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In 2007, the Pennsylvania State Board of Education revised its regulations on Special Education Services and Programs to mandate that positive, rather than negative, measures form the basis of behavior support programs to ensure that all students and eligible young children are free from demeaning treatment, the use of aversive techniques, and the unreasonable use of restraints. The regulations, which went into effect in July 2008, require that any behavior support programs be based on a functional behavioral assessment and include research-based practices that “develop and maintain skills that will enhance an individual student's or eligible young child's opportunity for learning and self-fulfillment.” If interventions prove necessary for a student, the least intrusive form must be used.

Efforts for this reform were sparked by VALUE, a statewide coalition of special education advocates, with Disability Rights Network and Education Law Center leading the charge. The advocates decided to focus on students receiving special education services, who have been particularly effected by punitive disciplinary practices in Pennsylvania. However, this reform generated momentum around advocacy for positive behavior supports for all students.


In line with the national School-Wide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS, aka PBS or PBIS) movement (, Pennsylvania has created a leadership team comprised of state officials and advocates to devise a strategy for establishing SWPBS in all schools.  The members of the State Leadership Team include Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN), the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Education Law Center, Disability Rights Network, Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Community Providers Association, Juvenile Court Judges Commission, Public Citizens for Children and Youth, and others.  PaTTAN is currently providing technical assistance to 33 schools in Pennsylvania to implement SWPBS.  The State Leadership Team is working on efforts to roll-out SWPBS throughout the Commonwealth.  

The Education Law Center and Disability Rights Network are also spearheading efforts to focus on legislative approaches to securing SWPBS.  Thus far, they have organized informational meetings with legislators to highlight the success of SWPBS in Pennsylvania schools. They are also gearing up for a legislative hearing on SWPBS later this year.

On the local level, Public Citizens for Children and Youth, the Education Law Center, and others have worked collaboratively with the School District of Philadelphia to roll-out SWPBS within the District.  Twenty schools will implement SWPBS in the 2009-2010 school-year, with plans to increase implementation in the future.


The Education Law Center has represented children in disciplinary hearings throughout the Commonwealth.  In response to Philadelphia’s recent adoption of zero tolerance, ELC has organized meetings in Philadelphia with community-based organizations, private attorneys, and others to help educate them on the students’ rights as well as the harmful effects of zero tolerance.  Given that disciplinary schools have become a stop on the school to prison pipeline for many students, ELC recently testified to the PA Senate Education Committee on the negative consequences of alternative education for disruptive youth and the problems with the current law, suggesting alternative solutions.  Click here to see the testimony.

Citation for new law: 22 Pa. Code § 14.133(a) (2008).
Report by the Education Law Center on School-Wide Positive Behavior Support: A Plan for Pennsylvania
Information on PBIS nationally and in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Positive Behavior Support Network
Information on PaTTAN
School Discipline Resources by Education Law Center

For more info on SWPBS and discipline issues in Philadelphia, contact:
Deborah Gordon Klehr
Staff Attorney Education Law Center
The Philadelphia Building
1315 Walnut Street
4th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19107-4717
T: 215-238-6970
[email protected]

For more info on VALUE Coalition, contact:
Sallie Lynagh
Children's Project
Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania
T: 1-800-390-1279
[email protected]