Some children have learning and attention issues that cause them to misbehave. So what happens when they break a school rule? Can they be disciplined? And if so, how? Read on for answers to these questions and more.
All students must follow school rules.
Your child’s school is required by law to maintain a safe, orderly learning environment. To do that, it has a school code with rules of behavior. The rules might include things like no obscene language, no hitting other children and no disrupting the class.
All students, including those with learning and attention issues, must follow school rules. If students break the rules, the school has the authority to discipline them. In fact, the school has a responsibility to do so.
Discipline can be as minor as sending a student to the principal’s office. It can be as serious as suspension or expulsion.
Learning and attention issues or not, all students have basic rights. Students (and their parents) have the right to know beforehand what the rules are. And if a school blames a student for breaking a rule, the student has a right to challenge the accusation or prove innocence.
Students with IEPs have special protections.
If your child has an IEP, she still has to follow school rules. If she breaks the rules, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) doesn’t stop the school from disciplining her. However, IDEA may protect her if she breaks the rules because of learning and attention issues that are documented in her IEP.
For example, a child with severe ADHD might disrupt class and yell out answers. IDEA can protect her in a few ways. The school may be required to have a plan for improving behavior in her IEP. And IDEA may stop the school from harshly punishing her if the behavior is considered a “manifestation” or a result of her ADHD.
One purpose of IDEA is to provide students with the ability to get educational services. So whenever a student is suspended from school or removed from a class and can’t get services, more protections kick in. The protections depend on the length of the suspension or removal:
- Up to 10 days or total: If your child is removed or suspended for 10 days or less, she’s treated just like other students. For example, imagine she’s sent home for seven days because of fighting. If the school policy is that suspended students don’t get any education during this time, your child doesn’t get her IEP services. But as the parent, you do have a right to call an IEP meeting immediately. There you can discuss the possibility of home instruction or completion of missed assignments and instruction.
- More than 10 days total (or there’s a pattern): Once your child reaches a total of 10 days of removal or suspension, it’s considered a change in “placement.” (It doesn’t have to be 10 days in a row—just 10 total days.) When this happens, IDEA provides increased protection. For example, if your child is moved to a special detention center, starting on the 11th day IDEA requires that she receive her educational services in this new “placement” or at home. It’s not always necessary to reach 10 days, though. An example could be if the school suspends your child five times for the same misbehavior, each time for only one day.
If your child hits 10 days total of suspension (or if there’s a pattern), the school must give you a notice of your rights under IDEA. You and the IEP team will meet to decide if the misbehavior was related to your child’s learning and attention issues, or if the school wasn’t following the IEP.
If either is the case, your child will return to school or to her previous class. The IEP team also can decide on a different placement.
There’s an exception here. If the removal or suspension was because your child had a weapon or drugs, or physically hurt someone at school, then the school doesn’t have to return your child right away. It has up to 45 days. But the school must provide the student with access to educational services.
If you’re unhappy with a discipline decision, you have the right to challenge it. You can use due process to do this.
The rules about what schools can do when your child misbehaves are sometimes confusing. And the rules may be affected by the laws in your state. Your state’s Parent Training and Information Center can be a helpful resource. Also keep in mind that if your child has a 504 plan, she has similar protections.