Guest Author - Kristie Melkers
In the years of working with parents and guardians who are navigating the special education highway alongside their children, discipline issues are overwhelmingly the most prevalent reason they pick up the phone to call for help. While discipline issues are either emergent or at least urgent, other educational challenges are commonly left to simmer awhile. Teams can turn to incremental, methodical efforts to generate desired results in these instances. But, for discipline-related issues, rapid unraveling of team cohesion and, sometimes, desperate reactivity are more frequently the norm.
“My child has been moved to a different school. We had no say in the decision. What can we do?”
IDEA 2004, Section 615 (k) deals with placement in an alternative educational setting as an action that schools can take under certain circumstances to address serious disciplinary problems regarding a student with a disability. There are provisions for students who are not covered by an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and provisions for those who are. This article will highlight the process for students who do have an IEP and have been removed from their current placement WITHOUT determination of whether the behavior was a manifestation of their disability. Manifestation determination processes will be outlined in another article.
To quote the law:
School personnel may remove a student to an interim alternative educational setting for not more than 45 school days without regard to whether the behavior is determined to be a manifestation of the child’s disability, in cases where a child—
(i) carries or possesses a weapon to or at school…
(ii) knowingly possesses or uses illegal drugs…
(iii) has inflicted serious bodily injury upon another person while at school…
It is obviously a very serious situation when a student violates codes of conduct and becomes a danger to himself or others. Safeguards such as removing students to an interim alternative educational placement are necessary in these circumstances. What can happen, however, is that schools sometimes use this action without the student having commited infractions such as those described above. The school will not have met the required burden of proof, but will take this action prematurely, out of frustration and desperation to alleviate the problem.
Most problems related to discipline should be responded to with collaborative effort from the IEP team. Sometimes, the solution is as simple as ensuring sound, evidence-based instructional practices and classroom management strategies. Other times a functional behavioral assessment needs to be completed, followed by development and consistent implementation of a behavior intervention plan. The vast majority of behavior challenges are successfully addressed using these tools.
There are excellent resources to provide more information to parents and teams who are faced with responding to discipline issues in the school setting. Please see the special education homepage positive behavior supports link for more information.