Behavioral Intervention Plan


The behavioral intervention plan (BIP) is related to the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The professional literature in special education is replete with research and recommendations for developing BIPs, based on functional behavioral assessments (FBAs) and positive behavioral strategies, as the primary means for controlling and improving the conduct of students with disabilities that interfere with their learning or that of others. However, such sources fail to clarify the differences between best practice and legal requirements. This entry focuses on the latter.

What the Law Says


The basic framework of legal requirements consists of the IDEA legislation and its regulations. Hailed for establishing the FBA-BIP model, the 1997 amendments to the legislation expressly mentioned an FBA, and they also mentioned a BIP indirectly within the limited context of a disciplinary change in placement. The amendments specifically require school board officials “to convene an IEP [individualized education program] meeting to develop an assessment plan” to address behavior that leads to placement changes, if children do not already have FBAs and BIPs. There were only two relevant related requirements in the disciplinary context: One was that children receive, in their changed placements, “services and modifications designed to address the behavior” that triggered the placement change. The other was that the manifestation determination include the criteria by which it was decided that the school board officials had provided appropriate “behavior intervention strategies consistent with the child’s IEP and placement.”
Finally, and more broadly, the 1997 amendments required the IEP team “in the case of a child whose behavior impedes his or her learning or that of others [to] consider, when appropriate, strategies, including positive behavioral interventions . . . to address that behavior” [emphasis supplied].
The 2004 amendments retained and even strengthened the IEP requirement by removing the qualifier “when appropriate.” Yet, in the disciplinary context, IDEA as amended in 2004 revised the express FBABIP requirement by limiting it to the reduced situations where the team determined that the behavior was a manifestation of the child’s disability. Moreover, as part of its reduction of these manifestation determination results, the 2004 version removed altogether the related criterion discussed above. Finally, the 2004 amendments revised the other related requirements to having the child “receive, as appropriate, a functional behavioral assessment and behavior intervention services and modifications designed to address the behavior” (20 U.S.C. 1415(k)(D)(ii)).
The 1999 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act regulations made one significant addition: They extended the assessment plan requirement to the 11th cumulative day of removal in a school year; however, because the 2006 IDEA regulations dropped this requirement, it remains to be seen exactly how this will work.

Court Rulings


In light of this sketchy and soft framework, the published hearing/review officer and court decisions have been neither frequent nor consistent. A pair of contrasting cases is amply illustrative. In Mason City Community School District, 36 IDELR 50 (Iowa 2001), a hearing officer, who is a special education professor, noted the relevant IDEA requirements, including the absence of any definition or standards for a BIP. The hearing officer approved the district’s BIP, while finding that the removals had not reached the requisite level. The significant aspect of the case is that the hearing officer cobbled together four required components for a BIP, specifically that it must be based on assessment data, be individualized, include positive behavior change strategies, and be consistently implemented and monitored. Although she comprehensively canvassed the published hearing/ review officer decisions to date, the underlying authority for these relatively modest standards was notably limited by the absence of court decisions and the failure of any of the cited cases to attempt any such systematic specification.
By way of contrast, in Alex R. v. Forrestville Valley Community Unit School District No. 221, the Seventh Circuit decided another case where school board officials proactively provided a BIP in the IEP of a student with a disability prior to any notable extent of removals, although in this case the parents’ challenge came after the district had suspended the student for 17 days within the first three months of the school year. With regard to the BIP, while acknowledging that the officials had complied with the procedural requirements, the parents argued that, based on the standards in Mason City, the BIP was substantively inappropriate.
The Seventh Circuit disagreed, noting that neither the legislation nor the regulations provided any substantive standards. Declining to go where Congress and the U.S. Department of Education had not gone, the court concluded as a matter of law that the district’s BIP “could not have fallen short of substantive criteria that do not exist.” Although hearing/review officers may be more amenable to best-practice arguments concerning BIPs, the Seventh Circuit’s decision is representative of the predominant judicial view as reflected in cases from the Eighth Circuit (School Board of Independent School District No. 11 v. Renollett, 2006) as well as federal trial courts in Alabama (Escambia County Board of Education v. Benton, 2005) and Virginia (County School Board v. Palkovics, 2003).
Thus, although professional norms strongly favor early and careful development of BIPs, along with FBAs and positive behavioral strategies, neither Congress nor the courts have adopted these norms as IDEA requirements. Indeed, the latest version of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, on balance, has moved in the other direction. Unless and until the advocates of FBAs and BIPs have succeeded in incorporating these best practices into the IDEA or at least corresponding state laws, the only basis, other than a receptive Mason City–type of hearing/ review officer, is the moral and practical suasion of being professionally proactive.
Perry A. Zirkel

See also Free Appropriate Public Education; Inclusion; Individualized Education Program (IEP); Least Restrictive Environment; Response to Intervention (RTI)
Further Readings
  • Crone, D. & Horner, R. (2003). Building positive behavior support systems in schools. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Drasgow, E., et al. (1999). The IDEA amendments of 1997: A school-wide model for conducting functional behavioral assessments and developing behavior intervention plans. Education and Treatment of Children, 22, 244–246.
  • Scott, T. M. (2003). Making behavior intervention planning decisions in a schoolwide system of positive behavior support. Focus on Exceptional Children, 36, 1–18.
  • Zirkel, P. A. (2006). Suspensions and expulsions of students with disabilities: The latest requirements. West’s Education Law Reporter, 214, 445–449.
Legal Citations
  • Alex R. v. Forrestville Valley Community Unit School District No. 221, 375 F.3d 603 (7th Cir. 2004).
  • County School Board v. Palkovics, 285 F. Supp. 2d 701 (E.D. Va. 2003).
  • Escambia County Board of Education v. Benton, 406 F. Supp. 2d 1248 (S.D. Ala. 2005).
  • Mason City Community School District, 36 IDELR 50 (Iowa 2001).
  • School Board of Independent School District No. 11 v. Renollett, 440 F.3d 1007 (8th Cir. 2006).