graphic design - student with backpack looking down while two hands point to the door, telling him to leave

Be sure to visit our Behavior Resources webpage for resources to address behavior issues in the IEP. If a student’s behavior disrupts their learning or the learning of others, the IEP team must consider the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports, and other strategies, to address the behavior. Any needed interventions should be documented in the IEP.

Discipline Basics

All schools maintain a code of conduct that outlines which types of student behavior are unacceptable and how students who engage in those behaviors will be disciplined. This is often included in the school building’s (or school district’s) student handbook. Students are required to follow school rules, but they also have certain rights under the law to be treated fairly. All students have the right to know what their school’s rules are. If a student breaks a rule, state law limits the ways the student may be disciplined. In addition, students who receive special education services have further protections under state and federal laws that guarantee their right to receive a free appropriate public education

Rethink Discipline Implementation

In 2017, Michigan’s state discipline code changed, ending zero tolerance and requiring that lesser interventions be considered. Michigan Department of Education has a toolkit to provide guidance on changing culture in schools and addressing behavioral concerns using non-exclusionary methods.

Schools must consider 7 factors before any out-of-school suspension. The Student Advocacy Center of Michigan has gathered resources, including a summary of key law changes and worksheets to document what has been considered in discipline decisions.

Disciplinary Removal

A disciplinary removal is any instance in which a student with a disability is removed from their educational placement for disciplinary purpose and the student is not allowed to:

  • Continue to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum.
  • Receive the instruction and services specified in the IEP; and
  • Participate with nondisabled students to the extent the student would have in his
    or her current placement.

Disciplinary removal includes in–school suspension, out–of–school, suspension, expulsion, removal by school personnel to an interim alternative educational setting for drug or weapon offenses or serious bodily injury, and removal by hearing officer for likely injury to the student or others is a removal.

Undocumented Removals

“De-facto Suspension” and “undocumented suspensions” refers to students with disabilities being asked to go home or be signed out of school instead of the child being suspended. Sending a child with a disability home during the school day for not following school rules is disciplinary removal. Repeated office referrals or requiring students to leave school early are also considered removals. These days must be counted when determining whether a series of removals resulted in a change of educational placement or whether the child had been removed from school for more than ten cumulative days in a school year.

Shortened school days may not be used as a type of discipline

Shortening a student’s school days is not an acceptable form of punishment. Students also can’t be required to “earn” their way back to a full school day by demonstrating good behavior. The school can’t demand that a student take medication or receive treatment, therapies, or other outside services.

Discipline protections for students not yet eligible

If a student hasn’t been found eligible for special education, they may still be covered by the discipline protections of IDEA. If a parent had previously requested an evaluation or put in writing their concerns about needing special education, or if someone at school expressed concerns about a pattern of behavior that would mean the district had a “basis of knowledge.” When a basis of knowledge exists, the evaluation process must be expedited.

Manifestation Determination

Students with disabilities have a right to a formal review of their behavior before long-term suspensions or expulsions. This is called a Manifestation Determination Review (MDR).

If a student with a disability has been removed for more than ten days (ten days in a row, or ten days if days of removals when added together), a MDR must be held within 10 school days.

The purpose of this review is to determine whether or not the child’s behavior is linked to their disability, or because the IEP was not fully implemented. This is an important meeting, be aware that the district will proceed without the parent in attendance.

During the MDR, the team will review and  consider  information in the student’s file including student’s IEP, course grades, progress reports, anecdotal notes, etc. Information from the parent is also reviewed. This review provides a picture of the whole child.  The team must determine whether the conduct in question was a manifestation of the student’s disability. MDR  decisions should be made through consensus rather than voting. The district should keep detailed documentation of all considerations.

The MDR is answering two questions:

  1. Was the conduct in question caused by, or did it have a direct and substantial relationship to, the student’s disability?
  2. Was the conduct in question the direct result of the district’s failure to implement the student’s IEP?
    • Were the programs and services described in the IEP provided as written? If yes,then no further discussion is needed.
    • If no, did the failure to implement the IEP result in the behavior in questions.

An answer of yes to one of the above questions means the conduct in question was a manifestation of the student’s disability. The district must then take immediate steps to ensure all the following discipline protections occur:
1. The student returns to the prior placement, unless:
  · the parent and district agree on a change of placement as part of a modification of the behavior intervention plan (BIP)
  · the conduct in question involved weapons, drugs, or serious bodily injury.
2. The IEP team must conduct a functional behavior assessment (FBA) and create a BIP, unless:
  · the student already has an FBA prior to the behavior which resulted in a change of placement; and
  · the student already has a BIP, in which case the team must review the BIP and revise as necessary.
3. When the conduct in question is a result of the IEP team’s failure to implement the IEP, the district must remedy deficiencies of IEP implementation.

If the conduct in question is determined not to be a manifestation of the student’s disability, the district may apply the same discipline procedures in the same manner and for the same duration, as are applied to nondisabled students. The district must:

1. Provide educational services so the student can continue to participate in the general education curriculum, although in another setting, and to progress toward meeting the goals in their IEP.
2. Consider an FBA, when one has not already been completed, and a BIP.
3. The district may need to develop an IEP for an interim alternative education placement where educational services will be provided in an interim alternate education setting in order to allow the student to participate in the general education curriculum and progress toward meeting IEP goals.

MDR Appeal

If the team cannot agree on whether the student’s behavior was or was not a manifestation of the disability, the public agency must make the determination and provide the parent with prior written notice.
The parent has the right to exercise procedural safeguards by requesting mediation and/or an expedited due process hearing to resolve a disagreement about the manifestation determination. A parent also has the right to file a State complaint alleging a violation of Part B related to the manifestation determination.

Understanding the how and why of discipline in school settings 

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