Addressing EBD through special education



Parents have a say in deciding their child’s classroom setting



Thus far in this series, we have talked about children’s challenging behaviors: what’s typical, when to be concerned, strategies to work with the school to help your child with challenging behaviors, and what to do when those strategies fall short of meeting your child’s needs.

We have also covered special education: what it is, how to get an evaluation, who is eligible, and some questions to bear in mind when considering placement options. This section provides an overview of emotional and/or behavioral disorders (EBD).

Emotional and/or behavioral disorders are not a mental health or psychiatric diagnosis. EBD is a term used in special education to describe children who have an established pattern of one or more of the following:


• Developmentally inappropriate behaviors that are aggressive, hyperactive impulsive, physically or verbally abusive, destructive or intimidating

• Disordered thought processes manifested by unusual behavior patterns, inappropriate laughter, crying, sounds or language; self-mutilation, or developmentally inappropriate sexual acting out; obsession with specific objects, rigidity, overly affectionate behavior towards unfamiliar persons; or hallucinations or delusions of grandeur


• Withdrawn or anxious behaviors, pervasive unhappiness, depression or severe problems with mood; exhibiting intense fears or school phobia, developing physical symptoms related to worry or stress, or changes in eating or sleeping patterns


• Has unsatisfactory educational progress that is not primarily a result of intellectual, sensory, physical health, cultural, or linguistic factors, illegal chemical use, autism spectrum disorders or inconsistent educational programming


• An inability to exhibit social competence — their social behavior is significantly different than what is culturally, age or ethnically appropriate. The behaviors are usually significantly different than the child’s peers. (Note: this is not a complete list. For more detailed information, contact the Minnesota Department of Education).

Behaviors that fall into the EBD category may be symptoms of a mental illness. These behaviors affect a child’s learning, relationships with others, and educational success. Some children exhibit mild forms of the behaviors, and others exhibit severe forms. To be eligible for special education, the behaviors must be exhibited in two educational settings and one other setting (the home, childcare, or community setting).

If you are concerned about your child’s behavior, have your child seen by a physician or mental health professional. Some schools have school-linked mental health services that are staffed by providers who are not affiliated with the school. School-linked services make it easier to access mental health services. Check with your child’s school to see if school-linked mental health services are available.


Separate EBD classrooms

Some schools have separate classrooms that are organized by specific disabilities. Separate classrooms for children with emotional and/or behavioral disorders, also known as EBD classrooms, are common. Separate classrooms (also referred to as a setting three), are intended to group children with similar needs, but they are also more segregated or restrictive than other placements.

Data on placement in EBD classrooms shows that African American children, especially boys, are over-identified as having an “emotional or behavioral disorder” (EBD) and are over-represented in segregated EBD classrooms. Referral of an African American child for placement in a segregated EBD classroom should raise a red flag for you.

A child may not be placed in a segregated EBD classroom until other options that are less restrictive have been tried and failed. If you are not aware that other options have been tried before your child was referred to an EBD classroom, talk to your child’s teacher or principal.

Ask what type of supplementary aids and services were used in the general education classroom. School staff is required to keep records of other options that have been tried. You have the right to see the documentation that details what was tried and how it worked for your child. If this was not done, request that this be done and documented before proceeding.

Important note: A child’s placement must be reviewed at least yearly. The parent should be included in the placement review and decision. This means that a child placed in an EBD classroom cannot be just left there. Parental participation in the placement meeting and decision is key to ensuring that the child is placed in the least restrictive environment.

Remember, if you have concerns, you can call an IEP meeting at any time and the school district must provide a meeting within 10 days of your request. If you feel a placement is not right for your child, you have the right to disagree and have the placement decision reevaluated.

Below is a list of resources for directing EBD concerns or complaints:

• Arc of Minnesota, 651-523-0823 or

• Minnesota Children with Special Health Needs, 800-728-5420, 651-201-3760, or

• Minnesota Department of Education, 651-582-8200 or

• Minnesota Disability Law Center, 612-334-5970 or

• National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota, 651 645-2948 or

• Office of the Ombudsman for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, 651-757-1800 or

• Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights, 952-838-9000 or


Cynthia Fashaw is Children’s Program and Multicultural Outreach director for NAMI Minnesota. For more information, call 651-645-2948 or go to