The Consideration of Disability
A child with a disability typically face the same disciplinary actions as every other student, including suspensions. Having a 504 Plan or an IEP means that special considerations may apply to disciplinary actions the school can take in certain circumstances, which gives kids with disabilities additional rights.
Anytime a decision has been made to change a child’s placement in response to a disciplinary issue the IEP team should go through the Manifestation Determination process to consider whether the behavior was due to the child’s disability.
When should a manifestation determination be held for a child with a 504 Plan or IEP?
It is important for parents to understand the way a “change in placement” is defined. A change of placement could include a few different circumstances:
- when the team decides to move a student to a different type of classroom for more support (like a smaller classroom setting),
- when a child is suspended for more than 10 days in a row, and
- when a child has been suspended for a few days at a time on multiple occasions for similar behaviors that add up to 10 or more days in a school year.
What is included in the manifestation determination process?
Two questions must be answered in the manifestation determination process:
- Was the child’s behavior caused by, or did it have a “direct and substantial relationship to” the child’s disability? or
- Was the behavior the direct result of a failure on the part of the school, district, or AEA to implement the student’s IEP?
An example of a behavior that has a “direct and substantial” relationship to a student’s disability could be a disruption during class involving a student who has Tourette’s syndrome. A student who has physical tics related to his disability may accidentally hit the student next to him as a result of his Tourette’s. While it is against school policy for students to hit one another, this occurrence is directly related to the child’s disability and may be determined to be a manifestation of his disability.
The other factor in determining manifestation is whether the child’s IEP has been followed appropriately. If the IEP, including the Behavior Intervention Plan, was not followed, the team should ask if the failure to follow the IEP was the reason for the behavior. For example, a student with Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) has an accommodation in his IEP that states he will go to the library to cool down when he feels he is on the verge of a meltdown. The student disagrees with his teacher about an assignment and feels himself getting angry. He asks to go to the library to cool down, but the request is refused. The student has a meltdown and kicks a desk, violating the student code of conduct. As a result of the IEP not being followed, the student displayed the exact behavior the accommodation was written to prevent. In this instance, the team may determine that the behavior was a manifestation of the student’s disability.
Parent participation is very important, which is why the school is required to invite you to attend. It is your responsibility as a parent to be prepared, ready to share any information you feel is important to determining whether or not the incident was related to the child’s disability. You may want to bring documents such as psychological reports, medical records, and other disability-related information.
If the team decides that the behavior is a manifestation of the child’s disability, the team needs to return the child to their original placement, unless the parent agrees otherwise, and consider whether the child needs the support of a Functional Behavior Assessment and Behavior Intervention Plan if he/she doesn’t already have one, or if updates and changes should be considered to an existing plan.
If the team decides that the behavior is not a manifestation of the child’s disability then the school could apply the same disciplinary measures that they use for any other student, with one exception. Even when a student with an IEP has been suspended, the student should still have access to Special Education services, which may look a bit different than what he/ she would typically receive. The IEP team should determine what those services will look like after making the manifestation decision.
If a parent disagrees with the decision reached in the manifestation determination, he or she has the right to appeal the decision using the procedural safeguards.
ASK Essential Questions
- Was my child’s behavior plan followed as written?
- What evidence or documentation can I provide the team that would show how my child’s disability is linked to the behavior incident?
- Does the current IEP and behavior plan address my child’s needs? If not, should an updated evaluation be considered?