PAP 151: What to Do When Your Child Gets in Trouble at School, with Robert Tudisco, Esq.

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

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Kids with special needs get in trouble at school — both disciplinary action and involvement of law enforcement — far more than neurotypical students. Kids with ADHD, anxiety, learning disabilities, and autism are suspended far more than their peers. And that’s not ok. It’s downright scary for parents of kids with behavioral issues when they know the behaviors are a manifestation of the disability but the school is still taking punitive measures to try to stop the behavior. These interventions often quickly escalate to law enforcement involvement, which no parent wants for their child.

In this episode, educational and criminal attorney (who happens to have ADHD), Robert Tudisco, walks you through what to do to prevent the escalation of behavior challenges in school and the very, very important steps you need to take if and when your child is facing disciplinary actions or arrest at school. We also talk about how to handle the threat of truancy for kids with school refusal and avoidance. You must not miss this episode!


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My Guest

Robert Tudisco, Esq.

Robert M. Tudisco, is a nationally recognized author, motivational speaker and non-profit management consultant and an adult diagnosed with ADHD. He is a practicing attorney and Senior Counsel to the law firm of Barger & Gaines in Tarrytown New York and a contributing writer and legal expert for From 2010 through 2013, Robert was the Executive Director of the Edge Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides specialized coaching for students with ADHD and executive functioning impairment. He is a past member of the National Board of Directors of Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder (CHADD), serving as a member of its Public Policy Committee from 2003 through 2015, and as Committee Chair from 2005 through 2008. Robert is also a former Vice President of the Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA). Since his diagnosis, he has researched and written extensively on the subjects of education law, disability advocacy, school discipline and the over representation of individuals with ADHD and co-occurring mental health conditions in the juvenile/criminal justice systems, compared to that in the general population. He is a frequent resource for the media on these subjects, including CBS News, New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, ABC News, The BBC, NBC’s Today Show, CNN, USA Today, Seattle Times. Robert was a frequent contributor to ATTENTION® Magazine on adult, parenting and legal issues and served on its Editorial Advisory Board from 2004 through 2014. He was also the legal columnist for ADDitude Magazine from 2007 through 2012.

Robert received his Juris Doctor at the Fordham University School of Law in 1989. He subsequently served four years as an Assistant District Attorney in Bronx County, New York. Robert has over 25 years of legal experience specializing in the areas of criminal law, disability advocacy, education law and public policy. He also lectures at colleges, conferences and continuing legal education seminars throughout the country, as well as special education PTA meetings. He also accepts engagements as a keynote and motivational speaker for parenting and student groups.


Robert Tudisco 0:04

That also is helpful in some cases for the school to know that you're not just a parent who's going to defend your child no matter what, but you understand that the behaviors themselves are inappropriate, but that you are taking steps with your clinician and your child to address them.

Penny Williams 0:25

Welcome to The Parenting ADHD podcast, where I share insights and strategies on raising kids with ADHD straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author, ADHD a Holic and mindset mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your a typical kid. Let's get started. Welcome back to The Parenting ADHD Podcast. I'm really excited to have Attorney Robert Tudisco with me today. We have known each other for a really long time. And he is brilliant when it comes to the criminalization of behavior and kids with ADHD but also preventing that. And that's a lot of what we're going to talk about in this episode, will you start by introducing yourself, let everyone know who you are and what you do.

Robert Tudisco 1:19

Hi, thank you, Penny, it's always a pleasure to have a forum to reach out to parents. My name is Robert to disco. I am an education attorney. And as I was saying to Penny earlier, I also do a lot of criminal defense work. And my practice really focuses on not only getting services for kids with various disabilities, but for certain disabilities, kids are at a much higher risk for suspensions or disciplinary actions at school. And unfortunately, today, many of these kids are at a much higher risk to be involved with the criminal or juvenile justice system. And so a lot of what I try to do is get parents to be proactive. I'm also an adult diagnosed with ADHD. And that's how I got involved in this whole process. But there's a lot that parents can do to kind of proactively head off. So this is not a foregone conclusion. And that's really why I'm here.

Penny Williams 2:14

Yeah, and I can't wait to share this because I think so so many parents out there need it. So why don't we start with what do we do to prevent behavior issues becoming disciplinary or even criminal issues? Meaning maybe my kid is being suspended frequently, or given some sort of disciplinary punitive action like that, for things that really are due to ADHD or have come from that, or maybe even a lack of being understood and accommodated at school, you know, kids tend to act out sometimes when that happens, or from anxiety. So why are the parents start with trying to really sort of rein that in and prevent it from escalating?

Robert Tudisco 3:01

The first and most important thing that parents need to do is, I would say, act early. But this may surprise you Penny, but what I find is most of the calls are many of the calls that I get about disciplinary cases, the child clearly has an issue, a mental health issue, or a learning disability or something that is kind of like the root of this issue. And they are undiagnosed, or they don't have an IEP or a 504 plan. And so the first thing parents can do is if you suspect at the earliest possible age, that there may be any type of antisocial aggressive behavior is to request an evaluation from the school right away. And one of the reasons that's important is because if your child has a 504 plan, or an IEP, there are extra protections in the law for your child, if they in fact get into trouble at school. And that's very important. The other thing is that the school in doing that type of evaluation, you can also ask the school to do what's known as a functional behavioral assessment and request a behavioral intervention plan. And why that is important is because what it tries to do is anticipate the triggers that various kids based upon their disability will kind of meet up with and try to redirect them before they go into that what I like to refer to as the redzone. Many of the parents out there listening to me will say, Well, once my kid goes into that place, there's no way to bring them back. And the real hope here is to act proactively to redirect your child so that they don't go into that place to prevent that behavior or those inappropriate behaviors from happening, down the line. So functional behavioral assessment and a behavioral intervention plan is something that definitely should be asked for if you anticipate your child may have some type of behavioral issue.

Penny Williams 5:13

Yeah. And for sure FBA and bip, right, that's what I know them as functional behavior assessment, we often say FBI and I advise people all the time to request an FBI at school, because it really forces the teachers and the administrators who participate in that meeting, to look at each behavior and why it's happening, it starts to sort of connect those dots, I think a lot of times, for educators who don't know that they're dots to connect, they don't know that you they might be seeing this really inappropriate, maybe aggressive behavior, but it's actually stemming from an anxiety or ADHD, or learning disability, some frustration at school. And I have found myself personally, that that really allows some of those educators who haven't seen it that way yet, to get a clearer picture. And to then be more effective with your child at trying to redirect them and help them to prevent these massive outbursts or explosions.

Robert Tudisco 6:13

Correct. And the key here is, you get a lot more leverage, and a lot more elasticities. That's an appropriate word here from the school district before there is an issue. If a child based upon their disability or for whatever reason, gets into trouble and is being disciplined. Anything that you offer, to try to explain it based upon their disability is going to be viewed as an excuse, because your child has a disability, and it puts you at a significant disadvantage. And what I tell parents, in many cases is what you always have to think about is ADHD is not an excuse for these behaviors, certain kids that are on the spectrum, autism is not an excuse for antisocial behaviors, right? Those behaviors wrong. They're not condoned. However, what the purpose of what we're trying to do here is to educate parents. And in turn, hopefully, they'll educate the educators about what the disability does in connection with these types of behaviors, to identify the cause of the behavior. And to put something into place to prevent it from happening tomorrow. Yeah. And if you kind of really put it out there that way, you're not saying he shouldn't get into trouble here. You're saying we need to understand why this is happening. So we can stop it from happening, because it's in the school's interest to, nip this in the bud as well. Yeah. And so that is, I would say, a more effective mindset to when you're in those meetings and having those conversations.

Penny Williams 7:56

Yeah. And that's what that IEP or five or four processes going to help you to do identify or the FBA, identify what is going on? What's the challenge in the classroom? What kind of behavior might it be causing what's triggering it, because if we just keep punishing punitively, it's not going to change a behavior that is triggered by something that we haven't addressed. We have to address the why to change it. And there's so many different accommodations that kids can have for various different, triggers sensory or social or frustration and tolerance, all these things. And one thing that really helped my son in high school was, he was allowed to leave the classroom and go sit in a quiet place. And he was finally after much begging, left alone until he was ready to come back. So instead of every five minutes asking of him, he was ready to go back to class, which made him less ready to go back to class, right? He was left alone. And he would always always go back to class on his own, because he was actually using it for what it was intended. And if he had had to sit through class and have this sort of feeling of being assaulted, right, with different sensory and social and frustration, he was much more likely to maybe explode. You know, he wasn't a behavior issue kid at school, but he could have been he very easily could have been had he not been accommodated in some of those ways. And I think parents really need to know that those things are possible. These are things that you can ask for. These are things that you can advocate for.

Robert Tudisco 9:30

You know, it's interesting that you say that Penny because there's a story that I like to tell when I'm speaking about this type of situation. And, uh, one of the things that it's unfortunate but schools have a finite budget for accommodations and services, and I was speaking one night and doing an exercise with parents to try and think of as many accommodations that would not cost the school anything or very little monetarily and a mom raised her hand and she said, I really want to share this I noticed that my son, when he was playing on the hockey team in school, I would get almost no behavioral reports back from his teachers, his grades were better when hockey season would finish his grades would just kind of roll off the table. And I would get those behavioral reports again, and I was in a 504 meeting. And I said, he gets gym twice a week, could you try giving him gym four days a week or five days a week? And they kind of looked at each other and said, Sure, we can try that. And she said, it made the world of difference for my son. And I liked that story, because it is something that a parent did to intervene before there was an issue. Yeah. And also, it really speaks volumes about a mom who really knew her son, and what he would respond to Yeah, and similar to you know, what you were saying about your son in the library or in a quiet place? Really, sometimes these kids need to recharge their batteries or refocus themselves, and, traditional types of discipline or structure that schools place on them sometimes can make things worse. And if you believe that's the case with your child, it's really important that you raise that issue at the earliest possible time.

Penny Williams 11:19

Yeah, I think there's a lot of rigidity and a lot of schools. So there's no flexibility to eat. No, I mean, I was met with so much opposition, about letting him just get up and walk out of the class, how could we possibly do that he is going to miss instruction, he's just going to leave and you know, not come back to class the entire day, he's going to miss everything. And those were fears that maybe he would take advantage. But the truth was, when they finally allowed it, he never took advantage. And it helped him to be able to stay at school because he's what I call a serial avoider. So as soon as things got tough, he was texting me, he was calling me please come get me I have to go home. And you know, then they would say, Okay, well, you can go up to the office, if you need a break. But in the office, every five minutes, they would say you ready to go back to class, re go back to class, he would still end up getting so upset, he had to come home. And you know, it, this was like a three year process to get to the point of them, agreeing to let him take a break on his own, and to leave him alone and let him go back on his own took a long time. Because, we have rules at school. And we don't want to do different things for different kids. But the reality is, every kid needs something different. Correct? And they just have to be flexible for that. Why is it that our kids with special needs end up getting in trouble more often?

Robert Tudisco 12:40

For a couple of reasons. I think you kind of hit the nail on the head a few minutes ago, when you said their needs are different. And they typically don't respond to traditional forms of structure or discipline. And what you'll find is actually, those forms of discipline not only are ineffective, but I think it's worse than that. I think they actually in many cases make the situation worse lately. For instance, a classic example is a child who is hyperactive, let's say and who was misbehaving in the early part of the day, a typical response reward consequence kind of response from a teacher would be because you've been misbehaving, you are not allowed to go outside for recess. Okay, Mm hmm. Now, for a kid who was a kinesthetic processor and who needs to move to distress. That is probably the worst possible thing a teacher can do. And when I am in these meetings with educators, and they say to me, how can you, advocate for rewarding inappropriate behavior by letting that student go out for recess? And my response always is you have to think about it this way. If this kid needs to move, and his inability to do so is causing him to act out by making him sit in a chair when everyone else is going outside to play? Do you really want that kid in your classroom in the afternoon? Because it's going to be a recipe for disaster? There has to be I'm not saying there don't need to be consequences, but there has to be a consequence. That's not going to make the situation worse. Yeah. And so through creativity from the parent, from the student, and also from perhaps the students clinician, how do we instill upon him or her some sense of consequence without them exploding or making it worse? And again, the functional behavioral plan the FBA really can be very helpful to kind of figure it out those triggers ahead of time. Yeah. Another big culprit here is, a lot of times I referred to it as the behavioral culprit is impulsivity. Yeah, that is controllable. These Kids know the difference between right and wrong, they know that you're not supposed to steal. But my friend just got the new iPhone and I, I had to see it and take it. And I couldn't stop myself. And it's really an inability to suppress an impulse at that time. And there are ways to address impulsivity clinically. And when you have your child evaluated in terms of recommendations, those are things you should be asking the doctor, what can we ask the school for? How can we ask them to help and not make the situation worse, right? We know that there's going to have to be consequences at times, how do we address that? And in many cases, based upon the testing results, they can recommend strategies that you can kind of modify based upon your child.

Penny Williams 15:49

Yeah. And often when you have like a neuro psych evaluation, that's part of their report is what they recommend. As far as accommodation services, assistive technology, a lot of that stuff, and that's part of the FBA in the end, too. So there's lots of ways to get help with kind of identifying that, I parents all the time, asking, Well, what accommodations Does my child need? Well, first, you got to make a list of what's happening, right? What what is going wrong? And then trying to figure out why what's the trigger behind that? And doing that then prevents these explosive, bigger behaviors that I think end up being disciplined and criminalized, even? What are your suggestions to minimize that from happening? So maybe we've got an IEP or a 504, or we've put in some accommodations and strategies, and they're helping, but they don't always help. What then can we do to work with the school to prevent them from just making it a discipline issue or even bringing law enforcement in?

Robert Tudisco 16:51

Well, there are a lot of factors in place. Certainly, I think that keeping a line of communication open with the school as these behaviors and as these accommodations are kind of working themselves out. In many cases, this is not an exact science, and they may have to be tweaked over time. But if there is, an open line of communication, and I strongly, strongly recommend that line of communication means some type of follow up with writing, email, follow up, I was concerned and I explained to his teacher that, certain times of day are going to be times when he or she is more restless, or you know, whatever the case may be, and letting them know about that in advance as often as you can. And as these things pop up, is really going to be helpful when you get into a situation where there is, a disciplinary issue, there are problems that you're going to face no matter what, because as discipline starts to escalate, or as behaviors start to escalate, if they're not addressed appropriately, they can involve other students. And you're at this point, parents have to understand that you're not just at odds with the school district, there may be a parent complaining about your child, because of bullying or because of some type of inappropriate behavior towards their child, or aggressive behavior. And so that is something that adds an extra monkey wrench into the system here, because now you have pressure being applied to the school who is applying it to you. Mm hmm. That can often be problematic. Sometimes it can make a difference. If you have a relationship with some of these families, and try to educate them about your child and your child's behavior, and what you're doing to address it. That also is helpful, I think, in some cases for the school to know that you're not just a parent who's going to defend your child no matter what, but you understand that the behaviors themselves are inappropriate, but that you are taking steps with your clinician and your child to address them, right? The biggest problem that I run into, especially in cases where a child is undiagnosed, or there is no IEP or 504 plan in place. What happens in those situations is this child is subject to the ordinary education law. And there are no special protections for them. Now, under ide a or section 504. There are special provisions for students with a disability. And there is a manifestation process, which basically means that once we decide that the child did, what they're accused of which in 99% of the cases is what happened. Now we have to decide if what they are accused of as a violation of the school code of conduct is something that is a manifestation of disability. And if it is determined not to be a manifestation of their disability, then they are can be disciplined like any other student. If it is determined to be a manifestation of their disability, they cannot be taken out of school suspended Miss services for more than 10 days and a calendar year 10 school days. And so manifestation becomes a very important issue. Yeah, and I experience has been that school superintendents, the word very word manifestation kind of sticks in their throat, like it's an excuse, and you're giving this kid some type of free pass for having a disability. And like I said before, you really have to focus on how this could be prevented in the future. And potentially how this could have been prevented had the school figured out a way to address this in a behavioral plan. So the parents out there who are afraid to have their child evaluated, because they are concerned about some type of stigma, I understand it. But if your child potentially has behavioral issues, or impulsivity issues, you really are playing Russian roulette, something can float at any time. Another thing that's really important is as someone who deals with school discipline on a regular basis, parents, every year, they get informed that there's a revised or there is a code of conduct. And parents just kind of breathe a sigh of relief. Well, thank goodness that there are some rules at school. But no one ever takes a look at those rules until it's too late. And familiarizing yourself with the school's Code of Conduct can be very, very helpful, because in many cases, they are written very generally and very broadly to encompass anything to give the school kind of room to attach it to a different set of facts or a different student. And in doing so a lot of the wording and phrasing is really kind of dumps down on a child with executive functioning impairment or ADHD, in terms of their response to instruction, insubordination, respecting other people's property, respecting the rules being generally disorderly in school, being late chronically for class, or whatever, all of these things are all symptoms of ADHD in one way or another. And seeing that in print and knowing that your child is going to be held to that standard, can really motivate parents ahead of time to say, You know what, maybe we should really do something about this. And to the extent that that can prepare you ahead of time, or maybe, set the stage for requesting certain accommodations, that can be very helpful.

Penny Williams 22:56

Yeah, that's something I learned from you years ago was that we could use the school rules, the Code of Conduct whatever it was, as part of the things that our kid is expected to do, and use that in the IEP process or the accommodation process. So it's not just about academic performance, but it's also about being able to meet the expectations of the schools, rules and code of conduct. And that stuck with me very early on. And those are things that often get brought up as behavior issues, or some sort of issue that the school is upset about. And yet, they rarely sort of connect that with, hey, this kid has learning challenges. Maybe that's why this is an issue where, maybe we should be accommodating or teaching some social skills, maybe, maybe it's really inappropriate social interactions with people or with teachers, well, they can provide services for that they can improve those skills. And it does matter at school, because it's part of that code of conduct.

Robert Tudisco 23:59

Correct. I mean, if you flip it around, and your child is straight A student and gets into a disciplinary problem, and you sit in a disciplinary meeting and say, My child's a straight A student, you will hear undoubtedly, there's a lot more that goes into being a student at this school district than their grades. Yeah. And if they're going to use it that way, you should look at all of these other things about their being respectful and prompt and respecting other people and all of that type of thing. That is something that they're evaluated on on a daily basis. And it even goes a step further. It's not just that it's in the code of conduct for all of the parents that are listening, you get a report card, which has a grade, an academic grade, and then a column next to it with comments that says things like Johnny's a bright student, but I can't get him to keep his mouth shut. Or he's constantly interrupting the class or he's the class clown or anything like that. That's actually writing the report card as opposed to the code of conduct. So those are things that parents should use to your child's benefit.

Penny Williams 25:02

Absolutely. A couple of questions that have come up for me as we've been talking. Number one, I see differing answers and differing opinions about this. Do you allow your child to be regularly suspended? Or do you try to prevent it?

Robert Tudisco 25:17

Well, that's a good question. This is very difficult for parents to swallow. Because if a child is a chronic behavior problem, what you will find is you'll get phone calls from the school, that'll say, listen, we're not suspending him, just come and take him home. He can't stay here, right, just get them home, but we're not going to call it a suspension. Now, the problem with that is that what you are doing is remember I mentioned that 10 days before? Yeah, there are two ways to approach this one is parents are normally relieved that there's not another suspension. But if it gets to a manifestation situation, that 10 days becomes really important. Okay. One way to address it is to say, Listen, if you're not suspending him, I can't come and pick them up and kind of force the school's hand. Yeah, another way is if you were that concerned, to let them not suspend him, but you should document every single one of those calls. Because even if your child is brought down to the principal's office, for an in school suspension, whatever that means, he's not getting instruction, he's not getting services, and he's missing out. And that potentially, you could make an argument goes in towards that 10 day timeframe. So, it's more difficult to make that argument. But certainly, if you keep track of it, it's worth making, I definitely think, but you have to keep that in mind that it may very well be that the school is aware of that 10 day period, or they're concerned, they may not have enough to suspend your child, but they want you to know that if he's here, they're afraid something worse is going to happen. Right?

Penny Williams 26:58

Yeah. So many parents get calls, you need to pick up your kid. And you know, I had heard Oh, you need to force their hand to suspend them so that it goes in the 10 day rule in the manifestation. And I've heard some say, you don't want to do that, if they're willing to not be disciplinary about it, don't you know, that's a that's a gift. That's a good thing. I think it's a case by case thing, really, for a kid who's probably going to hit that 10 day and, and that sort of thing, that maybe what they actually need is to have those disciplinary actions, those suspensions,

Robert Tudisco 27:32

What I would say, Penny, the barometer that I would use, first of all, if you're uncomfortable forcing the school to suspend your child, definitely document Yeah, that that's clear. But I think that what you really have to do is start looking ahead, are your child's behaviors escalating. If it's a one off, and he's not getting suspended, that's great, and you shouldn't force the hand. But if this is happening on a regular basis, you really have to hold the school to the fire. And if the behaviors are escalating, and this could get worse, you have to preserve that record for the potential explosion next semester, or something that may be coming. As a parent, you really have to kind of make that call.

Penny Williams 28:15

Can we talk a little bit about truancy? I definitely have the school refusal kid for eight years, we struggled with it every week, many times days at a time every week. And for us, it wasn't brought up as oh, we're you know, we're gonna start the truancy process. That never happened to us here. But I know many, many parents who are struggling with school refusal, they cannot get their kid in the building. And now they have people calling threatening truancy and doing that sort of process. And in my mind, I know that makes it worse. And the poor parents now are stressed beyond belief. So they're putting more pressure on their child to go to school, which is making their child less able to go to school. What should parents do in that situation?

Robert Tudisco 29:01

Well, I think what parents need to do in a situation where a child is refusing to go to school, for anxiety, for whatever reason, it is, I think that what parents need to do is get their mental health care provider involved immediately, okay, to address with them, what can be done on a clinical level to kind of break this spiral from continuing. And because a lot of times the school won't even warned the school may just file a complaint with social services, and you get a knock on the door of an investigation. And so, parents could have legitimate concerns. If you know the child protective services or some agency comes to say, Listen, you're allowing your child not to appear in school, having a psychologist that the school can reach out to, that you can reach out to to resolve this issue, letting the school know that you're actively trying to resolve this issue with his care providers. And, another possibility here is, if there is an issue with that school, and they just don't get your child, this may be the beginning of a process where you seek to maybe have your child placed privately and try to get the school to pay for it. Right. But, that process is almost impossible without some type of clinical Yeah, poor.

Penny Williams 30:28

Yeah, to show that you're doing something? Yeah. You know, I was the parent who was always checking in like, every two weeks, what are we going to do about all these absences? Please tell me what we need to be doing. You know, like, I was very proactive. And I always had at least one ally in administration knew what was going on. And it was something that unfortunately, we couldn't change. You know, we were doing therapy, he couldn't tolerate anxiety medication, we tried many. And, just any little thing that was happening at school that was uncomfortable, or was freaking him out. He just wasn't going to go, oh, and it was so much pressure when he graduated in January, that was the biggest relief is, I'm never gonna have to deal with school refusal again. And like, it's really so tough for parents. And we are seeing school refusal exploding right now, after the pandemic, and kids are going having to go back. And it is just when my son started that 10 years ago, I couldn't find any information on it online, like nobody mentioned it at all. Now, I'm just hearing from multiple parents a day, who are struggling with it, it's so hard to do to find that balance between Well, I as a parent, I'm supposed to get my kid to school, but my kids really struggling. And you know, you're right in between that rock and that hard place for sure. So that's good advice. I'm glad you're able to address that. The last thing I want to make sure we cover before we run out of time, is what do we do when the school calls about the behavior or when the school has even maybe called law enforcement and the police are now involved? What should we be instructing our kids to do or not do before that happens? And what do we do as parents when that happens?

Robert Tudisco 32:12

Okay, that's an excellent question. And the problem with that is that it is happening all too often today, because schools don't have to call police. Almost every school has police in the building now, because of concern school shootings. And as a result of that, we're seeing a lot more in school arrests for things that were normally disciplinary issues, I call that the perfect storm, the school is going to suspend them, the police are going to arrest them, this parent outcry, and you're in the middle of this and all you want to do is protect your child, what I recommend strongly is that you contact an attorney. Unfortunately, there are not many education attorneys that also do criminal work, there are maybe about 10 of us that do both in the country. But if you have a child who's a behavioral child, it might be a good idea. If you've spoken to an advocate or an attorney that's working with you on the IEP to know if there was an issue, do you have someone you could recommend and make that call initially get to the school and the one thing that I can tell parents who are listening is do not do what most parents do. Parents will either do one of two things when they get to the school, they will either defend their child and you know, get in between their child and the educators or the police and you know, scream and yell and fight and pretend. Or they will discipline their child in front of all of those people, because they want the school and the police to know that's not how you broke them up. Both of those are a disaster. Okay, my first and foremost recommendation is to get your child out of there. Okay, if the superintendent still wants to question him, and says to you, I have the right to question your child, your answer should be while leaving the building. Okay, if the police are going to arrest him, there's nothing you can do to stop them. But I'm not letting anyone questioning him. I've retained an attorney, and I'm exercising my child's right to an attorney. But if they're not going to place him under arrest, get your child out of the line of fire immediately. You can discipline them when you get home, you can argue with the school at the disciplinary hearing, but no good can come from hanging around the school. It's not like if you cooperate with them, they're gonna unsuspend him or not suspend or be more lenient. The damage has been done by your child's conduct or what they're accused of. So get them out of there. That's the safest thing to preserve their rights and to protect them and to kind of minimize any collateral damage at that point in time.

Penny Williams 34:52

And do we tell our kids not to talk when they're in trouble at school like I'm, I'm a true crime addict and I see all the time, these kids who dig themselves a hole, because they're talking to law enforcement or some other official, and they don't know when to kind of shut their mouth and you know, and so to protect them, like I've told my son many times, if you somehow find yourself in a police station, don't say anything, and either call us or call, tell them to send in an attorney, but do not say anything. And I just have that same fear, like, could it escalate in that same way at school, when they're sitting in the principal's office, and maybe the school officers there and they're, they're in big trouble. And maybe they're trying to talk their way out of it, or, and they're just digging their hole deeper,

Robert Tudisco 35:42

Correct, which happens, and you know, it's a slippery slope, because on the one hand, they don't believe that they're under arrest or anything, because in practice, a police officer at the school, in many cases, it's like a blurred blue line, they kind of act as a security guard also. And they kind of bring your child to the superintendent's office or the principal's office, and they're sitting there while the principal or the superintendent is asking the questions. And I think that your child should definitely ask for their parents. If you know, the police are there, if the police are present, they should definitely ask for an attorney. And they should say, I don't want to say anything, unless I can speak to my parents or an attorney. Now, I will tell you, as a practical matter, that's not going to sit very well with a principal or superintendent, right? In a very real sense, a high school or middle school is the closest thing to a prison outside of the actual penal system. These people are in charge, they're hurting these kids around every day they give them you know, their time in the yard every day. And they don't like to take no for an answer. And I've actually stood between a principal and a client, saying, I'm not going to let him answer questions, I'm taking them out of the building, and getting into a legal dispute with the administration who believes that they have the right to question their students, they're not going to do it on my watch, especially when there's police standing behind them that you know, could get my child, there could be some criminal exposure to what they did. You also have to understand that as a matter, of course, typically principals will have their first line of defense is to have a child come to their office and write a formal apology to the teacher or the other student and acknowledge their conduct and take responsibility for it. Sometimes they call a responsibility, right? The problem with that is, is if the school resource officers sitting in the room, your child is now writing out a formal kind of written fashion, it could be criminal conduct. Yeah. And so you know, you have to be really careful there. Your children also have to know, for instance, that their lockers are not their property, and they don't have under the law, a reasonable expectation of privacy to school has a key to those lockers, they can be searched at any time. And your children have to be aware of that. That's usually in the Code of Conduct somewhere.

Penny Williams 38:13

Yeah. And I think kids don't realize a lot of those things. I got chills when you said that middle and high school is the closest thing to prison. It's so true in so many places, I can't say that every public school system is like that. But we've just become this sort of machine trying to spit out conformity. And it is like you're supposed to be in this room with the door closed for this time. It's like, yeah, and I could go on forever about how broken the educational system is. I'm sure you can, too. But we'll save that for another time. Anything else that you wanted to be sure to talk about? I wanted to share one story real quick, to really illustrate the importance of being proactive, and getting administration and educators in your child's school, at least informed about what's going on with your child and what their challenges are. When my son was in fourth grade, he had the one and only room clearing meltdown at school he ever had his entire school career. And the teacher had set him up for failure over and over. And it finally came to a head. And what had happened was she gave tickets for extra work, or neat handwriting, but she had dysgraphia. So he never got or, for all of these things that he never could achieve. And they had auctions of toys with these tickets. And at one of these auctions, it was like the third or fourth one of the school year, and he could not get anything. Everybody else got stuff. He couldn't get anything. He didn't have enough tickets to get anything. And he just lost it. And he exploded and he was pushing tables and chairs. And they had to call the principal down to come and get all the students out of the room. And I was horrified that this had happened because I knew how utterly distressed he must have been to have I've had that happen, right? I knew how hurt he was. And the principal called me and she said, I want you to know, He's okay. He's sitting in my office, he can sit here the rest of the day if he wants, but this is what happened. And I bet he would love to see you and to go home. And because we had had meetings and conversations together, because I had made her familiar with my kid, for the two or three years before that, that he was in her school, she knew that this was not a behavioral or discipline issue. And no talk of discipline ever happened. He was allowed to go home, he was never even scolded about what had happened, because she knew it was outside of his control. And she knew that that teacher had triggered it. And, in fact, she moved into a different teacher for the rest of the school year, which was only a handful of weeks. But, that just illustrates that when you have somebody in the school in New who have some sort of power or sway, who gets your kid, before things happen, it makes a monumental difference. And that's not always possible, but so often it is if you just keep trying,

Robert Tudisco 41:11

Correct. And if you don't, look, I don't have a magic wand, I went to law school, I'm not a sorcerer. So I say, here's gonna magically make all these problems go away. But, the downside is, if you don't take this advice, it really is Penny, I think that the difference between navigating a minefield with a map in your hand versus being chased through one blindfolded. And if you don't do all of these things, the bottom line is it can make things a whole lot worse. So parents just have to really, be ever vigilant.

Penny Williams 41:45

And I think so many of our kids are the ones running through the minefield with No Map. That's their experience at school on a daily basis for a lot of them. So you know, I think if parents can recognize that, and help educators recognize that it explains so much. And it really then informs the different strategies and accommodations and services that we use to then prevent these escalated behaviors that become disciplinary or even have law enforcement involved. Anything else you want to make sure we talk about before we close?

Robert Tudisco 42:17

Not that I could think of at the moment, but really thank you for giving me the opportunity to reach out to parents.

Penny Williams 42:21

Thank you. This is monumentally helpful for so many I know. It's really great information. So many parents are struggling with this stuff right now, and really need that assistance you have provided to me an article with some good steps and advice as well, that kind of I think expands on some of the stuff we've talked about. I will have that linked up for everyone to download in the show notes, which are at for episode 151. And I will also have all the information about Robert there as well and any way that you might be able to connect with him or learn more from him. wealth of knowledge I have had so many halls over the years and in different exchanges with you or reading different articles, or even watching some videos you had on YouTube from different talks has been wildly helpful to me. And I'm always so grateful when you share some of your time and some of your wisdom with the parents out there who need it so desperately. Thank you very much. With that. I will see everybody on the next episode. Thanks for joining me on the parenting ADHD podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don't forget to check out my online courses, parent coaching and Mama retreats at

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I'm Penny Williams.

I help stuck and struggling parents (educators, too) make the pivots necessary to unlock success and joy for neurodivergent kids and teens, themselves, and their families. I'm honored to be part of your journey!

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