How is teaching in a juvenile correction setting different from teaching in a public school setting?

Page 3: Instructional and Behavioral Challenges

Earlier in this Module, you learned about some of the factors affecting the provision of effective instruction in JC settings. In addition to these, youth enter JC facilities with a number of behavioral, academic, and mental health challenges that further affect instruction. The table below highlights some of the more common academic and behavioral challenges that teachers in JC settings can expect to encounter. As you read about them, keep in mind that academic and behavioral issues are often intertwined. Students who struggle academically might act out due to frustration or to avoid an instructional task. In turn, students’ behavioral issues can interfere with learning.

Academic Behavioral
For many youth, their academic histories indicate that they:

  • Have reading and math achievement levels far below their grade-level peers
  • Have been retained at least once
  • Are missing school credits
  • Have poor school attendance records
  • Have high rates of school suspensions/expulsions
  • Have dropped out of school or are at high-risk of dropping out
Many of these youth lack interpersonal problem-solving skills, which results in:

  • High rates of aggressive behavior
  • Defiance toward authority figures
  • Impulsive responses to stressful situations
  • Violent or emotional reactions to perceived disrespect or danger

Providing effective instruction is further complicated by the fact that a large percentage of youth in JC settings have disabilities. Although many estimates fall within the 30–60% range, some approximates are as high as 85%. This means that in a class of 15 students, anywhere from 5 to 13 of those students are likely to have a disability. The table below describes the most common disabilities among students in JC settings.

Common Disabilities in JC Settings
Disability Characteristics Relevant to JC Settings
Specific Learning Disability (SLD) Students typically have average intelligence but process information in a way that results in learning challenges in reading, writing, mathematics, listening, speaking, or reasoning.
Emotional or Behavioral Disorder (ED, BD, or EBD) Students typically are unable to create or maintain healthy relationships, they display inappropriate behaviors, or experience general unhappiness or depression that interferes with their learning. Students might be diagnosed as having one or more of the following disorders: anxiety, bipolar disorder, conduct disorder, eating disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and psychotic disorders.
Intellectual Disability (ID) Students have below-average intelligence, in conjunction with deficits in daily living, communication, and social skills, which can affect learning and other developmental areas (e.g., movement, language).
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Students typically display inattentive, hyperactive, or impulsive behaviors. More specifically, they have difficulty focusing, following directions, completing assignments or projects, taking turns, waiting, or sitting still.

By law, students with disabilities are entitled to the same high-quality education as are students without disabilities. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA), a law that governs special education services for youth with disabilities, JC facilities are obligated to ensure the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Several of the provisions of IDEA as they pertain to JC settings are summarized below.

As outlined in IDEA, child find is a requirement that all students with disabilities—including those in JC settings—be identified, located, and evaluated. JC settings must have procedures in place to identify and evaluate youth who have a disability or are suspected of having a disability. The timely exchange of records, including individualized education programs (IEP), between public schools and juvenile justice facilities can facilitate this process.
FAPE refers to the responsibility that JC facilities have to provide all students with disabilities an education that is appropriate for their individual needs. The student’s IEP describes what type(s) of instruction and support are appropriate for his or her education. Least restrictive environment, or LRE, does not mean youth with disabilities cannot be incarcerated. Rather, LRE refers to the student’s participation in classes with peers who do not have disabilities. It also applies to the manner in which instruction is delivered. For example, if a student learns best in a small-group setting, that instructional setting needs to be made available to that student.

IDEA requires the creation and implementation of an IEP for every student who qualifies for special education services. An additional requirement is parent or guardian participation in the development of the student’s IEP, whenever possible. When a student’s IEP arrives with the school record, teachers in JC settings might be most interested in the student’s:

In the case of students whose disabilities are identified while in juvenile corrections, an IEP must be developed. This can prove challenging due to limited resources and a lack of personnel with the expertise necessary to individualize instruction. Another difficulty is including parents or guardians in the IEP process because of time constraints and physical distances. Although many youth are wards of the state, their parents retain educational rights. However, many barriers to parental participation exist, among them substantial distances between their place of residence and the corrections facility, an inability to take off work to attend meetings, and a shortage of reliable transportation.


Juvenile correctional facilities that administer programs under Title 1, Part D of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) must ensure that youth, including those with disabilities, have access to the same challenging academic content standards and curriculum as do their peers enrolled in public schools. Additionally, these facilities are obligated to follow the educational recommendations in a student’s existing IEP and to notify the local school district if a student has been identified, while in the JC facility, as being eligible for special education services. These expectations will continue under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a reauthorization of ESEA, which will take effect in fall 2017.

Federal Civil Rights Laws

Juvenile corrections facilities that receive any kind of federal funding must comply with federal civil rights laws, including those that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion, and disability.

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