There are many things to consider regarding behavior management and discipline for students with disabilities. This article will discuss Functional Behavior Assessments (FBA) and a Behavior Intervention Plans (BIP) as a means to address inappropriate or disruptive student behavior.

What is an FBA?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its implementing regulations do not define a Functional Behavioral Assessment. The general purpose of an FBA is to “provide the IEP team with additional information, analysis, and strategies for dealing with undesirable behavior, especially when it is interfering with a child’s education.” See Independent Sch. Dist. No. 2310, 29 IDELR 330 (SEA MN 1998).  Generally, FBA’s are considered to be part of positive behavioral intervention and supports mandated by the IDEA.

The process involves identifying a “target” behavior and observing the student while collecting data on the target behavior, antecedents, and consequences. The process also includes formulating a hypothesis about the cause(s) of the behavior, developing intervention(s) to test the hypothesis, and collecting data on the effectiveness of the intervention(s) in changing the behavior.   

As an example, a student is frequently demonstrating undesirable behaviors such as tearing up classroom assignments, refusing to work, and becoming defiant with the teacher. The teacher notices that prior to this undesirable behavior, the student is asked to complete a writing assignment.  The student always receives a time-out after each incident.  After several observations, the teacher observes that the consequence of timeout is not an effective strategy for this student, as the student seems to intentionally dodge written work by becoming defiant so that he/she will be sent to time-out.  The teacher starts to suspect that the student has anxiety related to completing written work.

Providing the student with written assignments orally, shortening the assignment, or counseling the student prior to receiving the assignment may be options for reducing the student’s anxiety and promoting compliance. The teacher would implement these strategies and then record the effectiveness of the interventions at reducing or eliminating the undesirable behavior.  In this manner, school personnel learn more about why a student may be exhibiting undesirable behavior and try different strategies for addressing the conduct.

When Are You Required to Conduct an FBA?

Under the IDEA, a school is required to conduct an FBA when the student is about to be removed from his/her educational placement for longer than 10 days (e.g., long-term suspension), due to misconduct/behavior that was a manifestation of the student’s disability (if the school has not yet performed an FBA before the conduct arose).  Aside from this requirement, the IDEA does not mandate any other circumstance where an FBA must be conducted by a school.

Practically speaking, however, an FBA should be performed prior to developing a Behavior Intervention Plan for a student, so that the team developing the plan understands the “function” of the child’s misconduct and possible interventions to replace or reduce those problem behaviors.

Who Is Involved and What Role Does Each Person Serve?

Neither the IDEA nor its implementing regulations specify who is qualified to conduct an FBA. The IEP team is not necessarily responsible for conducting an FBA; however, it would be most practical for a member from IEP team to conduct the FBA since team members are typically familiar with the student.  School psychologists’ and/or behavior intervention specialists may also be a good resource to assist the IEP team in conducting the FBA.

Is Parental Consent Needed Prior to Conducting an FBA? 

The IDEA does not explicitly address whether consent is necessary prior to conducting an FBA. The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has determined, nevertheless, that if an FBA is used to evaluate a student to assist in determining if the child has a disability or to establish the nature and extent of special education and related services that the child needs, then the FBA is similar to an evaluation, which requires parental consent. See Letter to Christiansen, 48 IDELR 161 (OSEP 2007).  OSEP also stated in Letter to Christiansen that a child’s parent has the right to request an independent educational evaluation (IEE) at public expense, if he/she disagrees with the FBA conducted by the School.

How Much Time Does the School Have to Complete an FBA?

The IDEA does not set forth any specific timelines for conducting an FBA; however, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) has interpreted Letter to Christiansen to require schools to follow the timelines set forth in the IDEA for completing evaluations. Therefore, schools have 60 calendar days to complete an FBA, upon receipt of a parent request or informed consent. Currently, state rules provide that this timeline may be extended an additional 30 days, if both the parents and the School agree in writing, and it is in the best interest of the student.

What Do You Do with the Information? 

Once an FBA is completed, the information can be utilized to develop a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). Determining the function of the student’s behavior allows you to individualize the plan for the student.  Further, without knowing the function of the behavior, a BIP may actually reinforce a student’s negative behavior.  Going back to the example described above, if the function of a student’s behavior is work avoidance, and school personnel are not aware of this, sending the student to time-out for a tantrum will only reinforce the unwanted conduct.

What is a Behavior Intervention Plan?

Similar to an FBA, the IDEA does not define a “Behavior Intervention Plan” (BIP). The Arizona Response to Intervention Glossary defines a BIP as “a plan to address problem behavior that includes, as appropriate, positive behavioral interventions, strategies, supports, program modifications, supplementary aids, and services that may be required to address the problem behavior.”  A BIP must contain enough information to allow staff members to implement the plan correctly.

Generally, a BIP is considered to be part of a student’s IEP, and will typically follow a student from school to school. Therefore, it should be written in a format that is easily understood and be designed to meet a student’s unique needs. Further, some courts have decided that the BIP must be reasonably calculated to enable the student to receive an educational benefit.

When is a Behavior Intervention Plan Required to be Created?

The IDEA requires that in conjunction with an FBA, a BIP be implemented (or reviewed if a BIP has already been developed) when the School has determined through a Manifest Determination Review meeting that a student’s behavior was a manifestation of his/her disability.  School IEP teams should also consider developing a BIP for a student whose behavior impedes his or her learning or the education of others.

Who Is Responsible for Developing and Monitoring a BIP?

Unless the IEP team decides otherwise, the same individuals responsible for implementing the IEP would also develop and monitor the behavior plan.  A BIP is a fluid document, which may need modification over time to address a student’s changing behaviors.  Any changes to the BIP should be done as an IEP team.


This article is a general discussion and overview of FBAs and BIPs as means to intervene and address a student’s inappropriate behavior and is not intended to provide legal advice regarding a particular situation. Additionally, this article should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please feel free to contact 480.461.5300, log on to, or contact an attorney in your area.