Can you Suspend a Student with an IEP?

It happened again. You were at work, in the middle of…working. And the phone rings again. You look and see the dreaded phone number-it’s the school. And you know what is ahead. You have to go pick up your child because they’ve been suspended. Again.

Here is an overview of school suspensions. Please if you have any further questions, please seek professional help from a lawyer or advocate.

a child and his mother upset because he's been suspended from school

School to Prison Pipeline

  • School Suspensions are the first step of the school to prison pipeline. Once the child is suspended a few times, often the behavior will escalate. And then the school will call the police, if they are not already in the school building.
  • If a child struggles in school, they will fall further behind with missed days due to suspension. This only exacerbates the problem.
  • A child that already struggles in school and hates school can act out and be “rewarded” by not having to go to school for a few days.
  • There are ZERO studies that show that an out of school suspension benefits a child in any way. They are punitive in nature only.
  • It’s a form of seclusion and/or shunning which is destructive to a child.

School suspension should be taken very seriously. It quickly gives your child a very unfortunate label and stereotype to wear. Thankfully more media outlets and others are paying attention to this important issue. Because children with disabilities are suspended from school at rates that are disproportionate to their segment in society.

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School Suspensions are a Systemic Problem.

US Dept of Ed statistics tell us that approximately 15-20% of all kids have special needs or an IEP. We know that out of all students that are suspended from school, kids with IEPs have a disproportionately high rate. The average is about 30%. But in some districts (and if you’re a minority) it can be as high as 75%. So, let’s see. They make up 15% of the population, but 75% of suspensions? Doesn’t seem right, does it? No, it’s not.

Even if it is not called a suspension, or you didn’t receive paperwork. If you were called to come get your child, that is considered a suspension in the eyes of the law. If your child was “invited” to go home that day and miss school time, he was suspended! So please make sure for documentation purposes, that you are documenting those incidents as well.

This is a huge systemic problem. I’m not telling you that to depress you, but to let you know that you are not alone. And also as a reminder that you have to be persistent in fixing this for your child. Because suspensions, for kids as young as kindergarten, is becoming the acceptable status quo.

IDEA and Discipline

You need to read this booklet. And your Procedural Safeguards. Yes, this is time-consuming, but you must turn this around.

Child suspended from school and DOES NOT have an IEP/504.

If your child has been suspended from school or is repeatedly in trouble at school:

There might be Child Find issues regarding your child. If they have a disability of some kind and the school did not identify them as such. Talk with local professionals for assistance if you believe your child should qualify as disabled.

Child suspended from school and DOES have an IEP/504 :

Sure, kids with disabilities exhibit lots of different undesirable behaviors. If they were desirable behaviors, we’d throw a party and rejoice when we get a diagnosis, right? But our kids are not trying to get away with stuff as is the common thought.

Parents are not looking for excuses, we are looking for help in managing the behaviors. The antiquated mentality of “make better choices” makes me crazy! You’re asking kids to perform a task. They may not have the right tools in their toolkit to do that.

  • To start, you need to start getting everything in writing and keeping track of days.
  • Ask for all incident reports and discipline reports for every incident.
  • Go to your district’s website and print off the discipline policy and familiarize yourself with it.
  • Dig out your copy of the IEP procedural safeguards and yes, read them.
  • If your IEP/504 child has been suspended, one of these situations applies: Child needs and FBA and Behavior Plan, current behavior plan is insufficient or inappropriate, or the behavior plan in place is not being followed. Figure out which one it is and fix it!

IEPs and Suspension Laws

Yes, first of all, yes! Kids with IEPs can be suspended. How many days can a child with an IEP be suspended?

There are certain day thresholds that a Manifestation Determination hearing MUST be held. This is by IDEA law. For most states, it’s 10-15 days depending on the situation. The team must assemble and determine if the child’s behavior was a manifestation of his/her disability. In other states (PA), if your child is intellectually disabled, this must occur after even a 1 day suspension!

During the manifestation determination review, quite often members of the team disagree. For example, there is a section where you choose if “the IEP was adequate or was it implemented properly.” Obviously districts don’t like to put “no” there. Because, it makes it look like they weren’t doing their job. But quite often, this is the case—proper supports either weren’t in place or weren’t being implemented.

This is one of the main reasons I feel it’s important to not go to these meetings alone. If you can’t find an advocate, find a friend, a relative, someone-because you will be outnumbered at the meeting. I have more tips in the links at the end of this post.

5-year-olds in Kindergarten-Suspended!

I recently took a phone call from a worried mom—her kindergartener had been suspended for two days! Yes, folks, suspending kindergarteners, and this is from one of the “best” districts in our state.

Sure enough, after talking with Mom, his behavior was already well predicted. And yet no one took measures to avoid his triggers (or was following his PBSP for that matter). I also had a Mom, her son had been suspended many times and she NEVER had a Manifestation Determination until she had an Advocate. It was a procedure that the administrators just chose not to do, and Mom didn’t know it was a law. Happens more often than we’d like to believe.

Once the Manifestation Determination portion is over, an IEP meeting should be held to make adjustments to the IEP. This is where the team should either put in extra supports or plans should be made to do an FBA (functional behavior assessment) and PBSP (positive behavior support plan). Then, parents, you need to stay tuned in and make sure that the IEP and PBSP is consistently implemented. You also may pursue a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights if you feel he/she is being treated differently than his/her non-disabled peers, as pertains to discipline.

This is a very brief overview and I don’t want to overwhelm anyone. But everyone should be able to enjoy the holidays without worrying about their kids being suspended. Contact your local agency for people with disabilities and seek the assistance of a Special Education Advocate. Most work on sliding fee scales and they can assist you through this. As you can see, it can quickly get very complicated.

Most importantly, Moms, go with your gut. If it doesn’t feel right to you, pursue it.

More on IEP Suspension, Discipline, Manifestation Hearing:

  • Suspensions and the IEP: Read this article on steps you can take if your child with an IEP is suspended from school. Remember, any time your child is asked to leave school and their peers are not, that is considered a suspension in the eyes of the law. So if the school calls you and says your child is having a bad day and you need to come get him…that’s a suspension. Yes, really.
  • Manifestation Determination Hearing: If you have already been told that you need to come to a Manifestation Hearing, or if your child has been suspended several times and you want to request one, this is for you. Remember, a MH is not a ‘get out of jail free’ pass. It’s about getting your child the supports and instruction they need to prevent the behaviors.
  • Trying to Prevent Suspensions: There are a few things that parents can do to help prevent their child from being suspended. Read these actions you can take in your IEP to make it happen.
  • Holding Accountable: We still need to hold our kids accountable for their actions! Read these tips, because when your child has disabilities, it can be tricky…but it can be done. We do our kids a huge disservice if we do not teach them accountability.

And no, it’s not your imagination……

If it “feels like” to you that your child is perhaps being targeted or treated unfairly…it may not be your imagination. One of the reasons I am passionate about educating parents (and school personnel!) about the correct way to handle discipline with our kids, is that the high school to prison pipeline is very real, and very much targets kids with IEPs unfairly.

Yeah, sure, I hate talking about this stuff, because it does depress me. Knowledge is power. So once you fix your immediate situation, work on fixing the system. Get together and organize with other parents. Read up on Restorative Justice programs and then get your district to adopt those measures.

This post was originally written in 2012 and is being updated to reflect current information.

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