Can students be excluded from field trips for behavior? Imagine this–your school is planning a field trip. But, they call you and say “Oh, I’m sorry, your child cannot go because he is African-American.”

Or, “We’d love for your daughter to join us, unfortunately we are not equipped to bring Jewish children on this field trip. We just don’t have the staff.”

Sounds crazy and outrageous, right? So then why the **&&^$%$& do some schools think it’s OK to do this to disabled kids?!?!

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And yet, it happens all the time.

Can students be excluded from field trips for behavior?

File this one under “I can’t believe I have heard this so many times that I have to address it.”

I have heard from about a half dozen families in the past few weeks, and their child has an IEP or 504 and was excluded from the school field trip.

For the purposes of this article, we’re going to talk about both disabled students (because that is what my site is mostly about) and non-disabled students.

Because the rules are different.

A line of school buses, yellow in color, are parked outside.

Special Education Field Trip Laws

No, a school cannot exclude your child from a public school sponsored activity based upon their disability. It can’t be because “we don’t have a nurse to go on the trip” or “we’re afraid your son may elope” or any other reason related to their disability.

I will address discipline in a minute.

But excluding a child based upon their disability is a solid no. Don’t look for this in IDEA, you won’t find it there.

It would be a violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or ADA, depending on the specific scenario. See a lawyer if you cannot resolve this on your own. This is not intended to replace legal advice.

Many times parents email me and ask me “show me where it says…..” and they want to know where in IDEA it says something. IDEA is surprisingly quiet on most things. Flip it. Put in on them. You tell them, “Show me where it says in IDEA that you can exclude a child from a field trip because they have an IEP.”

A few students standing on a bench.

IEP Students and Field Trips

If your child is being excluded and has an IEP or 504 plan, ask yourself this: Is your child being treated differently than his/her non-disabled peers, based upon their disability?

IEP accommodations and services must be provided on school-sponsored activities.

That means aides, paras, nurses, etc.

Keep these two points in mind.

  1. Read your school district policies on everything pertaining to the issue–discipline, behavior, field trips, etc.
  2. Keep good records, save emails, and make sure you have documentation.
  3. Make sure you have read and reread the IEP, and that what you are asking for is clearly defined in your IEP (many times it’s not!).
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IEP and Field Trips

  1. Get it in writing. If the school sends you a note, you’ve got it. If they tell you on the phone or in person, follow up with an email. “Thanks for calling today. I just want to be clear that what you said is XYZ.”
  2. Follow up to the Special Education Director with your concerns. “Dear Special Education Director, Yesterday I was informed that my son is not welcome on the field trip because….which I believe is in clear violation of ADA/504 Act. Please let me know when we can meet to resolve this, as he very much is looking forward to the event and should not be excluded based upon his disability.” See where that gets you.
  3. If they stand firm, or, they say something incredibly stupid like “Well, he can go, but only if you go as his 1:1 chaperone” keep pushing. Is he being treated differently than his peers? Do all children with special needs have to have a parent? No? Then they are still violating the law, by treating him differently. If they are requiring all disability parents to attend, then the entire group is being marginalized.
  4. They must follow the IEP while on the trip. If the child gets a 1:1 or a nurse or a sign language interpreter, or whatever supports they need. They get it on the trip.
  5. If it is not resolved, consider filing an OCR complaint or just calling the Office of Civil Rights or your local disability rights agency. OCR complaints take time to fill out, but this one is pretty cut and dry and shouldn’t take that long.
  6. There are a few OSEP Dear Colleague letters that have been sent out by OSEP to schools. They have given schools guidance on what to do regarding extracurricular activities, field trips and more. You may find one that suits your situation and show it to your school personnel.
  7. If none of the above has worked and you wish to pursue the issue, find a Disability Rights lawyer or Special Education lawyer.
A group of kids observing a 3D printer.

Field Trip Exclusion: Behaviors or Discipline

Can students be excluded from field trips for behaviors? Short answer, it depends. Your kid has behaviors. I get it. You have a behavior plan. But still, not every day is a great day for your child, even with supports. So, your school is leery about bringing your child on the trip, for fear of him/her acting out, eloping, whatever the behavior might be.

They still have to accommodate the IEP and behavior plan, and cannot come up with impromptu discipline rules. Such as, “Well, he eloped 4 times, so we are not letting him go on the trip.”

Fine, please show me the school policy where it says that every child who has eloped 4x cannot go on field trips.

A blurry photo of children walking in front of a building.

Student Does Not Have IEP-Field Trip

Ok, so let me address the issue of kids with behaviors being excluded from field trips, but they do not have an IEP or 504.

There are a lot of things to consider here. First of all, there’s that concept of “known or should have known” about a learning disability. Is this the case for your child? Have you requested evaluations or an IEP, and were told no?

Then your child may still have the protections of being in a protected class–if you can demonstrate that the any reasonable person would “know, or should have known” about a learning disability that would affect behavior.

But, if that is not the case, you need to dig in and read school policy. While your child is not considered to be in a protected class, you want to ensure that the school is following their written discipline and field trip policy and applying it equally to your child.

If that is not the case, I would speak with the teacher and/or principal about this.

What about earned field trips?

In some circumstances, clubs or teams may take a special trip based on their performance. So, say your school’s chess club has 30 members, including your child. They are taking the “Top 10” players to a special match.

Your child is an excellent chess player, you think he is definitely Top 10.

But, you also feel that he’s probably being excluded because of his Aspergers and the fact that not many other kids like him.

This isn’t as cut and dry as the issues above. I would ask the coach or club leader what determining criteria they used, and how you can help your child be successful. What makes a child a Top 10 player?

Sometimes coaches are going to make decisions we don’t agree with. But that doesn’t always mean our child’s civil rights have been violated.

Try working with them, get them as an ally, to see how important this activity is to your child. Ask them what your child can do to increase their chances of going next time.

The natural history museum in London displays a massive whale skeleton.

Field Trip Behavior Contract

This is an option that I have heard of many times, for both disabled and non-disabled students. The school draws up a behavior contract and student signs it. Contracts like this come in many shapes and forms.

Sometimes the contract addresses behavior before the field trip. IE: Student will behave for all of February and March and then can go on the field trip in April.

Sometimes it’s about behavior during the field trip.

But here’s the thing–it’s stupid. Yep, I said what I said. Adults need to stop projecting nonsense like this on to kids. Kids do not value contracts or signatures or anything else like that, the way that adults do.

Very rarely does a contract work to modify a child’s behavior. Find a better solution.

Field Trip Behavior Expectations

All of the adults around the student, disabled or not, need to predict, prepare and prevent. Look at the website. Visit their social media pages. See what it’s like there, if you’ve never been.

One time I had a client who went on an overseas trip. In some European countries, the drinking age is as low as 15. (yes really!) The students were heavily warned ahead of time–don’t do it.

Wanna guess what happened? Yep, they did. And the that school district went on to try and expel those students. Not just suspension, expulsion.

First, yes, kids need to learn responsibility. But at the same time, the chaperones on that trip should have never allowed those kids to be in a situation like they did.

Sure, field trips to Europe are not that common. But you want to make sure that you are aware of any possible scenario and prepare your child.

And by that, I don’t necessarily mean a group discussion before the trip where an adult lectures and wags a finger time at a group of students. Honest, open discussions. Role playing scenarios. Answering “what if” questions and so on.

Set your child up for success.

You want your child to succeed. Frankly, many field trips are overrated. Does your child even want to go? Even with their full supports, do you feel that they can be successful?

As appropriate, discuss all concerns with your child. Help them be successful. If you really don’t think they can handle this, and that it will be a disaster, don’t send them and just ‘hope for the best.’

Moms have the best gut instincts. Follow them.

Do you want to go along but are not being allowed?

Why do you want to go? Because you feel that your child truly cannot be successful unless you go? Or is it because you’re anxious about them being in a new and different environment without you. If it’s the first one, try working with the team and explaining your concerns, and why your presence will help your child be successful. If it’s the latter…well, that you have to work through.

But one of the best things we can do for our kids is to let them experience things independently, and be successful at it. Without us. No matter how much that hurts.

{author’s note: Updating to check links, and because this question has come up again this week. Several times. Must be field trip season}

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