Guidelines for Identifying and Educating Students with Emotional Disability

Key Elements for Effective Individualized Program Supports and Services


 Carefully designed school programs, IEPs and related services can help students with ED meet society's expectations for academic achievement, social development and productive citizenship. The following section reflects the elements essential in providing effective school program supports and services to address the needs of students whose emotional disability is considered chronic, pervasive and severe and adversely impacts his or her educational performance. These elements represent recommended practices for educating students with ED. A primary benefit that can be derived from use of this resource is the review of program elements, which are key in developing effective practices, interventions and program supports for students identified with an emotional disability who qualify for special education services.

Several themes pervade these key elements. The goals for students with ED should be to (1) foster students' self-esteem by nurturing appropriate behavior and positive interpersonal relationships, (2) help students achieve academic success and (3) prepare students for transition to the work force or postsecondary education. These essentials are geared toward helping students reach their goals, apply to students with emotional needs and are applicable to youngsters of diverse racial, ethnic and/or socioeconomic status. Mental health responsibilities are described using a continuum of services, in which some services are community based and others are school based. Additional responsibilities include ensuring that student input is considered regarding the decisions concerning their programs.

Application of these key elements will not immediately alleviate the challenges facing ED students. Rather, attention to and implementation of these fundamentals will assist in renewing a commitment to develop appropriate program supports and services, recognizing that diligence and tenacity is essential to effect change in student performance.

The key elements are organized by major areas that are the salient characteristics available through the provision of quality program supports and services. Each area may have one or more guiding statements, which have been highlighted for emphasis. Evidence points describe sample activities that demonstrate the guiding principle.

The guidance provided in this section should not be viewed in isolation, nor should one key element be seen as more important than another. Rather, the program elements highlighted are intended to be used collectively to design and implement comprehensive services for students with ED. The evidence points represent examples of criteria, which may be used for documenting implementation. They are not exhaustive but are representative of ways to fulfill the intentions outlined in the guideline document.


Key Elements of Effective Programs and Services for Students with Emotional Disability

1. Mission

The school district shall have a statement of mission, purpose and goals for the education of all students.


Officially, adopted statements of mission, purpose and goals are present with the most recent date of adoption.

The school district addresses the creation of culturally responsive education systems by developing educational settings that foster a positive school climate, prevention, predictability, safety and responsiveness to all students and staff.


  • The district/school examines on a regular basis, the decision-making systems in place for any intended biases that may affect universal or core practices. The role of culture is integral to such decisions.
  • The district/school uses appropriate and nonbiased assessment measures in a culturally responsive manner.
  • Concerns regarding student behavior are addressed at the school, family and community level.
  • Teachers, administrators and other decision makers possess relevant cultural knowledge and an understanding of how a family's beliefs, child rearing practices, values and customs influence student behavior.
  • Professional development activities are available and provide opportunities for staff to reflect on personal biases that may affect their responsiveness to the influences of cultural factors on student behavior.
  • Professional development activities focus on the assessment and implementation of culturally responsive practices in the district.


2. Identification

Students who receive special education services meet the identification criteria in federal and state regulations for emotional disability.


  • The student's records document research and/or evidence-based tiered interventions within the general education setting, which were attempted prior to referral to special education.
  • A comprehensive evaluation for students referred for special education eligibility reflects full and equitable participation of parent, families and guardians. All information is communicated to families in their native language. Throughout the process, the district/school ensures that families from various cultural backgrounds understand their rights and the procedural safeguards afforded to them.
  • In accordance with the ED, guidelines for assessment, a variety of sources and methods for collecting identification information are used.
  • Information collected for identification purposes reflects how a student deviates from a standard or a reference group that is appropriate for that student.
  • Testing information is in keeping with standards set in the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing formulated by the American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association and the National Council on Measurement in Education (1999).
  • A multidisciplinary team including the parents, as well as a school psychologist and/or other mental health professionals, participates in the comprehensive evaluation process to determine a student's eligibility for special education services.
  • Prior written notice statements, recommendations, evaluation reports and specialized instruction determined by the PPT, and delineated in an IEP, provide documentation of a student's eligibility for special education services due to ED.


3. Curriculum

The curriculum provides for a planned, coordinated and balanced program of study that is based on the district's curriculum, aligned with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and directed toward individual outcomes for students. The basic components of this curriculum are (a) academics, (b) social skills, (c) vocational skills and (d) personal skills (independent living skills, community participation). Individual student needs may require diversity in the curriculum and flexibility in the scheduling.

Academics: A broad general education based on the CCSS exists for students through experiences in all the major content areas as defined in existing state regulations and the school district's requirements for student graduation.


  • The academic subjects for students with ED have met the credit requirements for graduation as mandated in C.G.S. Section 10-221a.
  • Students' IEPs show mastery of objectives related to specific subject areas.
  • Student transcripts list earned credits.
  • Students' Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) and Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) scores indicate the level of mastery achieved in the areas of basic skills.
  • A student handbook shows the sequence of courses, which supports CCSS.

Social Skills: The curriculum reflects specific social skills competencies that are integrated into the instruction of all academic/vocational areas of the program.


  • A comprehensive written social skills curriculum with a defined scope and sequence is available to the students.
  • Each student's IEP addresses social skills competencies, as appropriate.
  • The program details a plan for applying social skills within the context of the student's entire school day.
  • A staff development plan exists that addresses the teaching of a social skills curriculum.
  • Evidence is available and data is collected and used to document behavior change of students as a result of social skills training (i.e., surveys of teachers and employers, parent interviews, student interviews and clinical observations).

Vocational Skills: A planned vocational preparation course of study exists that is based on a comprehensive evaluation of students' aptitudes and interests and is appropriate for the chronological age of the student.


  • Systematic vocational assessment procedures include measures of ability, aptitude, work-related social skills, interests and motivation.
  • Ongoing career guidance and counseling address postsecondary employment and/or education.
  • Curriculums emphasize support areas such as work-related social skills, interpersonal skills, college-level study skills, resume and job application preparation, etc.
  • Procedures are present for collaboration with state and community services, parents, businesses and local adult service providers.
  • Student participation in community-based career exploration and work-study experiences is based on individual student needs, abilities, interests and preferences.
  • Opportunities exist for enrollment in a variety of vocational courses and in work experiences.
  • Every IEP that is written for a student who will turn 16 during the course of the school year includes transition planning (e.g. Post-School Outcome Goal Statements (PSOGS), annual goals, related objectives and transition services).
  • PSOGS are based on age-appropriate transition assessments and are related to postsecondary education or training and employment, and if appropriate, independent living skills.

Personal Skills: The curriculum provides opportunities for students to develop the necessary personal skills to achieve independence.

a. Independent LivingA planned program that incorporates the family and appropriate state and community agencies coordinates the instruction of skills that will enhance students' independent living.


The students' IEPs reflect specific objectives in the area of independent living skills if deemed appropriate by the team. Objectives address areas including, but not limited to:

  • sexuality;
  • home organization, maintenance and safety
  • health care;
  • mobility and travel
  • clothing care;
  • financial planning
  • meal planning and preparation;
  • parenting skills; and
  • substance abuse prevention;
  • self-advocacy.

The curriculum includes courses (health, foods, values clarification, etc.) available to students at all grade levels.

b. Community ParticipationA planned, sequential set of activities and courses developed by school, family and appropriate state/community agencies; and promotes movement toward full inclusion and participation in adult life in the community.


  • The students' IEPs identify objectives in the area of community participation or service learning, beginning no later than the first IEP to be in effect when a student turns 16 (or younger as appropriate to the needs of the student).
  • The students' IEPs specify activities, courses and skills to achieve intended objectives in the area of community participation, including:
    • independent access to state and community resources and agencies;
    • recreation/leisure activities;
    • self-advocacy/self-determination skills; and
    • transportation.
  • Documentation on the IEPs indicates that skills training take place in a variety of settings, which may be work-, school- or community-based and include opportunities that are available to all students.


4. Promoting Positive Student Behavior

Teachers and support staff members promote appropriate student behavior and facilitate the social skills of all students.

Positive behavior supports, problem solving, critical thinking skills and cooperative learning are built into the fabric of school life to help students self-advocate, understand positive social and interpersonal relationships, manage anger and stress, and foster self-esteem.


  • Alternative strategies have been attempted to address student behavior. Practices, strategies, supports and targeted interventions are implemented at each tier of intervention (core, targeted, and intensive) and have been documented.
  • Student schedules include opportunities for instruction, physical exercise and extracurricular activities that can promote positive student behavior.
  • Students' IEPs include objectives for social skills and a plan for applying the skills in a variety of situations during the school day.
  • Notes or minutes from scheduled team meetings and/or case manager's anecdotal records document examples across the curriculum where problem solving and critical thinking are applied.

Systematic and evidence-based interventions developed through a functional assessment of behavior exist to develop further positive student behavior and personal responsibility.


  • An intervention system (e.g., level systems, token economy system, contract system, etc.) is in place, which addresses student behavior.
  • The intervention system provides students with consistent responses to behaviors. Documentation is in place that describes student behavior over an extended period of time (e.g., individual behavior plans, charts, graphs, teacher anecdotal records, etc.) and data is periodically reviewed to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions.
  • The intervention system uses task-oriented individual and group counseling interventions.
  • An intervention system that complies with federal and state laws and regulations governing the emergency use of restrictive procedures (restraint and seclusion) is in place. Documentation is available supporting compliance with the requirements that staff be appropriately trained in the emergency use of restraint and seclusion and that appropriate parental notification regarding incidents of emergency restraint and seclusion takes place according to federal and state laws and regulations (see section 5).


5. Family

Ongoing collaboration between school and family is essential to student success. Interventions respond to family crises, reinforce school academic and behavioral goals and link families to appropriate community resources. The collaborative effort is sensitive to cultural and linguistic differences. Flexibility in scheduling parent contacts is a necessity.


  • A collaborative group exists, which addresses topics of interest to teachers, parents and students.
  • School-based procedures are designed to respond to student/family crises as they affect a student's participation and progress.
  • A student handbook outlines academic and behavioral expectations for students.
  • Staff contacts with parents regarding a student's academic and social progress are documented. These contacts include regular conferences, home visits, telephone calls, etc.
  • A list of state and community resources, including support groups, is available to parents of students with ED.
  • Staff members are available to work with those problems in a student's living situation (home, school and community) that affect the student's adjustment in school.
  • Information related to the local systems of care is shared with families in order to enhance community services to children and families with behavioral health needs.
  • IEP includes supports necessary for the parents/family, which can include counseling and training. Parents are provided information and training about child development, understanding the special needs of their child and help in acquiring the necessary skills that will allow them to support the implementation of their child's IEP.


6. School-Based Related Services

School-based related services are integrated with all aspects of the student's program. School-based related services may include, but are not limited to, psychological services; crisis intervention; clinical consultation; individual, group and family counseling and health services. These services have a clear link to the home and community through collaborative efforts among the classroom teacher, support service providers and parents.


  • Students' IEPs reflect the provision of support services as determined appropriate by the PPT with specific objectives for each service.
  • The IEP reflects input of the related service personnel as appropriate.
  • A resource guide listing community supports is available.
  • Schedules for program personnel show opportunities for communication with each other, outside service providers and parents.
  • The ratio of related service staff members to students ensures the effective delivery of required supports.
  • When appropriate and as directed by the IEP, clinical consultation for staff members is available to facilitate the provision of effective services.
  • The IEP reflects supports and training needed by school personnel to implement the IEP.


7. Interagency Collaboration

Collaboration among school, home and private/public agencies is a continuing process.

School-based case manager services are assigned by the school district to coordinate the collaboration of multiagency personnel and to assist students.


  • Documentation in students' records demonstrates access to a network of service coordinators.
  • Ongoing case reviews of students' progress show participation by all involved personnel, assignment of case managers and release time for instructional and support staff members to meet when student case reviews are scheduled during school time.
  • Outside community service providers are available in schools for student case reviews and direct services to students as appropriate.
  • The local systems of care are incorporated in the continuum of services for children with significant mental health issues.
  • Community services for children and their families are enhanced through collaboration with local systems of care.

In cases where the student with ED is receiving an education program in a separate facility or out-of-district placement, the separate facility maintains policies and procedures that support the transition to the general education community through a planned program of gradual reentry.


  • A policy statement that students will be reintegrated into the general education community, with specifics regarding when and how, exists.
  • Opportunities are provided for students to interact with the general population, including children without disabilities to the extent appropriate for the student with disabilities.
  • Prior to transitioning from an out-of-district placement, a reentry plan is specified in the student's IEP.

Best practice dictates that the LEA who places a student in a private facility, review the appropriateness of that placement annually and minimally redetermine a justification for such placement after a two to three year period.


8. Professional Development

Professional development for all school administrators, teachers and other school staff is based on the stated mission of the school district, state/federal law and the recommendations of the students' IEPs for the instructional and support staff members who assist students with ED as well as their parents.


  • Needs assessments include recommendations from evaluation of programs and services.
  • Sign-in sheets for professional development activities document attendance by parents, community agency personnel and school staff (including cafeteria workers, bus drivers, etc. as appropriate).
  • Professional development activities include, but are not restricted to, topics such as:
    • positive behavior support;
    • scientific research-based interventions (SRBI);
    • understanding specific disorders (e.g. post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] anxiety, bi-polar, etc.)
    • training in the use of seclusion as a behavior intervention in the BIP and the IEP.
    • training in the emergency use and recording/reporting of restraint and seclusion;
    • application of social skills and problem-solving strategies to daily situations;
    • child-centered support models;
    • culturally responsive pedagogy;
    • diverse counseling strategies;
    • effective differentiated instruction; and
    • conducting FBAs and developing BIPs


9. Facilities and Resources

Students with ED are integrated into the general school environment and have access to those facilities used by the general education population.


  • School layout maps indicate that the location of services for students with ED is similar to all other classrooms.
  • Inventory lists indicate equipment/materials comparable to those that are provided to all students.
  • Data reflects individualized determination of student program and placement in general education activities and environments.


10. Program Supports and Services Evaluation

A systematic evaluation process documents outcomes in all curriculum areas and examines individualization of support services.

The development of the process to evaluate program supports and services includes committee membership drawn from teachers, parents, students, administrators, program graduates and community representatives.


  • A current membership list of the evaluation committee is maintained.
  • Minutes of evaluation committee meetings document attendance of the members.
  • Evaluation components reflect all curriculum areas.

The program supports and services evaluation plan should be aligned with the IEP, student success plan (SSP) and/or based on student performance data.


  • Students' records contain education achievement measures completed during the most recent school year.
  • Students' records contain a social/behavior report completed in the most recent school year.
  • Vocational assessment and interest surveys/inventories analyze students' aptitudes/skills.
  • Progress reports describe student achievement on their goals and objectives.
  • IEP is designed to ensure the provision of education benefit.

The evaluation plan should include a follow-up process that will document performance of high school graduates within two years after leaving school regarding success in postsecondary education, employment, independent living and community participation.


  • The follow-up data collection instrument includes questions regarding the graduate's post-school education/employment status, independent living, community participation and parent input.
  • Written policies and procedures describe implementation of follow-up study.
  • A system for data analysis exists.
  • A mechanism exists for reporting results to staff members, families and students.
  • Strategies for use of follow-up results are in place to effect supplementary aides and services and changes in curriculum.

The evaluation report analyzes data, offers subsequent recommendations for improvement of services and supports for students with ED.


  • A written report summarizes data and offers lessons learned, recommendations for program supports and services, recommendations for modification and highlights effective practices.
  • A timeline outlines when expected programmatic changes are to be in place.
  • Staff members' professional goals reflect attention to specific recommendations outlined in the evaluation report.