“Help! The principal called and I have to go to a Manifestation Determination hearing….what do I do?” That’s a question I hear often, and while I have done posts on dealing with suspensions and discipline, I have never actually done one on Manifestation Hearings. So, here goes…
Parents, first calm down.
That’s not meant to be condescending. It’s meant to be realistic advice. You have to have your feet under you and your emotions under control for this. You can bring out your inner Mama Bear, but she needs to be cool, collected and strategic.
It has a very scary name, don’t let that throw you. Also, don’t let school personnel tell you “it’s no big deal, you don’t even have to be there…” It is a big deal. Be there.
I have had many situations where a client was suspended from school. It’s chaotic. It’s stressful. You got called away from work, or wherever you were. You’re upset, you’re embarrassed, but you have to keep your feet under you. Because in the midst of all this chaos of you coming to the school to get your child (who has just exhibited suspension-worthy behavior), I have seen school personnel stick all kinds of things under parents’ noses and just say “Oh, and here, sign this and you can take him home.”
And in some cases, the parent has signed a form agreeing to a more restrictive placement (like alt ed) or has waived their right to a Manifestation Hearing or IEP meeting to discuss. I’ll say it again–I know you’re upset, but keep your feet under you and do not sign anything without reading it.
If you have already done this, email everyone immediately. “I am sorry, but I was upset and under duress due to the situation, and I am now rescinding my signature and agreement to….(and list whatever it was that you signed). I do wish to have a Manifestation Hearing and IEP meeting for my child’s behavior incident on May 15.”
That bit of advice is the most important bit of advice I can give you. Stay calm, gather your facts and data, and treat this as a business meeting.
How to Prepare for a Manifestation Determination Hearing
The first thing you want to do is gather data.
- Ask for all incident reports and files that the school has related to this incident.
- Do your research on your child’s disability. What you want to gather is signs/symptoms/manifestations of your child’s disability. For example, a classic hallmark of ADHD is impulsive behavior.
- Gather the current IEP and behavior plan for your child.
Next, you want to prepare your worksheet. Here is Pennsylvania’s Manifestation Determination worksheet. Each state should have a similar one. Find it and print it. Here is one to practice with.
When you get to your meeting, someone from your child’s school will have theirs printed out. This is what the team will go over. Make sure you have read over your state-specific policies. For example, in PA, a child with an intellectual disability cannot be suspended for even one day without a Manifestation Hearing. Also, go to your school district website and read/print their discipline policy. Make sure that your child was not punished more severely than his/her non-disabled peers would be in the same situation.
Attending a Manifestation Determination Hearing
Both parents should attend if possible. The child should attend. You can also bring people who have professional knowledge of your child. It would be nice if you could get a doctor to be present, but that doesn’t often happen. Still, you could ask your child’s therapist, wraparound behavior person or case manager if they would be willing to speak on your child’s behalf. Having an advocate who has been there before is always nice. And I would definitely find an attorney if the school plans on pressing charges.
Someone on the team will start going through the questions on the form. The team answers and discusses them. Present your factual information in a calm and professional manner. It is been my experience that it is not as hard to get the team to agree that it was a manifestation of the disability. But it is very difficult to get the team (made up mostly of school personnel) to agree that the IEP was inadequate or not being followed.
(In other words, the school’s fault.) And that is often the case!
I have had many clients with a 1:1 for behaviors and their behavior occurred while the 1:1 was at lunch, or called in sick, or whatever. Depending on your individual situation, you will have to determine if that is a battle you wish to fight.
Options during the Manifestation Determination Hearing/Review
- The team determines it was a manifestation of disability—> the team should go right into reviewing the IEP and behavior plan. Or schedule a time in the very near future to do so.
- If the child does not have a behavior plan, then an FBA is scheduled.
- The team decides it was NOT a manifestation of the disability, and you disagree, ask them what the appeals process is.
- Make sure you note on the form that you disagree with this decision.
Gaslighting at Manifestation Determination hearings
I have a post about gaslighting and IEP meetings. Honestly, I have been gaslighted at more Manifestation Hearings than any other type of meeting. There was a point in my career where I was sometimes attending 2 or 3 of these in a day, so I knew what to expect. And still, the school board members would look directly at me and say, “No, you are wrong.”
It was like talking to a rock. Say your peace. But if you are not getting anywhere, follow up in writing and contact your state’s Protection and Advocacy Agency. You can also ask them to show you what they are telling you.
Manifestation Determination Hearing-Resources for Parents
Again, stay calm. This is one of the most stressful things a parent will have to do. I personally think they are much more stressful than IEP meetings. This is also another reminder to keep great records on your child and do everything in writing. If your child has been having behaviors and you’ve been asking for an FBA and have been turned down, this would be a great time to have several emails to show them and remind them that you have been trying to solve this.
- What to do when your child is suspended from School, with or without an IEP
- Special Education and Discipline: This is a VERY good read, and easy to read.
- Handling a Manifestation Determination review-advice from Wrightslaw