405 Media or supporters of “The Safety Doc Podcast”. The show adheres to nondiscrimination principles while seeking to bring forward productive discourse & debate on topics relevant to personal or institutional safety. Email David: LOOKING FOR DR. TIMOTHY LUDWIG, PHD? Dr. Perrodin’s “Safety Doc Podcast” negotiates school and community safety. To be informed about industrial safety, please contact Appalachian State University Professor Dr. Timothy Ludwig, PhD, at Learn more about ADA Chapter 7 Addendum 2 at

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Purchase Dr. Perrodin’s Book: Schools of Errors – Rethinking School Safety in America

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