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IDEA 2004 Close Up: Disciplining Students With Disabilities

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By Candace Cortiella, The Advocacy Institute

"Manifestation Determination" - How Is Behavior Related to Disability?

IDEA 2004 has made some significant changes to the manner in which a determination is made about the relationship between the student's behavior that leads to the disciplinary action, and the student's disability. These changes will make it more difficult than was previously the case to establish a connection between disability and behavior, and to reach a conclusion that the behavior resulted from the disability. The decision reached in the manifestation determination is important because it will influence what can happen to the student's continued services and placement.

In making the manifestation determination, the team (comprised of school personnel, the student's parents, and other relevant members of the student's IEP team) will review:

  • The student's IEP
  • The student's behavior intervention plan
  • Any teacher observations
  • Any relevant information provided by the parents

Under IDEA 2004, the presumption of a connection between behavior and disability no longer exists. Now, the team is required to answer these questions:

  1. Considering the behavior subject to discipline, review the student's behavior to determine if it was caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to, the student's disability. For example, a student's low self-esteem, while possibly a by-product of a learning disability, is not alone sufficient to be considered a basis for finding a direct relationship between the student's disability and behavior.
  2. Did the school fail to follow a portion of the IEP including a behavior intervention plan in a manner that directly caused the misconduct?

Finding of Manifestation

If the behavior is found to be directly related to the student's disability, the IEP team must plan for a functional behavioral assessment and the development of a behavior intervention plan based on the results of that assessment. If the student already had a behavior intervention plan in place, the IEP team must review if the plan was being followed and revise it as needed to address the problem behavior that led to this disciplinary action.

If the team finds that the student's behavior was related to the disability or an improperly implemented IEP, the student is returned to the original education setting unless the parents agree to a new placement as part of the behavior intervention plan.

Finding of No Manifestation

For students whose behavior was not directly related to the disability, the same disciplinary actions can be imposed as those imposed on a non-disabled student. Such action could include expulsion. However, if the student is expelled from school, the student must continue to receive educational services that allow him or her to continue to participate in the general education curriculum and progress toward meeting the goals set out in the IEP.

For students whose behavior is not determined to be directly associated with their disability, the IEP team should nonetheless consider the need for a functional behavioral assessment and behavior intervention plan.

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!!"