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IDEA 2004 Close Up: Disciplining Students With Disabilities

If your child has an IEP, you should understand the legal provisions for disciplining him at school.

By Candace Cortiella, The Advocacy Institute

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) - and the federal regulations that provide guidance to states on how to implement the Act - contain important changes to the way schools can discipline students with disabilities. Understanding these changes is an important part of being your child's best advocate.

Like all students, those with disabilities can be suspended or expelled for violating the school's code of conduct. However, IDEA provides some additional procedures that schools must follow when disciplining students with disabilities. These procedures were put into IDEA to prevent schools from suspending or expelling students without considering the effects of the child's disability. These procedures are different depending on:

  • the length and type of disciplinary action the school proposes to take;
  • the nature of the conduct that led to the disciplinary action; and
  • whether the conduct is found to be connected to the student's disability.

Know Your Child's Code of Student Conduct

Schools have a responsibility to make sure that all students, including those receiving special education, are familiar with the school's code of student conduct. Parents also have a responsibility to understand their child's school code of conduct and help their child understand the expectations and consequences involved with violating the code. Your child's Individualized Education Program (IEP) team should determine any specialized help and instruction the child may need to understand the code and consistently demonstrate the appropriate classroom and school behaviors, including a functional behavioral assessment and a behavior intervention plan.

Schools Can Make Case-by-Case Determinations

IDEA 2004 provides school personnel with the authority to consider any unique circumstances on a case-by-case basis when making a determination to discipline a student with a disability. This provision provides flexibility for school personnel who are often operating within a district's "zero-tolerance" policy. A zero-tolerance policy usually requires school personnel to follow a suspension or expulsion policy for any student who violates the code of conduct, regardless of the circumstances. Now, school personnel may choose not to suspend a student with a disability if the unique circumstances lead school personnel to decide that suspension is not appropriate. Factors such as a student's disciplinary history, ability to understand consequences, expression of remorse and supports provided to the student prior to the violation of a school code of conduct could be unique circumstances considered by school personnel. In all cases, the disciplinary action considered for students with disabilities must be the same as for students without disabilities. In other words, school personnel may not increase a student's suspension because of the student's disability.

Disciplinary action generally involves removing students from their current educational placement and placing them in some other setting, such as:

  • In-school suspension
  • Out-of-school suspension
  • An interim alternative educational setting (IAES)

Whenever school personnel decide to discipline a student with a disability by removing the student from the current educational placement, the school must notify the parents on the same day the decision is made and provide the parents with a written copy of the district's Procedural Safeguards Notice.

Candace Cortiella's work as Director of the nonprofit The Advocacy Institute focuses on improving the lives of people with learning disabilities, through public policy and other initiatives. The mother of a young adult with learning disabilities, she lives in the Washington, D.C., area.


Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

03/14/2011:
"I need help my child is not thriving in his school he has learning disability some speech impediment and he is ADHD I am willing to pay for his education using his supplemental income to insure that Jeremiah is becoming all he can be. I am not pleased with the behavioral program in Lancaster TX that my child has become confined to. It is not working for us and I am unable to move him to anyother school in Lancaster TX therefore I am searching for alternatives there are pictures in my phone where the teacher scratched his neck up trying to hold him with her nails, he has had a busted lip trying to gain entry into the school, has stated that a teacher hit him, he is often times given extra medicine after I have informed them he has been medicated. he has a cut just centimeters from his eye where his teacher said the point of another students scissors was used by J to cut himself the list goes on.. HELP ME I AM ASKING FOR HELP."
07/27/2010:
"I think alot of reasons why children who have behavioral issues is because of parents who haven't interllectually and emotionally dealt with the fact that they are disabled.I wouldn't be married today If my image of being a perfect father and husband superceeded the desire to serve my wife and son imperfections and all.Divorce can also be a major reason why a child behaves badly especially at school.There is also a sibling rivalry component where the sibling feels that their place on the family tree is undermined.That sibling can communicate consciously or sub consciously hey you made mom and dad breakup and you upstaged my place in mom and dads eyes.This can render a child feeling out of place and feeling at the very least under valued.The emotional stability of a child whether or not their disabled or the parent is there is no place for ego/pride/resentment/guilt if a parent is going to raise their children effectively."
10/1/2008:
"my son has an I.E.P. and has behavioral issues.Recently a staff memeber on her way to school said she saw my son and 4 other kids smoking pot.(they were smoking cigs.)and they werent on school grounds. She went into the school and reported it to the vice principal. He called them all into his office and searched them all, he found nothing so he then searched their lockers and ofcourse they found a small roach in my sons locker only. He was the only one suspended and he was arrested.The vice principal even told me on the phone that he did not look high or smell like weed, but this school has been trying to get him out of there since day one.Now they are trying to expel him from school. he would like to go to an alternative school to get his diploma and wants to go to college after. He is not a bad kid, he made a mistake and shouldnt have to pay for it for the rest of his life. Do they have to provide him with an education or not????? HELP!!"
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