Social and emotional learning is important for all students, but some students may have more intense challenges and need more support than that which is provided to all students through general education interventions.
Some students with social, emotional and behavioral challenges may be eligible for special education and related services due to an emotional disturbance.
The Definition of Emotional Disturbance, according to RI Regulations, is as follows:
i. Emotional Disturbance means a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance:
A. An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors
B. An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.
C. Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.
D. A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.
E. A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.
ii. Emotional disturbance includes schizophrenia. The term does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance under (c) (4) (i) of this section.
Rhode Island Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education
Regulations Governing the Education of Children with Disabilities, (300.8(c)(4)(i)
The regulation specifies three criteria that must be present in order to meet the definition of “Emotional Disturbance”. All three of these criteria must be present for at least one of the Characteristics listed.
"Over a long period of time” is typically refers to behavior occurring for approximately 6 months with substantial risk that the pattern of inappropriate behavior will continue. However, there may also be a pattern of behavior that is so severe, intense and/or unsafe of shorter duration that the team may need to consider.
“To a marked degree” means the student exhibits inappropriate behavior with significant frequency, intensity and duration which is very different when compared to others of a similar age and background. Teams should ensure they have a basic understanding of the student’s ethnicity, cultural norms and values. Typically, the behavior is observed in multiple settings (school, home, community) by more than one knowledgeable observer. The student is unresponsive to direct interventions offered or available in the general education setting. The behavior is not the result of a developmental phase or a particular situation, such as a death in the family, divorce, moving to a new school or injury.
“Adversely affects a child’s educational performance” means that there is a negative effect on their educational performance. “Education is about more than just academics, and includes physical, emotional, and social needs as well, since special education is designed to prepare students for further education, employment, and independent living” according to Ronald Lospennato, Esq. (Legal Director of the Disability Right Center) in an analysis of a Maine First Circuit Court Decision. Care should be taken to ensure a child’s cultural background and previously taught behaviors are not the cause of the problem(s). A student may perform in a way that appears to be an emotional disturbance, but may really be the result of direct differences in values and experiences.