October 3rd and running through October 11th, is the Dignity in Schools Campaign‘s 11th National Week of Action Against School Push Out, bringing, parents, education advocates, lawyers and many others together to amplify the call for schools to move away from punitive, criminalizing policies fueling the school-to-prison pipeline and towards emotionally-safe, restorative and culturally responsive school communities.
The “school-to-prison pipeline” is the idea that certain kinds of school discipline push students toward involvement in the juvenile or adult justice systems. Exclusionary discipline practices in K-12 schools—suspension, expulsion and other disciplinary actions that take a student away from the classroom—raise the chances that a student will repeat a grade, drop out or end up in the criminal justice system. The harmful effects of school discipline affect students with disabilities, and particularly students of color with disabilities, disproportionately.
The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights collected data in 2015 showing that Black students with disabilities are almost four times as likely to have multiple suspensions, and almost twice as likely to be expelled, as white students with disabilities. Overall, students with disabilities were subject to discipline at roughly twice the rate of students without disabilities.
When any student has been found to violate a school disciplinary code resulting in a disciplinary action, that student has rights to challenge the reason for the action and the severity of the disciplinary action. If a student has an IEP or a 504 plan, there are special procedures that the school district must follow when disciplining the student.
Students with disabilities can be suspended for up to 10 days like any other students. However, students with disabilities have further protections if the school district wants to suspend them for more than 10 days or expel them. Expulsion and suspensions for more than 10 days are considered a change in placement. If a school district wants to expel or suspend a student for more than 10 days, it must call a meeting of the IEP team. This meeting is known as a “manifestation determination,” and it must be held within 10 school days. This meeting is to determine if the behavior was caused by, or had direct and substantial relationship to the child’s disability. The IEP team should also look to see if the child’s IEP was being followed.
If the IEP team decides that the behavior was a manifestation of the student’s disability, the district cannot expel the student or suspend the student more than 10 days. If the behavior was NOT a manifestation, the district CAN expel or suspend the student for more than 10 days. The student is still entitled to FAPE while suspended or expelled.
The parents of a student with an IEP have a right to request an IDEA due process hearing to challenge decisions regarding their child’s placement. This includes manifestation meeting determinations or decisions made by the district that a student should be removed from the current school to an alternative program.
Our firm possesses the collective experience of over a century of special education advocacy, and has been a leader in protecting students with disabilities from school push-out and unfair exclusionary discipline for many years. Our initial consultation is without charge, and most of our cases are handled without fees paid by parents of children with disabilities. Contact us today by clicking here or call 610-648-9300.
By Nancy Potter, Esq., Pittsburgh Special Education Attorney for McAndrews, Mehalick, Connolly, Hulse and Ryan P.C.