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Special Education Student Expulsion and Suspension

Stanislaus County schools have a higher than average expulsion rate. As recently reported in the Modesto Bee, high schools in the Modesto City School District expelled one out of every 89 students during the 2009-2010 school year (See article here. There were also 20,060 suspensions across Stanislaus County in 2009-2010, an average of 111 incidents every day of the school year (Modbee.com article).

A decision to expel or suspend a special education student on a long term basis constitutes a “change in placement” that must be reviewed by the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team within 10 school days, pursuant to the reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This meeting is sometimes referred to as a “Manifestation Determination” meeting. The IEP team must review all relevant information in the student’s file, including the child’s IEP, any teacher observations, and any relevant information provided by the parents to determine if the conduct leading to the expulsion was caused by, or was in direct and substantial relationship to, the child’s disability or a direct result of the school’s failure to implement the IEP.

If it is determined that the conduct was a manifestation of the child’s disability, the IEP team must conduct a functional behavior assessment and implement a behavior intervention plan or review an existing behavior plan and modify it as necessary to address the behavior.

There are exceptions to these requirements. For example, a school may remove a child with a disability to an alternative educational setting (e.g. home instruction) for up to 45 school days, whether or not the behavior is a manifestation of the child’s disability, where the child carries or possesses a weapon, knowingly possesses illegal drugs, or has inflicted serious bodily harm to another person while at school.

At the end of the 45 school day time period, the child returns to the prior placement, unless the IEP team determines a different placement for the child. The child must continue receiving FAPE, regardless of the setting. The school can seek a change of placement through the IEP team process, but the child cannot be expelled. The IEP team must decide how to provide the child with the services he or she needs in a least restrictive environment.

Schools have the right to seek an order from a hearing officer or judge if they believe the child is a danger to him/herself or others. Schools also have the right and the responsibility to involve law enforcement officers if they think a crime has been committed. Parents may request a copy of their district’s police referral policy.

If the behavior is NOT a manifestation of disability, then the child can be expelled as a child without a disability would be, BUT the school must continue to provide the services the child needs to progress in the general education curriculum and advance toward IEP goals, even if the child is no longer served in the same school environment. The IEP team decides what services the child needs and where those services will be provided.

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