School Discipline and IEP Protections

Legal Protections for Special Needs Students

No one ever said raising a child is easy, and that is no different for special needs students. Children, whether they have an IEP or not, can get in trouble and face disciplinary actions according to a school district’s rules. However, children with special needs may have behavioral issues or other disabilities that impact their ability to accept normal discipline methods, and there may be better solutions, such as behavioral plans, therapy, or counseling. School districts should assess each student on a case-by-case basis to determine the best corrective solution, especially if the student has a disability that needs additional support.

If you are having difficulties resolving a disciplinary dispute with a school district regarding your special needs child, reach out to Woodsmall Law Group. Our Los Angeles special needs lawyers have years of experience helping children with IEPs get the support and services they need to have a healthy education. Our legal team can sit down with you and your family in a free consultation to discuss all of your options. Call us at (626) 440-0028 today to get started on your case.

What Rights Do Schools Have to Discipline Students?

Each state has specific laws for how schools can discipline students. Here in California, school districts must follow specific procedures according to the Education Code when a student breaks a rule. Under these codes, students can be sentenced to detention, required to complete extra schoolwork, attend counseling, attend mediation with other peers, be suspended, or expelled. Students with IEPs or 504 plans are expected to follow the same rules as any other student, and as such, principals and superintendents can issue the same forms of discipline.

However, these traditional forms of discipline may not prove effective for children with special needs. An autistic student, for example, may not respond to the sudden changes that come with being suspended, which is why school districts should follow alternative procedures. These procedures are not meant to shield special needs students from discipline, but instead teach them new ways to deal with their emotions, conflicts, and disputes with other students. They also allow teachers and staff to learn what events trigger misbehavior and how to prevent future issues.

What Rights Do Special Needs Students Have in Discipline Conflicts?

While students with disabilities are expected to follow the same rules and codes of conduct as other students, they do receive specific protections according to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The protections only apply to students with IEPs or 504 plans, but can prove useful for parents in resolving disciplinary conflicts with a school district. These protections may also apply if a parent has requested an evaluation or if the school should reasonably know a student has a disability.

IDEA is designed to ensure students with disabilities receive the supports and services they need to receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). If a student is removed from school due to a suspension, this can create a situation called a “change of placement.” In these scenarios, the schools must follow the 10-Day Rule. Under the 10-Day Rule, if a student is suspended for more than 10 days, then the suspension will be considered a “change of placement” and the school must provide the same supports and services while the student is away from school. These 10 days do not have to be consecutive; the student just needs to be removed from school for at least 10 days.

In addition, the school must also implement a “manifestation determination.” A manifestation determination may apply when a student has been kept away from school for at least 10 days or when a student’s misconduct is related to their disability. A manifestation determination is a special review conducted by your child’s IEP team to identify if your child’s disability caused them to misbehave or act out in school. If it is related, then the school and IEP team must figure out how to address the child’s disability in order to prevent further issues. The IEP team may also review the school’s actions to make sure that it is providing all supports and services according to your child’s IEP.

Can a School Restrain a Child?

Very few states have laws against using restraints or seclusion on children, whether it is holding them down or locking them in a room. These methods of discipline are incredibly dangerous to any child, and they are often overused for children with behavioral issues. As of 2019, California’s AB 2657 outlines the specific definitions of restraints and seclusions and, while it does not outlaw these practices, it has added several protections for students. Under this new law, school districts may only use restraints when a child is a threat to himself, another student, or a staff member.

The law has also amended Education Code Section 49005.2 to state that a student “has the right to be free from the use of seclusion and behavioral restraints of any form imposed as a means of coercion, discipline, convenience, or retaliation by staff. This right includes, but is not limited to, the right to be free from the use of a drug administered to the pupil in order to control the pupil’s behavior or to restrict the pupil’s freedom of movement, if that drug is not a standard treatment for the pupil’s medical or psychiatric condition.”

Based on this law, school districts cannot use seclusion or restraints as a form of discipline, and these practices are only allowed when a student is a threat to himself or others.

What Rules Apply to Private Schools and Charter Schools?

It is important to note that these rules only apply to traditional public schools, and private and charter schools may follow different procedures. While private schools are required to follow specific sections of the Education Code, discipline is generally handled separately by each school. In turn, charter schools do not have to follow the same Education Code guidelines with regard to discipline. Generally, private and charter schools have stricter codes of conduct for students and can implement suspensions and expulsions for lighter offenses compared to public schools.

There are still specific procedures that private and charter schools must follow when issuing suspensions and expulsions. According to the Charter School Act of 1992, charter schools are required to implement due process safeguards before suspending or expelling a student. These due process safeguards allow the student and parents to defend against accusations of misbehavior or misconduct while attending a charter school. This includes informing the student and parent in writing about the charge, showing evidence of misconduct, and granting them the opportunity to dispute the charge before being suspended.

Resolving Discipline Conflicts in IEPs

The rules regarding discipline for special needs students are complex and require an in-depth knowledge of California’s Education Code and disability laws, both federal and state. It can be difficult for parents to fully understand what rights their child has and how they can resolve conflicts with a school district or IEP.

If you have any questions or you are afraid your child will lose out on supports and services due to disciplinary action, contact Woodsmall Law Group. Our Los Angeles special education lawyers can sit down with you in a free initial consultation to discuss your situation and explain how we can help your child. Call our office today at (626) 440-0028.