Students may have to be disciplined by schools if they disrupt the educational process. Teachers must make sure that they can manage their classrooms without interference by unruly students. A special problem arises if a disruptive student has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
An IEP is a written plan that’s developed to help a child with special needs reach his educational goals. Each IEP is tailor-made for a particular child. Since each child has different strengths and weaknesses, a different IEP is needed for each student.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the US law that regulates how schools provide education to special needs children. A child must be found eligible under the IDEA to receive an IEP. If he's eligible, an IEP is developed at a meeting between professional evaluators and the parents.
The IDEA regulates the discipline of students with IEPs. Schools need to be familiar with the federal regulations of the IDEA to know how to discipline IEP students.
Discipline Issues with IEP Students
The main problem with disciplining IEP students is determining whether the disruption caused by the student is a result of his disability. The IDEA regulations attempt to prevent the discipline of a student for conduct related to a disability. Some examples of IEP discipline problems include:
- Disruptions caused by autism
- Obscene language from a student suffering from Tourette Syndrome (TS)
- Angry behavior from a child frustrated with communication problems
- Inattention from a student suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
A student's IEP should list any problems that he'll have in following the school's discipline code. The IEP should also address the accommodations needed by the school to meet these exceptions to the code.
Short-Term Suspension of IEP Students
A short-term suspension of an IEP student is one that's no more than 10 school days. Schools aren't required to provide any educational services during this 10-day time period. However, a school may grant a request from parents to continue educational services so that the student won't fall too far behind.
Long-Term Suspension of IEP Students
A long-term suspension of an IEP student is one that's more than 10 consecutive school days. This suspension constitutes a change of placement. Placement is the student's educational setting that's written in the IEP. A change of placement also occurs if the school has a pattern of suspending the student that adds up to more than 10 school days. Schools are required to continue to provide educational services if the student is suspended for more than 10 school days.
Manifestation Determination Review
If a school attempts to change the placement of an IEP student, there must be a manifestation determination review. This review is conducted by the group that created the IEP within 10 days of the school's decision to change the student's placement. The purpose of the review is to determine whether the student is being disciplined for behavior that's related to his disability.
If it's determined that the student's misbehavior isn't substantially related to his disability, the student may be disciplined that same as a non-disabled student. If the misbehavior is directly related to his disability, the student can't be disciplined by the school for his behavior. However, the IEP group can determine that a change in placement is needed for the student and can modify the IEP.
Alternative Educational Settings
There are circumstances that allow schools to place students with disabilities in alternative educational settings even though their misbehavior may be related to their disabilities. These circumstances are:
- Students that carry dangerous weapons to school or to a school function
- Students that possess, use, sell or attempt to sell illegal drugs while at school or at a school function
Students can be placed in alternative educational settings for up to 45 days. Schools don't need to seek the permission of parents for removing students for these two offenses. However, parents have the right to challenge any school decisions regarding the alternative educational settings.
A school on its own can't change the placement of an IEP student on the basis of dangerous behavior. The school can ask a hearing officer under the IDEA to remove the student to a temporary alternative educational setting for up to 45 days. To remove the IEP student, the hearing officer must determine that:
- The school proved that the student is substantially likely to hurt himself or other students if he remains in his current placement
- The school made reasonable efforts to minimize the risk of harm in the student's current placement
- The interim alternative educational setting meets the IDEA requirements
Questions for Your Attorney
- If my child has been suspended for misbehavior multiple times, but each time it's less than 10 days, am I entitled to a manifestation determination review if the total suspension time is greater than 10 days?
- If my child is suspended for 45 days for bringing a weapon to school, is he still entitled to receive educational services so that he doesn't fall too far behind the other students?
- Am I entitled to appeal the results of the manifestation determination review and, if so, what steps do I take to do this?