Understanding Parent–School Communication for Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

Rohanna Buchanan*, Miriam Clark
Oregon Social Learning Center, Eugene, 97401, Oregon, USA

© 2017 Buchanan and Clark.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Oregon Social Learning Center, Eugene, 97401, Oregon, USA; Tel: 5414852711; Fax: 5414857087; E-mail:



Parents of children with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBD) often face barriers to effective communication with schools. They often feel blamed or stigmatized for their children’s behavior and, while advocating, can feel adversarial with the school.


The current study aims to describe current communication for parents and teachers of students with EBD, identify parent–school communication barriers, and identify characteristics of effective parent–school communication.


We conducted 15 semi-structured, qualitative interviews with parents and teachers of students with EBD. Interview questions focused on descriptions of the tone of their current communication, perceived barriers to communication, and ideas for effective approaches to communication. All interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and coded.


Results show that parents’ feelings about their current parent–school communication varied by the type of school students were attending: day-treatment, neighborhood, military charter, or private treatment school. Both parents and teachers brought up complex issues with parent–school communication related to school culture and the impact of parents’ prior negative experiences communicating with schools. Parents and teachers identified barriers to communication and suggestions for effective communication related to technology, institutional issues, time, parents’ and teachers’ lack of interest in communicating, and school proximity to home.


Parents and teachers identified parent–school communication as a critical factor to promote children’s school success. Three broad recommendations emerged from the interviews targeting malleable factors to increase effective parent–school communication. We also discuss limitations and implications for practice.

Keywords: EBD, Parent involvement, Special education, Transitions, Barriers, Communication.