Public Schools Face Dramatic Rise in Student Misbehavior

Joe Herring | January 12, 2023

(The Lion) — Reports of student misbehavior have risen sharply in public schools, as districts also report widespread “stunted” social development among students.

Yet special education resources may not be able to cope with the subsequent rise in students with special needs.

The annual “School Pulse Panel,” a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences (IES), revealed some troubling trends:

  • More than 80% of public schools reported “stunted behavioral and socioemotional development” among students because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • Schools also saw a 56% increase in “classroom disruptions from student misconduct” and a 49% increase in “rowdiness outside of the classroom.” 
  • Seven in 10 public schools reported increases in students seeking mental health services since the start of the pandemic. 

Many of the problems reported in the survey were preexisting, even if exacerbated by pandemic policies. For example, the demand for social and mental health services was already trending upward well before COVID-19. 

Data reveal struggling students are increasingly turning to special education professionals following a return to in-person classes. 

The National Center for Education Statistics reports more than seven million children in America receive special education services, roughly 15% of kids in grades K-12. This caseload predates the pandemic and represents a level of need that is already straining district budgets. 

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, each special needs student must have an Individual Education Plan (IEP). IEP teams are comprised of therapists and psychologists, as well as teachers and administrators.  

However, as schools struggle to find these professionals and more students request special education services, the pre-existing deficit between students and resources increases, leaving more would-be special education students without federally mandated care and placing schools and districts in legal jeopardy. 

IES data reveals roughly 60% of public schools already lack enough professional staff to meet their school’s need for mental health and behavior intervention services. 

If resources are tapped, students for whom special education services are essential will be harmed by the resulting diminishment of services. 

This strain on special education raises the question of whether the use of limited special education resources is appropriate for students whose difficulties don’t necessarily impair their learning long term, but rather are more indicative of an episodic struggle. 

However, parents in states that offer school choice programs may qualify for scholarships that can be used for special education tutoring or even enrollment in a private school.