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IDEA 2004 Close Up: Disciplining Students With Disabilities

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By Candace Cortiella, The Advocacy Institute

IDEA 2004 Discipline Rules

For disciplinary actions lasting 10 school days or less:

  • A student with a disability who has an IEP in effect can be disciplined like any other student who violates the school code of conduct.
  • During the time the student is in the disciplinary setting, the school is not required to provide any educational services (including special education) to the student, unless the school district provides educational services to non-disabled students in the same circumstances.
  • Parents may request that the school continue educational services for the student during the time of the disciplinary action or somehow allow the parent to facilitate the student's completion of school work. While the school is not required to grant such requests, many will agree so that the student doesn't fall behind.

For Disciplinary actions resulting in removal of more than 10 school days in the same year (whether or not the days are consecutive):

  • The school must provide special education services that allow the student to:
    • continue to participate in the general education curriculum, although in another setting; and
    • progress toward meeting the goals outlined in the student's IEP.
  • If the action does not result in exclusion from school for more than 10 consecutive school days and does not constitute a change of placement (i.e., when there is evidence that there is a pattern of exclusions that do not exceed 10 school days), school personnel, in consultation, must determine what services the student should be provided.

    (Note: A "change of placement" occurs when the student is excluded from his/her current placement for more than 10 consecutive school days in a school year or upon the 11th school day that a child is excluded from his current placement when there is evidence of a pattern of a "series of removals.")
  • If the disciplinary action results in an exclusion from school that is a change of placement, the student's IEP team must meet to determine the exact educational services needed while the student is assigned to the interim alternative education setting.
  • Within 10 days from the beginning of a disciplinary action that results in an exclusion that exceeds 10 school days, the school district, the parents, and relevant members of the student's IEP team must meet to determine if the conduct in question was caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to, the student's disability.

The team must also determine if the conduct was the direct result of the school's failure to implement the student's IEP, including a behavior intervention plan. If the group decides that the student's behavior was a direct result of the school's failure to implement the IEP, the school must take immediate steps to remedy the deficiencies and return the student to his/her original placement.

A Series of Short Removals Can Constitute a "Pattern" and a "Change of Placement"

When frequent disciplinary actions add up to more than 10 school days in a school year, such removals may constitute a "pattern." A pattern is indicated when the student's behavior and the length of removal is the same or similar to previous incidents , and the incidents are in close proximity to one another. A pattern of removals of 10 days or less, once they total more than 10 school days, carries the same requirements as a removal of more than 10 days and is considered a change of placement for the student. While the school has the responsibility for making a determination about whether a pattern constitutes a change of placement on a case-by-case basis, parents should be alert to a possible pattern developing when their child's misconduct is resulting in a series of disciplinary actions.

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 readers

"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."
"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."
"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!!"