Earlier this September, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) issued Special Education Informational Bulletin 23.01 regarding positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) to students with disabilities and the use of functional behavior assessments (FBA).  The new bulletin provides valuable insight into how DPI evaluates school districts’ responses to challenging student behaviors under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).   

The bulletin advises that PBIS must be developmentally, cognitively, functionally, culturally, and linguistically appropriate for the student.  DPI further advises within the bulletin that PBIS measures should focus on changing adult approaches, behavior, instructional strategies, curriculum demands, and environmental factors; seek to better understand the student’s underdeveloped or delayed skills; and teach, practice, support, and reinforce replacement behaviors and skills.  Disciplinary removals, shortened school days, and calling parents to pick the student up are not PBIS.

The bulletin also reiterates that school districts must implement positive behavioral interventions and supports for students with disabilities across all school environments whenever a student’s behavior interferes with their education or the education of others.  The bulletin further describes situations indicating that a student’s behavior interferes with their education or the education of others, including:

  • a pattern of long-term and/or short-term disciplinary removals;
  • multiple violations of school rules;
  • frequently leaving the learning environment;
  • withdrawal from adult or peer interactions or from school activities;
  • unexpected or disruptive behavior in response to adult or peer interactions;
  • absenteeism or tardiness; or
  • failure to benefit from classroom behavior management and school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports.

Additionally, PBIS must be documented within the student’s individualized education program (IEP), even if they are universally available in the general education environment.  All PBIS necessary for the student to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) must be documented in the program summary of the IEP to advise staff and parents of the school district’s commitment of resources.  

DPI’s new bulletin also addresses functional behavior assessment (FBA) and its use to determine appropriate PBIS.  The bulletin recommends minimum steps to complete and document an FBA, including identifying the target behavior, gathering relevant data, hypothesizing the function of the target behavior, and linking the data collected to available PBIS.  In most situations, an FBA is an evaluation itself or part of a comprehensive evaluation/reevaluation entitled to IDEA procedural safeguards, including notice and informed written consent before conducting the FBA.  

Finally, the bulletin advises that PBIS may be included in an IEP without conducting an FBA under some circumstances.  To do so, the IEP team must have adequate current data to identify the student’s disability-related needs, goals, and services.  DPI provided the following examples of circumstances in which an FBA may not be necessary: 

  • based on the nature of the student’s need, the IEP team determines a universally available PBIS will address the need;
  • data collected from IEP goal progress monitoring identifies the need for different PBIS; and
  • PBIS were identified through a universal screener provided to all students or through a multi-level system of support. 

Addressing a student’s behavior that interferes with their education or the education of others is challenging.  School districts should be proactive in tackling such behavior before it escalates and leads to greater concerns, such as exclusionary discipline.  DPI’s bulletin leaves some questions unanswered.  However, it provides comprehensive guidance to school districts regarding its expectations for addressing problematic student behavior. Attorney Wade is presenting at the Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services (WCASS) Fall Conference on Thursday, September 21, 2023, regarding effective strategies for addressing student behavior.

For questions regarding this article, please contact the author,

or your Renning, Lewis & Lacy attorney.

Chad P. Wade

Chad P. Wade

 cwade@law-rll.com | 833-654-1176

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