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Can Children with Disabilities Be Disciplined?

It’s one of my worst nightmares getting the call that my child is getting sent home, suspended, or expelled yet again. When this happens, I recommend not signing any documents when you pick up your child from school. It’s stressful and the last thing you want to do is sign something that you haven’t taken the time to read. It’s so important to know your child’s rights when they are disciplined. Yes, children with disabilities can be disciplined. However, many parents don’t realize that children with disabilities have additional rights. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA's provisions for disciplinary action against students with disabilities are complicated and often confusing. It’s important to know what your child’s rights are to zealously advocate for your child when you get the dreaded call that your child is being suspended or expelled.

No one needs to tell a special needs parent that their child can have a difficult time regulating their emotions when they are at school. We also don’t need to be reminded that children with disabilities sometimes make inappropriate choices, break rules, or argue with their teachers. My son has defiant behavior, questions authority, and asserts his independence on a daily basis. 

What Happens if my Child is Disciplined?

It’s very important to document any time your child is sent home from school early. Keep good notes and document when you were first called by the school and document the reason why you are being asked to pick up your child. You should confirm if your child is being sent home as a full day or partial day of suspension. Don’t wait until the end of the school year and get caught off guard like I have been in the past when I was told that my son wasn’t suspended only to find out that his school records lists his absence as suspension.  

If your child is being punished for misbehavior at school, you have a right to challenge the accusation. You can challenge the claim informally with the principal or superintendent of the school. 

What is a Manifestation Determination Review?

What is a Manifestation Determination Review?A manifestation determination review is required to be held within 10 days if a child with a disability has been suspended for 10 days in a row, been suspended for more than 10 total days in the same school year, or if the school is considering expulsion. A manifestation determination review is a process that reviews all relevant information and the relationship between the child’s disability and the behavior. 

Who Decides if the Behavior is a Manifestation of my Child’s Disability?

The IEP team will review all of the relevant information including IEPs, 504 plans, teacher and faculty observations, and parent provided information. It’s so important to discuss each incident that results in suspension with your child’s mental health provider, counselor, therapist, and any other person that has provided care to your child. The IEP team will decide whether your child’s behavior is a manifestation of their disability if their behavior is substantially related to the disability, is caused by the disability, or is a direct result of the school’s not following your child’s IEP. If your child’s behavior is a manifestation of their disability, the school cannot expel your child.

What’s Next?

If the IEP team determines that your child’s behavior is a manifestation of a disability, the IEP team is required to complete a Functional Behavior Analysis or FBA or review their FBA if they already have one. The IEP team must either create a Behavior Intervention Plan or BIP to address your child’s behavior discussed at the meeting or make changes to your child’s existing behavior plan so the school can provide support to address your child’s behavior.

What if I Disagree with the School’s Manifestation Determination?

If the IEP team determines that your child’s behavior was not a manifestation of their disability, you can request an expedited due process hearing. If the child is removed, the child must receive free appropriate public education in another school.

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