The Schoolyard Lawyer: School Discipline and Special Education Students


If any student violates the school handbook, the school can suspend that student accordingly. However, when a Special Education student on an IEP gets into trouble and is suspended from school, there are procedures in place that the school must follow when suspending the student.

For the first ten cumulative days of suspension within a school year, the school can discipline the student as the school would discipline a regular education student and does not have to provide the student with the services set forth in his or her IEP. For example, if a Special Education student hits a teacher in violation of the school handbook, the school can suspend that student for up to 10 days with no services under the IEP.

However, following the 10th day of suspension, the student’s removal from school is considered a change in placement and therefore certain procedures must occur. First, the services listed on the IEP must be provided to the student. Therefore, if the student is suspended for a total of 12 days over the course of the school year for various violations of the school handbook, then the school must provide the IEP services (speech therapy, math tutor, etc.) to the student for the 11th and 12th day that the student is suspended from school.

Second, the IEP Team must also hold a Manifestation Determination meeting. In this meeting, the IEP Team must address two questions: (1) Was the student’s behavior caused by or directly related to his or her disability, and (2) Was the student’s behavior the direct result of the school’s failure to implement the IEP? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then the student’s behavior is a manifestation of his or her disability and the student should be allowed back to school. The reason for this is simple: if the student’s disability causes the behavior, then the school cannot punish the student because of their disability. If the answer is no and there is no link between the student’s disability and his or her behavior, then the behavior is not a manifestation of the disability and the student can be treated and disciplined like a regular education student.

There are limited situations when a Special Education student can be suspended for more than 10 days without a Manifestation Determination meeting: if the student (1) is in possession of a weapon, (2) is in possession or in use of illegal drugs at school or school sponsored events, or (3) causes serious bodily injury upon another person while at school or school sponsored events, then the student can be removed from the school to an alternative education program for 45 school days.

The school must also conduct a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA). This is a psychological assessment where the school uates the student and his/her IEP to determine what is causing the student to act this way.

Based on both the Manifestation Determination and the Functional Behavior Assessment, the IEP Team should also meet to make necessary changes and adjustments to the student’s IEP and any Behavioral Plans to make sure it is still appropriate for the student.

The rules governing student discipline are complicated, especially when the discipline involves a Special Education student. Therefore, it is important for the family to hire an attorney to ensure their child is adequately represented.