Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 14
FACT SHEET: Students With Emotional Disabilities
Advocates fear stigma, misunderstanding in wake of Florida shooting
SNAPSHOT OF A VULNERABLE POPULATION
By Christina A. Samuels
Students with emotional or behavioral disabilities are a small portion of the students with
disabilities overall. But they represent a group that struggles the most in school, and they are
often not identified until adolescence, when interventions are difficult to provide.
Students with emotional disturbances are a small part of the
population of students with disabilities.
About 6 percent of students with
disabilities are classified as having an emotional disturbance nationally. In comparison, about 39
percent have a specific learning
disability, such as dyslexia, and 17
percent have speech and language
But the numbers don't tell the
full story. Emotional disorders can
be a part of other disabilities; for
example, a student with a learning
disability could also be coping with
anxiety or obsessive-compulsive
disorder, both of which fall under
the umbrella of "emotional disturbance."
And then there are students
who may have all the features of
an emotional disturbance, but
are never identified as having a
disability. The "emotional disturbance" label does not indicate that
a student's problems are more severe than some other student who
never gets that label.
"There's just a lot of randomness
in who is able to get through that
door," said Mark Weist, a professor
at the University of South Carolina and founder of the Center for
School Mental Health. "It depends
on the school, it depends on the
Part of the concern is money,
Weist said. Schools are legitimately concerned about how to
pay for some services that students
might need, so they enact "these
artificial barriers to slow down the
Students with emotional disturbances face some of the steepest
challenges of students in any disability group.
Students identified with emotional disturbances have lower
graduation rates and higher dropout rates than other students in
special education. They are more
likely than other students with
disabilities to face long-term suspension or expulsion.
In the 2016-17 school year, fewer
than half of students in this disability category spent most of the day in
a general education classroom. And
while about 3 percent of students
with disabilities overall were in separate schools, 13 percent of students
with emotional disturbances were.
14 | EDUCATION WEEK | March 21, 2018 | www.edweek.org
Of the approximately 6 million
students ages 6 to 21 with
disabilities, over 335,000-
about 6 percent
Percent change of Overall Disability vs. Emotional Disturbance
he academic past of Nikolas Cruz, the accused mass shooter at
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., was
littered with red flags suggesting serious emotional problems
News outlets that have reviewed Cruz's disciplinary records
and interviewed his teachers paint a picture of a young man prone to violent outbursts and fascinated with weapons. In high school, he spent time
in a Broward County public school that specializes in serving students
with emotional and behavioral disabilities.
The intense focus on Cruz's mental health history in the wake of the
Feb. 14 school massacre has worried some of those who work directly with
students who have mental health needs, such as those receiving special
education for an "emotional disturbance," the official term used in federal
special education law. The classification already carries a stigma, and
those students already have some of the worst outcomes among students
Emotional disturbances, also called emotional/behavioral disabilities,
are distinguished by their intensity and impact on school performance.
Students in special education for an emotional disturbance are not more
likely than their peers to be school shooters. In an exhaustive examination of targeted school shootings between 1974 and 2000, the U.S. Secret
Service and the U.S. Department of Education found that while perpetrators commonly described being bullied or persecuted and had thoughts of
suicide, they generally did not have a history of mental health evaluations
or diagnosis with a mental disorder.
But Cruz's known struggles in school have vaulted mental health to the
front pages. And the tension between a school's responsibility to support
students with mental health issues and the need to keep students from
harm is now on full display.
Cruz received services both in traditional public school and in a specialized program. After a rocky re-entry to Stoneman Douglas, school officials recommended he return to the alternative placement. But he waived
his right to special education services at age 18 with the support of his
mother, Superintendent Robert Runcie told the Sun-Sentinel newspaper.
Runcie has ordered a full evaluation of Cruz's educational record.
"While we cannot undo this heartbreaking attack on our school community ... we can and must do what we can to understand the conditions
that lead to such acts, in hopes of avoiding them here and elsewhere,"
Runcie said in a statement.
More than 335,000 students nationwide are identified as having an
emotional disturbance. Here's some of what we know about this population:
-have an "emotional disturbance"
(the official term in federal special
education law) as their primary disability.
About 52 percent of students labeled with emotional disturbance
are between the ages of 13 and 17, compared to 34 percent
of the overall population of students with disabilities. The chart
illustrates how diagnosis peaks in late adolescence.
All students with
Native Hawaiian 0
Two or More Races
Just over half-51 percent-of students
with emotional disturbances are white.
Black students are represented at a higher
percentage in this disability category than
they are among students with disabilities
overall. In contrast, Latino students are
identified at a lower percentage.
Inside regular class less
than 40% of the day
Fewer than half of students identified with an
emotional disability spend most of the day
in a general education classroom.
Inside regular class less
than 40% through 79%
of the day
Inside regular class 80%
or more of the day
Parentally placed in
In 2014-15 students with
graduated at a lower rate and
dropped out at a higher rate than
other students with disabilities.
In 2015-16, 25 percent of students ages 3 to
21 with disabilities who received out of school
suspensions or expulsions for more than 10
days were categorized as having an emotional
disturbance, though they represent only 5
percent of the special education population.
Notes: Data is from 2016-17 school year unless otherwise indicated.
Wisconsin was not included in the 2016-17 dataset because of data
problems. Illinois, Vermont and West Virginia were not included in the
2015-16 discipline information.
Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.
SOURCES: Education Week Research Center Analysis of IDEA Data,
2018; 39th Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2017.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - March 21, 2018
Education Week - March 21, 2018
A Teachable Moment For 2nd Amendment
Student Walkout Taps Well of Anger, Sadness
Sick of Low Pay, More Teachers Prepare to Fight
News in Brief
N.D. Districts Can Substitute ACT For State Test
Study: Don’t Use ACT, SAT to Gauge School Achievement
Spreading Social-Emotional Learning Across All Schools
Educators and Finance Officers Team Up for Better Budgeting
Schools Struggle to Use Data To Get Better
Upcoming March Could Draw On Walkout’s Momentum
Walkout Takes Aim at Gun Violence
FACT SHEET: Students With Emotional Disabilities
Response to Shooting Begins to Take Shape
lorida Extends Private-School Vouchers to Bullied Students
Surprise W.Va. Teachers Strike Emboldens Activists Elsewhere
DeVos Still Challenged In Delivering Message
Shakeup in Office Overseeing Student Privacy Rights
MARY BETH TINKER: I Stand With the Students
FRANK LOMONTE: Student Privacy Laws Should Protect Students, Not School Officials
KIRSTEN BAESLER: Yes, Betsy DeVos, Our Schools Are Innovating
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
LAWRENCE BAINES & JIM MACHELL: The War on Teachers Comes to Oklahoma
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Sick of Low Pay, More Teachers Prepare to Fight
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 2
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Contents
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - News in Brief
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Report Roundup
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - N.D. Districts Can Substitute ACT For State Test
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Study: Don’t Use ACT, SAT to Gauge School Achievement
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Spreading Social-Emotional Learning Across All Schools
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 9
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Schools Struggle to Use Data To Get Better
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 11
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Upcoming March Could Draw On Walkout’s Momentum
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Walkout Takes Aim at Gun Violence
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - FACT SHEET: Students With Emotional Disabilities
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 15
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 16
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 17
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - lorida Extends Private-School Vouchers to Bullied Students
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Surprise W.Va. Teachers Strike Emboldens Activists Elsewhere
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Shakeup in Office Overseeing Student Privacy Rights
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 21
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - FRANK LOMONTE: Student Privacy Laws Should Protect Students, Not School Officials
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - KIRSTEN BAESLER: Yes, Betsy DeVos, Our Schools Are Innovating
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Letters
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 25
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 27
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - LAWRENCE BAINES & JIM MACHELL: The War on Teachers Comes to Oklahoma
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - CW1
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - CW2
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - CW3
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - CW4