Can my child be disciplined?
Yes, but there are limits on how the school district can discipline a child with a disability. Children with disabilities get extra protections if they are removed from school for more than 10 days or if the child's behavior was caused by the disability.
Suspension for 10 or fewer school days
Suspension is the removal of your child from the classroom for at least 90 minutes and up to 10 school days.
The school district must notify you within 24 hours that your child has been suspended. Your child has the right to get their homework assignments and make up all missed work and tests during suspension. Ask the school district for this work so that your child can keep up with the class.
Suspension for more than 10 school days
For a child in special education, a removal or suspension for more than 10 school days (whether all at once or total over the school year) is considered a change in placement.
The law requires the school district to have a PPT meeting within 10 school days of a change in placement. This meeting is called a Manifestation Determination.
At the meeting, the PPT must decide whether your child's behavior
- was caused by or related to your child’s disability, or
- happened because the school district did not carry out your child's IEP.
The child’s parents, other members of the PPT, and school staff attend the manifestation determination meeting. You may invite a professional or a friend to support you.
The school district must tell you in writing about the meeting at least 5 days ahead of time, along with a written statement telling you about your rights. The manifestation determination meeting is important. If you can’t go to the meeting, you have a right to call the school district and ask them to reschedule it.
If the PPT determines that your child’s disability did not cause your child’s behavior, your child can be disciplined or expelled just like any other child, except that the school district must keep providing special education services.
If the PPT determines that your child’s behavior was caused by their disability or that it happened because the IEP was not followed, then your child cannot be expelled. However, if the behavior involved weapons, drugs, or serious injury, your child can still be moved to an Interim Alternative Educational Setting for 45 school days.
If your child’s behavior was caused by their disability, the PPT must also do these things:
- Try to find out why the behavior is happening. This is called a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA).
- Create a plan to stop the behaviors and teach the child proper behavioral and social skills. This plan is called a Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP).
If your child already has a BIP, the PPT must look at it and make changes as needed. Your child must be returned to the placement they were in before being removed unless the PPT agrees to a change in placement.
NOTE: If your child is repeatedly suspended or removed from the classroom, you should ask the school district to hold a PPT meeting.
NOTE: If you disagree with any decisions made about your child, you can ask for a due process hearing to be held without delay. See Due Process.
If your child is facing expulsion, you should talk to a lawyer right away. The school district must give you an expulsion notice that includes contact information for low cost or free legal help. You can also call Statewide Legal Services at 1-800-453-3320. If you are eligible, they may give you advice over the phone, mail you information, or try to help you find an attorney.
NOTE: Expulsion hearings happen very quickly. You have the right to ask for a postponement if you can’t attend, you need more time to prepare, or you need time to find an attorney.
What should happen if the school district is thinking about expelling my child?
A manifestation determination PPT must be held before an expulsion hearing is held.
If the PPT decides that the behavior was caused by your child’s disability or because the IEP wasn’t followed, then your child cannot be expelled and will return to school.
If the PPT decides that your child’s behavior was not caused by your child’s disability, then the school district may schedule an expulsion hearing.
If you don’t agree with the decision, you can ask for a due process hearing (see below). Your child must stay in their current placement until due process is completed. If the school thinks keeping your child in school will result in your child or someone else getting hurt, then it may ask for an expedited hearing (see below).
NOTE: If your child is in special education and seriously hurts someone or the incident involves weapons or drugs, the school district could place your child in an Interim Alternative Education setting (IAES) for up to 45 school days. This is not an expulsion, but your child may be temporarily placed in the same program as expelled students or receive tutoring instead.
What could happen at an expulsion hearing?
While an expulsion hearing is not as formal as a court trial, it is still a legal proceeding and it may be the only chance you get to tell your story to a decision-maker. There is generally no right to appeal the decision in court if you are not happy with the outcome. The decision-maker will listen while each side tells its story and will then decide
- if your child broke the rules;
- if your child should be expelled; and
- if your child is expelled, how long the expulsion will last.
If your child is expelled,
- your child is still entitled to special education services; and
- a PPT meeting must be held after the expulsion hearing to talk about where your child will receive special education services, and to make sure your child will get enough services to be able to make progress on their goals and objectives.
Also see the legal aid booklet, School Expulsions.