When Can a School District Suspend or Expel a Special Education Child?

What to do when your child get suspended?By Douglas Green

Federal law prohibits suspending or expelling a special education pupil whose conduct was a “manifestation” of his or her disability.  That’s the simple answer, but what is a “manifestation?”

The pupil’s conduct is a “manifestation” of the child’s disability if the conduct in question was caused by the pupil’s disability or if the conduct was the result of the school district’s failure to implement the IEP.

The IEP team meets with the parent to determine if the conduct of the pupil was a manifestation of the student’s disability.  The parent of a pupil with a disability who disagrees with the manifestation determination may appeal by requesting a due process hearing.

As a practical matter, if the pupil has any type of emotional problems or mental disabilities, virtually any behavior is likely to be a manifestation of his/her disability.  Don’t let the school district tell you differently.

So what should the district do rather than expel or suspend your special education student when there is a problem?  In the case of an emotionally troubled student, the District would typically, with the parent’s consent, make available an alternate setting for the student to go when he/she is struggling to deal with other students.  This alternate setting is often a separate room on the campus that is staffed by trained teachers to assist emotionally troubled children.

In the case of an autistic or similarly disabled child, what is commonly done is the district would need to provide extra aides in the special education classroom if the child is becoming more difficult to deal with.  For example, as the child enters puberty and begins to act out more frequently, the District would need to provide more aides in the classroom to assist with the additional needs of the student.

In an emergency situation school personnel may remove a child with a disability to an interim educational setting or suspension for not more than 10 school days without triggering the protections of special education law.  These expulsions or suspensions of special education students are extremely rare situations where the child has brought a weapon to school or is behaving in an exceptionally aggressive manner toward staff or students.

The important lesson here is that if a parent disagrees with any decision regarding a change of placement or the manifestation determination the parent should immediately contact legal counsel and file a complaint requesting and hearing.

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