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Michael Dorfman
BY Michael Dorfman

Do I Have to Pick Up My Child with Special Needs Every Time the School Calls?

When your house telephone or cell phone rings between the hours of 8:00am-4:00pm on school days, does a feeling of panic or dread overcome you, believing that your child’s school is calling?  If you answered yes, then you are not alone. That time, when our special needs children are in school, and out of our sight, makes our imaginations run rampant. Seeing the name of the school on the Caller ID, makes our heart stop, and sets our imaginations into overdrive.

Many times the reason for the call is to come collect our child with special needs because he/she is requesting to leave, the school doesn’t feel like dealing with them, or he/she doesn’t want to do the assignments.

Working and non-working parents alike are forced to scurry to school in the middle of the day to pick up children for issues that the school could have typically handled internally. These repeated pick-up calls beg the question as to whether the school can legally require parents to come get their special needs children before the school day concludes.

It Depends on the Situation

The short answer to the aforementioned question is it depends on the situation.   Your child has the right to attend school. Students can only be kept away from school if they have been officially suspended.  Further, suspension should always be a last resort.  The schools should always try different interventions to help your child before resorting to a suspension.

Question #1: Has he or she been suspended?

The first question to ask when you have been requested to pick up your child because of behavioral issues is whether he/she has been suspended.  If he/she has not been officially suspended then he/she cannot be removed from the school by the administration.

The school, when they call you for a pick-up, in essence, is requesting that you voluntarily take your child home when there is a behavioral situation that doesn’t warrant suspension. Schools are required to provide your child with the necessary supports to benefit his/her education, and schools must find a way to deal with your child’s behavior.

If behavior is an on-going issue, then discussions must be had to find the proper placement for the child.  Schools cannot give you conditions of attendance or even mention or suggest the use of medication for your child.

A meeting is required

Again, if behavioral issues related to the disability continue to persist, the school needs to meet with the parents and IEP Team and determine the best course of action. School is challenging for special education students and some would rather be at home than school. These students quickly learn the behaviors that will get them to be picked up early and will effectuate those behaviors more frequently.

School is the best place

The best place for a child is in a school setting with other children. Calling parents for early pick-up is a quick route for schools not wanting to deal with the underlying issues and causes. School personnel and professionals have far superior training in dealing with behavioral issues stemming from disabilities than most parents do.  That is why school is the best place for your child during the school day.

Federal and State Law Requirements

Most states have enacted laws or regulations requiring that each student’s school day be a minimum amount of hours per day, per year.   Under federal and state law, disabled students must be afforded the same opportunity to participate in and benefit from instruction and other education-related services that are equal to those provided to nondisabled students.   The ironic part is that the school day is being routinely shortened for students who can least afford it.

The 2 Big Questions to Ask

There are obviously certain situations where you are glad the school called and you are happy to extricate your child that day from a very precarious position.  Once in a while is fine.  Daily, weekly, and/or monthly calls are not acceptable.  When you get the phone call from the school requesting you pick up your child, immediately ask:

  1. Is he/she being suspended?  
  2. Has he/she been physically injured or harmed?

If the answer from the school to the two above questions is no, you are not required to come running to the school.  You are not being callous or un-caring, you merely want your child to be educated like all the other students in the building.

Early Dismissal

Schools in the past have been cited for the early dismissal of disabled students.  “Packing up” disabled students early, before school is dismissed, deprives them of educational benefit and allows for them to be treated differently than nondisabled students.

There is no basis for shortening the day of an entire classroom of disabled students. When I use the term “early” I do not mean five minutes, it is typically 30-60 minutes early. Your child is the consumer, don’t let he/she be deprived of valuable education time because its more convenient to get them packed up early.

Needs still not being Met?

If you have attempted to discuss these concerns with your school’s administration or IEP team, with no resolve, your next plan of action should be to file a state or federal complaint.

Michael Dorfman

Written on May 27, 2014 by:

Michael R. Dorfman is an attorney and partner at Nykanen Dorfman, PLLC in Farmington Hills, Michigan.  In his special education law practice, Michael represents students and their families when there is a conflict with the school district or when an appropriate education is not being provided.
  • Tray Semmy

    I am extremely disappointed in this article’s lack of objectivity and exploration of WHY schools may opt to send home students early versus suspending the students as well as an oversimplification as to the reasons (e.g., refusing to schoolwork?!) children are sent home. This article is misguiding to parents as it does not provide the contingencies with which there are limits and legitimate reasons to send a child home versus suspending them, the discipline procedural process for students with special education needs, or a mention of IDEA’s Least Restrictive Environment clause that legally requires schools to keep children in placements until various empirically-supported interventions have been tried and exhausted as not meeting the child’s needs. In the mean time, if a child’s needs truly cannot be met in their current placement, that often does result in the child needing to be sent home- not because “the school doesn’t feel like dealing with them” but because the child is presenting harm to themselves or others or significantly disrupting the learning environment (e.g., screaming, yelling, running away) for an extended period of time and is not responding to current intervention strategies in place, which then need to be revised. You are correct, parents do not legally have to pick the child up unless the child is suspended but whose best interest is that in? Sending children home early is often a preferable method not because schools are lazy and don’t want to deal with problem behaviors but because it keeps the student in school and learning and socializing more. If a student is suspended, in accordance with most school’s discipline procedures, suspension days accumulate at an exponential rate and do not want to penalize a child for behaviors stemming from a disability while in the process of collaborating with the family to come up with behavioral strategies that will help meet the student’s needs at the school- NOT so they do not have to deal with them. Often times all these students need is a change in environment to soothe them and help them cognitively get to the point where they can again begin to reason more rationally and come back to school and make better decisions. You are also correct in saying that if these behaviors start occurring on a regular basis and appear to be serving the function of escape for the child then different solutions do need to be put into place.

    As a school psychologist in a low-SES, urban school setting with predominantly immigrant and refugee families and very few parents who can speak English or have a high school diploma, I greatly appreciate advocacy and awareness efforts to help parents understand the extremely complex special education system and ALWAYS encourage parents to contact the free advocacy organizations outlined in their procedural safeguards as well as have attended several meetings in other districts as an advocate. There are definitely districts and/or schools out there who will take advantage of parent’s lack of knowledge regarding special education rights and their definitely is a continuing need for advocacy and awareness; however, writing a polarizing, oversimplified article the perpetuates pitting families against schools rather than writing an objective article that facilitates mutual understanding and collaboration is only going to create unnecessary hostility and prevent IEP teams from being able to collaborate in a fashion that is effective and efficient at best meeting the child’s needs as soon as possible so they have the structures they need to learn and grow socially/emotionally. This grossly overgeneralized assumption that schools “do not want to deal with” kids with special needs is greatly exaggerated and frustrating especially for school support staff- why would we be in special education if we did not want to address your child’s academic and behavioral difficulties that are preventing them from accessing and making progress in the school curriculum? The overwhelming majority of us are there because we are passionate about what we do and wanting to help children learn and grow so please stop writing articles that paint schools as being villains.

    If you really want to help parents and ultimately their children, try writing an article that helps them not only understand their rights (in a more accurate fashion without the oversimplified fluff) but the schools as well so they can make more educated decisions about when their rights under IDEA really are being violated and it is time to take action versus facilitating unnecessary conflict between schools and families rather than collaboration.

    • Behaviorbabe

      A system should care about the gears working, working together, and in sync. A parent only needs to care about the needs of THEIR child. Teachers need support, schools need training, parents need support, children need educating. We need to stop pointing fingers and start finding solutions…together! #Bethechange #behavioranalysis

      • Flyagain Angel

        and those solutions will ONLY be found when schools stop neglecting their charges!

    • Flyagain Angel

      You are a great example of what is wrong with our public school system. Almost everything you have said is absolutely, and unequivocally FALSE. You say you want to see facts and rights written down for both sides? here they are in a nutshell:

      Parents rights
      1. To be able to send their child to school and NOT GET CALLED TO PICK THEM UP UNLESS MEDICALLY OR LEGALLY NECESSARY
      2. To be able to go in to their child’s school tell them: this is what needs to be done when…. AND THE SCHOOL DOES IT.
      3. To know that their child is being given every possible opportunity that the next kid is being given
      4. To not be told that the school is “better qualified to deal with their kids than the parent is” (direct quote from the article!)
      5. To not be worried about if their child is going to be harmed while at school (in ANY manner)

      The School’s Rights
      1. To have students arrive on time, clean and ready to learn
      2. To be able to contact the parent(s) IF NEEDED (meaning the school has tried every single possible method to resolve an issue first)
      3. To be able to know the children at their school are well behaved and not violent

      Those are the basic standards for both sides. The school is LEGALLY OBLIGATED to obey the IEP and to set one up when ordered by a doctor. The school is legally obligated to NOT CALL THE ARENT UNLESS ALL OTHER METHODS HAVE BEEN BROACHED AND FAILED FIRST. The school is legally obligated to ensure it’s staff (all of it’s staff) are properly trained and know how to respond to ANY child at ANY time.

      Take your empirical bullshit and get it out of our public school system. You have no place in this establishment unless you are willing to accept your responsibilities and follwo through with them instead of trying to claim everything is on the parent(s) or child(ren).

      • Karin Lutz Crocombe

        Actually, you are wrong. The school, under no circumstances, is “LEGALLY OBLIGATED to set one up(an IEP)” when ordered by a doctor. If an outside evaluation has been done, the school is only legally required to “CONSIDER” that evaluation and subsequent recommendations. No doctor can require that a school set up an IEP.

  • Mike Dorfman

    Tray, I am the author of the article and would like to discuss your concerns with you in greater detail. Will you please e-mail me so we can begin a dialogue. [email protected].

    • Jason Travers

      Mike, thank you for advocating on behalf of children with disabilities and their families. You rock.

    • Behaviorbabe

      It would be helpful for parents and professionals to be able to access some direct laws or guidelines. It is one thing to tell parents “you have rights” and another to say “here are your rights”. Thank you for the topic discussed and for the article itself.

    • Flyagain Angel

      The best place for a child is in a school setting with other children.
      Calling parents for early pick-up is a quick route for schools not
      wanting to deal with the underlying issues and causes. School personnel
      and professionals have far superior training in dealing with behavioral
      issues stemming from disabilities than most parents do. That is why
      school is the best place for your child during the school day.

      Most of your article I found to be highly intelligent and correct. That quoted paragraph however is pure and utter hogwash. Inthe end, NOBODY is better qualified to deal with ANY child, than their parent. If this is not the case, then intervention needs to happen to find out WHY the parent is not capable of handling their own child, and see to it the parent becomes capable.

      • Jennifer Elliott Meadows

        Unfortunately, there are parents who are not equipped to “deal” with their child. There are many reasons; drug and alcohol abuse, limited cognitive ability, mental illness resulting in neglect, abuse and/or attachment disorders, some parents who are impacted by homelessness and poverty, those parents who work long hours and multiple jobs, single parents with multiple children, parents who have no understanding or knowledge of their child’s disability or medical condition, those who are egocentric, those who are more engaged with their electronics/phone than their children, and then some really great parents who are just overwhelmed and don’t know how to respond to certain behaviors, etc. I, do agree, that many parents are the experts on their child and that they are often disregarded and treated as less than at case conferences and meetings. IDEA states that the parents are EQUAL members of the CCC team, not parents and the team. As the mother of three children with special needs, who is also an educational consultant, IDEA trainer and advocate for parents, i have been able to look at this from multiple perspectives. I know so many awesome and amazing educators and so many awesome and amazing parents, however, there are school personnel who fit the description that Mr. Dorfman provided and worse. Also there are parents who are rude and aggressive toward school personnel and who have unrealistic demands. The key, as mentioned, by one of the posters, is to work as a team where every member is valued, heard and treated as having equal status on the team. Even the very best parents need assistance to understand their child’s rights under IDEA and state law and also their rights as parents. There are so many resources online that spell out educational regulations and law, I think Mr. Dorfman’s article did a great job covering the scope of this topic.

  • Garrett, Boston MA

    First question to the school after the call to pick them up – “Is this a medical emergency” If answer is yes, instruct school to call ambulance and then go to the ER. If answer is no, instruct school to send child home on regular bus.

    Second question might be “Is the child being suspended” but I’m not sure that is a legitimate reason for parents to leave work with no prior notice. It is not the parents job to placate school administrators by rushing off to remove a child having a melt down. It IS the school administrators job to educate special needs children, even the behaviorally challenged ones.

    • Skrael

      I tried that once, and then the school threatened to call the police and child protective services on me instead. Needless to say,I picked up my child. Also, countless times, they refused to send him home on the bus, called to inform me (after the bus had left) and I had to go pick him up. I don’t drive, and the school is an hour away by public transportation. So annoying, but they said he was ‘too unsafe’ to ride the bus. He has Asperger’s.

      • Shawna Leigh

        Yep, the last time my daughter had a meltdown, they threatened to call the police. That would have been the second time in a year. And last time they did, the police officer threatened to take my daughter from me. Not decking him was a serious act of willpower.

      • Behaviorbabe

        If students are too unsafe to be on the bus, alternative arrangements should be made. But, the back-up plan should be made well in advance.

  • Mary

    Simply put all children are guaranteed a free and appropriate public education. Their IEP summarizes the services needed to access their education. If they are being sent home repeatedly there is a problem with the IEP & an IEP needs to be held to make changes to keep them in school. Sometimes it needs to be determined that the school cannot meet the child’s needs (hence the sending home) and the placement needs to be changed to a program that can at district expense.

    • Behaviorbabe

      FAPE – Mostly I find parents are left asking “can I buy a vowel”! What I have encountered across the nation is Free and Public…the “appropriateness” of the “education” is always highly variable.

  • Art-Is-Umm

    Special needs students need teachers who are adaptable to varying degrees of behaviors. Seven to eight hours of a school day, a child is entrusted to teachers for instruction. Whether clearly stated or not, this instruction includes social development. We (teachers, parents, society in general) are responsible for preparing children to face greater mental challenges and complicated social situations.

    Suspension teaches nothing to a special needs child, who in some cases does not understand the gravity or impact of their behaviors.

  • Gail A

    Thank you for speaking about a subject often not brought out into the light of day. I taught special needs children for more than 30 years. I taught every grade level and almost every type of disability. Now, as a Parent Advocate, I help parents find the answers they need in order to ensure their child receives the best our schools have to offer. Before filing a state or federal complaint, parents may want to speak to an advocate. This step should come prior to filing a complaint. Keep that as a last resort and try to work out a plan of action that will keep the lines of communication open. You may be living in that school district for many years and would want to open dialogue rather than close it prematurely.

  • Sarah

    I’m an early interventionist for children birth – 5. One of my “alumni” went into a general Ed. kindergarten and had a challenging time. He began having panic attacks in the afternoon. The school decided to send him home half days… every day. That way he’d leave before the panic attacks. This didn’t make any sense. Obviously the child needed more support not less! The parents contacted the Autism Society who helped them advocate for their son. Now he stays full days and is in the general Ed class some of the day and in a special needs class some of the day. He is really flourishing. It’s a great example of the power of advocacy!

  • Lei Wiley-Mydske

    I disagree that schools are more well trained to “deal” with behavior than parents are. In fact, most schools and professionals are “trained” in methods that just don’t work for children with disabilities, especially those with developmental or intellectual disabilities. I would rather come and get my child than leave him in a place that is making him feel unwanted and that he is a burden for having a neurology that differs from the norm. Schools absolutely need to figure out how to support students with behavioral challenges better, but they are only going to do that when they listen to the needs of the students, not force compliance and indistinguishability on them. Talk to former special education students and self advocates and they will tell you how these programs hurt rather than help. We need to understand that behavior is communication and that is to be respected, not “fixed” to make children appear more “normal”.

  • omg

    How much of aggressive behaviors should a school be expected to accept. The risk is to high for staff if they touch the student they are putting their livelihood and possibly freedom is at risk. So yes call the parent let them deal with it and don’t step interfere. That way if the student is hurt it’s on the parent. When did education become a physical battle for staff ?

    • Maria

      I am the parent of a child with neurological disorders (asd, adhd, anxiety, sensory). My child is the one at school who is aggressive when he is asked to do worksheets in a portable building by himself with his para. They call us to go up there to help them every day. We have been dealing with this for 3 years! You would think that the schools would have figured out something else, another way to help him. I’ve been out of the workforce for two years for this reason. So if school is not an appropriate place, what is?

      • Jennifer Elliott Meadows

        Please feel free to contact me through FaceBook. I am a private educational consultant and an advocate and would like to help. If you are working at the school to provide your child’s IEP, you should be financially compensated. The school is responsible for providing extra staff to meet your child’s needs while accessing his school program and day.

    • Jennifer Elliott Meadows

      It is the legal responsibility for schools to provide an education for ALL students. If not eligible for an IEP and special education services, then students must comply with school regulations and the discipline procedures outlined in every schools handbook and policies. If special education eligible than their are specific requirements that must be meet but all students are to be provided an education. Parents can be held liable if they don’t ensure that their child is being educated.

  • Ashli Taylor

    Interesting post..I work in a crisis/behavioral intervention facility for kids with mental and intellectual disabilities. In my place of employment, we never send children home because we are a specialized campus.

    However, other schools within our district do for the safety of fellow students since they are not equiped to handle such outbursts. If I were on one of those campuses, I would rather have 1 upset parent versus 3 because a child threw a desk in a rage and injured 3 kids.

    Also what right do students have to behave in a manner that deprives others of their education? You have to prioritize. You could educate the 3 children from earlier and send 1 home, or have all 4 be totally uneducated because the one student commands control of the room. Only so much support can be provided in a place with inadequate training.If the facility is not equiped to handle behaviors, parents should be called . Period. Then appropriate action should be taken to make sure they receive proper placement and accomodations.

    There are too many claims of teachers abusing students to risk keeping them…again I stress that I am referring to normal campuses. They cant win. Keep them ar school and handle via protocol: risk being accused of abuse. Send them home: They dont want them.

    To correct the claim that teachers are better equipped to deal with these behaviors: we are taught non threatening approaches and basic restraints. Not every campus has to utilize restraints though, and they are scared shitless when they have to. Half of the time I, myself, go to work wondering if im going to be hit in the face today. Yes, children are entitled to an education, but they are not entitled to endanger the safety of other students or staff. Point blank, your children are your children. They have educational rights, but no right to endanger staff or others. Display the behaviors I work with in public and you go to jail. So yes compliance methods are necessarry. In those cases we do not “listen to the needs of students”. Are you kidding me? Most behaviors I see are due to work avoidance. Next is followed by over or under stimulation of sensory functions. In that case, proper supplemental sensory is provided under the discretion of an OT. Even as someone employed on a specialized campus, I am not going to put myself in danger for your child’s behaviors because I am the only person my daughter has. She is first.

    • Jennifer Elliott Meadows

      IDEA and individual state education requirements state that it is the local educational agency’s (LEA) responsibility to provide an “individualized education plan” for EVERY student who meets special education eligibility. Children with certain medical and genetic conditions or with certain disabilities may exhibit behaviors that are aggressive. Children who have experienced abuse and neglect may have aggressive behaviors as well due to how these and other traumas have impacted their brain development and social/emotional development. It is the SCHOOLS responsibility to provide a “free and appropriate public education” for every one of these children. IDEA and state regulations are very clear regarding the steps required to make this possible. As a teacher or staff person in a residential program where you agreed to work with children who fit these descriptions, you have agreed to take this risk and also have the responsibility to respond to protect these students and those around them that may be in danger of getting injured. You have been provided training specifically for these cases. You have free will to quit. If you don’t intercede as your job description and policies indicate you can be dismissed, and even held liable for injuries that resulted through your neglect to act. If LEAs cannot provide a FAPE program that meets the needs of the student within their school district, they become responsible to pay for an alternative program.

      • Jennifer Elliott Meadows

        I encourage parents and educational professionals to research “trauma informed care” and “trauma sensitive” schools and the refer to the books and articles by Dan Siegel, Bryan Post, Karyn Purvis, Heather Forbes, Bruce Perry and other trauma specialists, There are wonderful resources that provide strategies, interventions, accommodations, supports and activities that help a child who is dsyregulated and upset to calm down. The use of restraints and seclusion can be eliminated along with the “need” to send children home. Mindfulness, emotional regulation activities, sensory “diets” , positive behavior interventions and supports, increase in physical activity, social emotional learning classes, positive, supportive relationships and other techniques help children and adults regulate and move from their survival brain (limbic/brainstem) to their logical brain (prefrontal cortex) where they can then focus, debrief, plan and repair as needed.

  • RedFly

    My child is in 1st grade and attends school for 3 hours because of his disability. The school is always calling for pick up an hour after I dropped him off.

  • Saddened Mom

    School called police on my son after not following his IEP. All the police and teachers had circled my son. Must have been 15 in all. He was hand cuffed and in the fetal position. So, far they have refused to transfer him. I pulled him from the school. It is abuse. Is there anything that I can do about it?

    • Jennifer Elliott Meadows

      Please feel free to PM me on FaceBook. I am a private educational consultant and advocate and would like to help.


    My son started 2nd grade this year. For Kindergarten and First grade he was in a class of 8 students, most of whom had autism. They had a meeting with us towards the end of the year and suggested moving him into a different class for 2nd grade where he would be a little more independent. It’s a special education class, but most of the children have physical disabilities, he’s the only autistic child in the class of 13. On the very first day I received a call that he was screaming, crying, knocking over desks, I was asked to come pick him up (I did). Every day on his report from the teacher she writes that he screams and cries, he hits and kicks, he refuses to do his work. Monday we were asked to pick him up again, and now they have asked us not so send him back until after we have a meeting with the school on October 4th. I already asked if he can go back to his old class and I was told no, the classroom is now at its max with 8 students. We were told when we had our meeting last year that this new class would be a trial, and if it didn’t work out, there were other options. We were never told he wouldn’t be able to go back to his old class. Now they want us to either homeschool him or send him out of district. He goes to school in the summer out of district and he missed at least a week of classes over the summer because he refused to even get on the bus. He does not like the school he goes to when he is sent out of district. What rights do we have when we go into this meeting on the 4th? I would really like my son to go back into a classroom where he felt comfortable, and where the teachers are trained in how to work with autistic children.

    • Jennifer Elliott Meadows

      Melissa, I am interested in how your meeting went on the 4th! Please PM me on FaceBook. I am a private educational consultant and advocate and want to help!


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