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scottiebie

Re-Occurring Student Disruptions

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Anyone have suggestions or recommendations on how to handle a college adult female senior student that has occasionally disrupted some of the other senior citizen students and sometimes the whole class.   She has been enrolled in my classes for several semesters now.  Over the years her disruptions have occurred and I have talked to the her and the students and emotions would calm down but have not done anything to solve the problem.  A few semesters ago, I actually was called out even before class started.  She came in early to set up her work space and when she walked in, another student had music playing in the studio.  She came to me and told me that she won't be staying for class because of the music.  I tried telling her that we can lower the volume, but she said no and walked out.  Her problem is that she cannot deal with any music being played during class time and it's not only music, any kind of repetitive  slapping, pounding of clay or studio noise.  She will take it upon herself to confront students without me knowing and then come to me to complain.  She has admitted it to me she has a disability, but will not seek accommodations through the college disabilities office.

The most recent encounter was yesterday during my class.  She complained about  another female student slapping and pounding her clay on the wedging counter which is in close proximity to where she was throwing on the potters wheel.  I did not know that she complained to the student before coming to me.  This student was really annoyed and came to me to complain about her actions. 

I have talked to other instructors about this student and  one ceramics instructor suggested that she wear ear plugs.  I made the suggestion to the student and she ignored it.  This student has alienated herself from a couple of friends she does have in class.  She behaves normally most of the time in class, but will suddenly go off and take matters (what's bugging her) in her own hands.

I am at a point where I am documenting her complaints, just in case I take further action.  Why does a large class of 35 students that like listening to music in the studio have to stop the music or any studio activity to accommodate 1 student?

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Your question has multiple dimensions.  If you are in the United States, the standard for service to students with disabilities is reasonable accommodation. Your first stop, I think, is the college disability office, with staff who should be able to trouble-shoot this with you.

Reasonable accommodation would, I think, include not playing music in the classroom if there is a disabled student for whom that extra noise is agony. Music is not necessary for students to learn what you are teaching. If students want to bring their own music for private listening via some sort of ear bud, they could have music if it is their preference without harm to the disabled student. 

The sound of people's wedging clay is a different matter.  Students have to be able to do that, regardless of the disabled student's preferences. But reasonable accommodation would assign her a wheel far from the wedging table.

In many years of teaching I have had students who would prefer a room silent. This I cannot offer. 

Disability is not an excuse for harassing other students. The first thing I would do is provide reasonable accommodations and see if that solves the problem. I think it is fine for you to document incidents and issues, just as she may be documenting things she sees as failures to accommodate.

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(She has admitted it to me she has a disability, but will not seek accommodations through the college disabilities office.)

if she does have a disability you need to follow up on all of Gabbys points above-for some reason I did not get that she really was disabled?

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I would probably say something like "Unfortunately we cannot accommodate any needs related to your disability until you have gone through the proper procedures with the college disabilities office." 

It is unfair to the other students for her to allege some sort of disability and use that as an excuse to disrupt your class. SHE is the one being unreasonable and that needs to be shut down forcefully, with tact, in a way that only leaves her the options of going through the disabilities office or wearing earplugs, or not attending your classes, but the disruptions have to stop. I know it sucks but as a leader, you occasionally have to "them's the rules, like it or leave it" some people. 

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11 minutes ago, Gabby said:

Reasonable accommodation would, I think, include not playing music in the classroom if there is a disabled student for whom that extra noise is agony. Music is not necessary for students to learn what you are teaching. If students want to bring their own music for private listening via some sort of ear bud, they could have music if it is their preference without harm to the disabled student.

Some folks find it difficult in a noisy studio no matter the mental facility. I'd be one of those more quiet people pushing for ear buds or wearing ear protection.

Ordinary studio noise is understandable but music with people talking/socialising and maybe not listening so well with people talking louder over people talking gets difficult to listen to.

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I agree with Gabby; her actions are un permissible, but if she has a disability, attempts must be made to satiate. But, if she hasnt sought help from the disability office, then you have no way of verifying if you should be making the rest of the class "suffer" for her sake. Granted, earbuds instead of a stereo is not a big issue; I tell me kids they can play the radio, but if someone doesnt like the music choice; then they can either themselves put in earbuds, or the whole class will; its that students choice which is which.

I had a student who never informed me that he/she had a disability, and he/she was required by the disability office to do so. When he/she failed his/her ceramics final with blazing colors, I was then informed about his/her learning disability. I had noticed that this student was a little different throughout the semester, but didnt think much of it. He/she made wholehearted attempts to complete the projects at hand, even though they were lacking in quality and comprehension. I was happy to help the student more/in different manners, once I learned about his/her disability, however, he/she really didnt gain anything from the class, because he/she didnt inform me until it was too late. I.e. you cant help someone, who doesnt ask for help.

Is there a small, isolated room, where a wheel could be put, and she can work by herself? Can she come in after hours to work by herself (dont know if you have an open door policy/liability concerns). It would require more effort on your part, but you could have her come in after class, and stay for an hour or so, so she can work in quiet.

Persecution of someone because they have a disability is not allowed, but behaving rudely/aggressively to other students is not allowed either. IMO, if you cant respect those with whom you share the room, then you may need to excuse yourself.

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I'm guessing she has some kind of anxiety issue, I have a similar thing especially with sudden loud noise, it really sucks getting a shot of adrenaline and having your fight or flight kick in every time a sudden noise happens.  That said, I wear earbuds all day because I don't expect people to accommodate me within reason. Hopefully you guys can work something out, earplugs or earbuds really help.

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She would have never survived in my college studio area,  there was always several radios on different stations blaring.  The guy in the studio across from me was making ceramic instruments and was all ways blowing on them to check the pitch.  My professors new girlfriend was part Indian and played tribal music all day.   I was fortunate I would get there early in the morning and get to work,  I left to attend other classes about the time everyone else stumbled in.    Denice

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7 hours ago, Gabby said:

provide reasonable accommodations and see if that solves the problem

The college or university has federal and state disability accommodation and legal responsibilities.  Waste no time in disclosing and discussing your situation with the school's office on disability. If that does not seem to help you and the student,  then speak with someone at the state's disability office. It is essential that you document all interactions, with date, time, names of advisors, names of witnesses, and descriptive/objective context. The burden for dealing with this is on your employer. Missing the mark by lack of due diligence, as an instructor responsible for his students, could come back to bite you, big time.  (I speak as a former state planner involved with addressing issues of disability in public systems.) Assume you know nothing; seek expert advisement and directives and make note if your resources are non-responsive. When you protect yourself, you are also protecting that student and all your students. If the school is not helpful, go further--the student's plight is serious and the consequences to her of non-intervention or ineffectual outcomes cannot be predicted. Bottom line, if reasonable accommodation (per the law) does not work, the student will not be able to participate, for everyone's safety.  You cannot require someone to use the office on disability but you can require them to follow the classroom/studio rules. Be sure the rules are written and congruent with any reasonable accommodation the school can provide. Provide each entering student a copy of the studio parameters including a statement that says something like "Reasonable accommodation per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (504 or Rehab Act)may be discussed. " This link may be helpful as an overview -look at the Fundamental Alteration summary  http://counsel.cua.edu/ada/clicks/reasstu.cfm  Good luck! 

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Lee, I hoped you would chime in with expert advice for the teacher. Thank you.

There are a couple of things I would like to underline, and Lee, please tell me if I am mistaken on this.

When Lee writes you may require the student to follow classroom/studio rules, this does not mean whatever rules you and even the other 35 students prefer. The rules she must follow must, under the law if you are in the US,  incorporate reasonable accommodation for that student. 

The disabled student does not lose her rights because she will not wear earbuds. With ear buds in, she could miss vital instructions, for example.

It is significant that she has told you she has a disability, unlike Hitchmiss' situation. Your legal obligations are now activated.

A few years ago as I was opening a class in a large lecture hall at the university, about to give some vital instructions, in fact, a representative of a totally hearing-impaired student brought to me a device she asked me to wear and talk into in addition to the microphone. I asked whether it would be valuable instead for me to give written instruction to the student or to repeat instruction one on one.

The escort informed me that the student had a right under the law to hear what I was saying, as I was saying it, alongside everyone else.

So I spoke into this thing, not using it correctly, unfortunately, because I had never encountered such a device, but what mattered from the standpoint of ADA compliance is that I truly did my best and the escort and student could see that.

Your due diligence also includes treating the student with the utmost respect, including respecting her privacy.  While other students may guess that changes you are making are to accommodate a disability, that cannot be discussed with other students.

Good luck with this. As Lee suggests, being vulnerable to a charge of not reasonably accommodating a disability puts your career at risk. 

 

Edited by Gabby

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18 hours ago, Denice said:

She would have never survived in my college studio area,  there was always several radios on different stations blaring.  The guy in the studio across from me was making ceramic instruments and was all ways blowing on them to check the pitch.  My professors new girlfriend was part Indian and played tribal music all day.   I was fortunate I would get there early in the morning and get to work,  I left to attend other classes about the time everyone else stumbled in.    Denice

The quiet, peaceful part of my brain is going cross-eyed thinking about this.

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https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/hq5269.html

A college has no obligation to identify students with handicaps. In fact, Section 504 prohibits a postsecondary education recipient from making a preadmission inquiry as to whether an applicant for admission is a handicapped person. However, a postsecondary institution is required to inform applicants and other interested parties of the availability of auxiliary aids, services, and academic adjustments, and the name of the person designated to coordinate the college's efforts to carry out the requirements of Section 504. After admission (including the period between admission and enrollment), the college may make confidential inquiries as to whether a person has a handicap for the purpose of determining whether certain academic adjustments or auxiliary aids or services may be needed.

 

At the postsecondary level it is the student's responsibility to make his or her handicapping condition known and to request academic adjustments. This should be done in a timely manner. A student may choose to make his or her needs known to the Section 504 Coordinator, to an appropriate dean, to a faculty advisor, or to each professor on an individual basis.

A student who requests academic adjustments or auxiliary aids because of a handicapping condition may be requested by the institution to provide documentation of the handicap and the need for the services requested. This may be especially important to an institution attempting to understand the nature and extent of a hidden disability.

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Thank you for all of your responses, comments, suggestions and recommendations.  Since my initial post I have done some homework and made contact with my college's disabilities office.  I spoke to the coordinator who made a recommendation to document every disruption to include date, time and complaint and also notify my department dean about this student's disruption.  The coordinator mentioned it is the personal right of the student whether to declare their disability to the college.  The coordinator said if the student does not want to use the possible accommodations offered by the disabilities office, then the student's actions are disrupting the class, which falls in line with the college's student code of conduct, in which it recognizes the student disruption as a disruption to the instructor, the course focus and a distraction to students in the class.  The coordinator recommends having a one-on-one meeting with the student about the college's student code of conduct.  There are steps that a instructor can take if there are re-occurring disruptions.   

Edited by scottiebie

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Yep, Gabby, you are 100% correct. You too, shawnhar.  And scottiebie--it is admirable that you are willing to struggle with this.  The days of dismissing (literally or figuratively) students with such impairments (disclosed or otherwise) are long gone.  Sounds like you've got a solid course of action. Given your caring and calm nature, plus the input from your employer as fact and as support, I imagine that your discussion with the woman, regarding the code of contact and the availability of possible accommodations, will be productive. As long as you follow the law and offer various means of assistance, all you can do is the best you can do. The rest is up to her. (One has to wonder "why" she rejects the office on disability as a resource for herself. )

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4 hours ago, LeeU said:

 (One has to wonder "why" she rejects the office on disability as a resource for herself. )

 

Anxiety and denial?           If (I) don't admit to having a problem it will go away.

 

What my mum used to call "sticking your head in the sand".

 

Sounds like everyone else has covered the things I would have said, if I'd seen this post earlier.  It's good, @scottiebie,that you're trying hard to help this student.

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I forgot to mention that there are a handful of students that are friends of the problem student in class.  They are not close friends, just friends in class.  These students at one time or another witnessed the student disruptions and some of these students have tried to talk to the problem student, but they get nowhere and the student continues the disruptive actions.  I've seen some of these students will move away from working next to the problem student, who doesn't realize being the cause of alienation.

I'm talking to these students to see if they would consent to being a witness to the problem student's disruptive actions.  Those who consent to being a witness, I will include in my  future documentation.

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https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/539y4z/the-horrible-anger-you-feel-at-hearing-someone-chewing-is-called-misophonia

If it is this, then it is a disability. It is something she has to deal with and you may not be able to help her but perhaps the college can.  The legalities of your position covered in previous replies helps you but not her  and it sounds like she needs real help.

Edited by terrim8

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The world of disabilities is difficult to maneuver in today's world. Much of what we know now was not known in the past, even recent past as much as 5 years ago. I would believe that someone who claims a  disability but does not approach either teacher, disability assistance or others in a reasonable manner opens themselves up to not having the assistance they need due to their attitude.

My first response to the original post about music is to make certain to play it every class period, something quiet, non confrontational almost, but not quite as innocuous as elevator music. In other words, deal with it or stay away. However, that is not a solution, as is ignoring her outbursts and evident rudeness is not a solution. All of the measures suggested. . . intervention, documentation, reporting to agencies and administration excellent moves to protect your position in the classroom and guard against future legal problems. The paper trail in itself is needed especially if because of the lack of consequence her acting out becomes more extreme. This paper trail will allow you to measure the incidents objectively as you would be treating each on its own time and place, not as the grouping of actions. If this were in a public HS, the paper trail would lead to possible removal from class, and or the inclusion of a special needs resource person or even a full time shadow during the school day. Further outbursts from her could require that the college do the same and require her be accompanied by such companion.

 

 

All in my humble opinion,

 

best,

Pres

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The disability in and of itself can provoke not seeking, being averse to, and rejecting help. So can repeated experiences of receiving poor service delivery. While there is much excellent care, what you end up with is a bit of a crapshoot. At least these days there generally IS decent help available for students, at or through their universities/colleges, and if a person just can't or won't benefit from it,  at least instructors/institutions can educate themselves,  are less likely to contribute to making things worse, and can protect themselves and their school from litigation.  

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I haven't taught ceramics, but have taught in  post-secondary institutions in another discipline. I understand your frustration and applaud your actions. One action that was used in an institution in which I worked, was to document, as you are already doing. Then, the student was asked to come in to discuss the disruptive behaviour and read the document describing the action. The student was asked to sign the document, indicating that he or she had read it. There were two incidents of potential law suits, based on the idea that the student didn't know there was a problem, but by signing the document, it was impossible for the person to say that he or she didn't know the issue.  I didn't need to resort to that approach often, but it helped sometimes. Another thing I was wondering; if the noise distresses her, what are her coping mechanisms in other situations in which she finds herself? Might be worth a discussion, if possible, with her, as she might have ways of dealing with noise in other situations that would help her in the ceramics course.

 

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The challenge for me is the problem student will immediately take action to confront what is bugging/ annoying the problem student.  I'm the last one to find out after the confrontation between  a student has happened.  The problem student has ignored to let me know what is the issue that is bothersome.  In a enrollment ratio of 35 to 1, it's tough to know what's going on in the studio with each student's focus.  I'll have to be firm in the conduct consequences if the problem student disruptions persist.

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1 hour ago, scottiebie said:

I'll have to be firm in the conduct consequences if the problem student disruptions persist.

Yep--very firm---not trying to play diagnostician, but there may well be elements of impulse control/unmitigated aggression, a tinge of paranoia, hypersensitivity or "whatever" ----- the point is you really don't have the benefit of knowing what you are dealing with (i.e. what she is dealing with) and whether there are any formal helping agents involved (case mgr./physician etc.) who could work w/her and the school if she would permit communication. Absent that, a behavioral contract that describes the things to be done and not to be done, and clear consequences, is the way to go--making sure your employer is aware & has your back if it plays out that she's not going to be able to continue with the course.   For what it's worth, as much as you may care and want to be compassionate and find a way for her to succeed in class, don't blame yourself if it doesn't work out. You are a teacher, not a social worker.   

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