ERIC Identifier: ED295397
Publication Date: 1988-00-00
Author: Zantal-Wiener, Kathy
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Handicapped and Gifted Children Reston VA.
Disciplinary Exclusion of Special Education Students. ERIC
In 1975, the Supreme Court ruled that a student cannot be given a short-term
suspension from school at the sole discretion of an individual school
administrator (GOSS V. LOPEZ, 1975). This provided the general student
population with certain procedural safeguards in instances involving
Legal and educational difficulties surface when a handicapped student is
involved in a disciplinary action. School administrators have to balance the
mandates of P.L. 94-142, Goss requirements, and disciplinary policies
established by the local school districts.
P.L. 94-142 does not specifically address the disciplinary exclusion of
handicapped students. However, regulations defining free appropriate public
education, least restrictive environment, individualized education program
(IEP), procedural due process, change of placement, student placement during
proceedings, and impartiality are relevant to handicapped students during
Various courts have responded in over 16 cases relevant to the issue of
disciplining handicapped students. Legal action is necessary because school
systems often have difficulty reaching a consensus as to the precise nature or
extent of power of school officials during disciplinary hearings.
WHEN CAN A SPECIAL EDUCATION STUDENT BE EXCLUDED FROM SCHOOL FOR DISCIPLINARY
To determine the circumstances under which children with handicaps may be
excluded from school for disciplinary reasons, courts have ruled that a number
of important factors must be considered: --School districts must view a
disruptive child with handicaps as a special education problem rather than a
disciplinary problem. --To the maximum extent possible, the child with handicaps
must be retained and placed in the least restrictive environment. --If a student
is to be suspended for longer than 10 days, the IEP team must convene and
determine whether the disciplinary infraction was a manifestation of the child's
handicapping condition. --If the IEP team determines that the disciplinary
action is a manifestation of the handicap, the contents of the IEP must be
reevaluated. --If the infraction is not related to the handicap, the normal
disciplinary procedures set forth by the school board shall be imposed on the
On January 20, 1988, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that an educational
placement of a student with handicaps cannot be changed without exhausting due
process proceedings outlined in P.L. 94-142 (HONIG V. DOE, 1988). The court
found that school officials may temporarily suspend a student with handicaps up
to 10 days. Under this ruling, disciplinary exclusion for more than 10 days
constitutes a change of placement under P.L. 94-142. After the initial 10-day
period, the student must return to his or her placement and remain there during
any due process hearing or court appeal.
However, the courts have provided school officials with a recourse. When
parents of a truly dangerous youth refuse to permit any change in placement,
school officials may use the 10-day suspension period to seek the assistance of
the courts to remove the youth from school. According to the judges, court
action can be sought if "maintaining the child in his/her current placement is
substantially likely to result in injury to himself or others."
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR DETERMINING IF THE DISCIPLINARY ACTION IS A
MANIFESTATION OF THE HANDICAP?
The literature and legal documents clearly and emphatically charge the IEP
teams with the responsibility of determining if a causal link exists between a
child's handicap and the disruptive behavior. Establishing a causal link has
presented numerous dilemmas: --The courts have recognized that improper
placement can be responsible for disruptive behavior; thus the courts have
placed the burden for determining the appropriateness of disciplinary exclusion
on the same team that previously placed the student. --Many, if not all,
behaviors that a student displays can be interpreted by some assessment tool or
diagnostician as a reflection of the handicap. --It is doubtful whether the
diagnostic skills of team members are so accurate and refined that such a link
can be established beyond a reasonable doubt. --A school's perceptions of
parents may be a dominant factor in determining the link. --The severity of the
handicap can be a deciding factor in determining whether the behavior is a
manifestation of the handicap.
DO MANY SCHOOL SYSTEMS HAVE DISCIPLINARY POLICIES THAT SPECIFICALLY ADDRESS
STUDENTS WITH HANDICAPS?
Rossell and Peterson (1985) found that few school systems have disciplinary
procedures which address the specific points included in most court decisions.
If such policies and procedures follow court guidelines, many are not specific
or detailed enough to allow for consistent or effective implementation.
Frequently, implementation of a disciplinary policy is hampered because: --There
is a lack of operating guidelines that consider the special education service
delivery system or curricula at the local school level. --The roles and
responsibilities of personnel who implement the policy are often inconsistent
and unclear. --The IEP team attempts to comply with due process procedures by
deliberating solely on the issue of whether the disciplinary infraction is a
manifestation of the handicap, instead of making a concerted effort to
reevaluate the student's program. --There are limited personnel and a lack of
program and placement options for students who are frequently involved in
disciplinary infractions. --The school's level of receptivity to parental input
tends to be related more to parental knowledge about disciplinary hearings than
to the parents' willingness to participate (Zantal-Wiener, 1986).
WHAT ALTERNATIVES TO DISCIPLINARY EXCLUSION ARE AVAILABLE FOR SPECIAL
Alternatives to disciplinary exclusion should be positive and proactive. Holt
and Smith (1984) advocated that schools establish intervention programs that are
"defined by the parameters of seriousness of offenses, persons needed to
implement, time and resources required to implement, and the degree to which the
intervention interferes with the ongoing education of the youngster involved"
(p. 38). Complementing that strategy, Braaten (1982) proposed a model for
prioritizing behaviors and the appropriateness and intensity of interventions.
In each of the five priority levels, Braaten provided specific behavior
descriptions and intervention strategies. Cobb, Wilson, Trout, and Courtney
(1988) have developed prevention strategies to reduce the incidence of
discipline problems among high school special education students. The program
includes social skills training for the students, procedures designed to improve
the coordination of psychological services, and the timely implementation of
intervention strategies by a multidisciplinary problem-solving team.
In-school suspension is another viable alternative because students can
remain in a supervised structured setting while remaining segregated from the
general school population. In-school suspension programs can also provide the
student with relevant functional academic and social skills curricula. Excellent
examples of such programs for special education students are described by
Crawford (1984) and Center and McKittrick (1987).
Additional alternatives to disciplinary exclusion can be found in recent
literature. Leone (1985) describes several models that may prevent disciplinary
problems with students with handicaps. Lichtenstein (1980) outlines alternatives
for school districts to use in order to balance legal responsibilities with
appropriate educational programming for special education students. Guetzloe and
Wells (1984) present the option of using the IEP to document disciplinary
procedures specifically designed for an individual student.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Barnett, S. M. and L. G. Parker. "Suspension and Expulsion of the Emotionally
Handicapped: Issues and Practices." BEHAVIORAL DISORDERS 7 (1982): 173-179.
Braaten, S. "A Model for the Differential Assessment and Placement of
Emotionally Disturbed Students in Special Education Programs." In M. M. Noel and
N. G. Haring (Eds.), PROGRESS OR CHANGE: ISSUES IN EDUCATING THE EMOTIONALLY
DISTURBED. VOLUME 1: IDENTIFYING AND PROGRAM PLANNING. Seattle: University of
Center, D. and S. McKittrick. "Disciplinary Removal of Special Education
Students." FOCUS ON EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN 20 (1987): 1-10.
Cobb, D .E., D. Wilson, K. L. Trout, and J. Courtney. DEVELOPMENT AND
IMPLEMENTATION OF A PROGRAM TO REDUCE THE INCIDENCE OF DISCIPLINE PROBLEMS AMONG
HIGH SCHOOL SPECIAL EDUCATION STUDENTS. Columbus, SC: Richland School District
Crawford, J .K. "In-school Suspension: A Positive Alternative to Disciplinary
Exclusion." In J. K. Grosenick and S. L. Huntze (Eds.), POSITIVE ALTERNATIVES TO
DISCIPLINARY EXCLUSION OF BEHAVIORALLY DISORDERED STUDENTS. Columbia, MO:
University of Missouri-Columbia, 1984.
GOSS v. LOPEZ. 95 S. Ct. 729, 419 U.S. 565, 42 L.Ed. 2d 725, 1975.
Guetzloe, E. and D. Wells. "Utilizing the IEP: Florida's Answer to the
Exclusion of Behaviorally Disordered Students." In J. K. Grosenick and S. L.
Huntze (Eds.), POSITIVE ALTERNATIVES TO DISCIPLINARY EXCLUSION OF BEHAVIORALLY
DISORDERED STUDENTS. Columbia: University of Missouri-Columbia, 1984.
Holt, G. and C. Smith. "Decorum versus Discipline in Programming for
Behaviorally Disordered Students." In J. K. Grosenick and S. L. Huntz (Eds.),
POSITIVE ALTERNATIVES TO DISCIPLINARY EXCLUSION OF BEHAVIORALLY DISORDERED
STUDENTS. Columbia: University of Missouri-Columbia, 1984.
HONIG V. DOE. EHLR December, 559: 231, 1987-88.
Leone, P. E. "Suspension and Expulsion of Handicapped Pupils." JOURNAL OF
SPECIAL EDUCATION 19 (1985): 111-121.
Lichtenstein, E. "Suspension, Expulsion, and the Special Education Student."
PHI DELTA KAPPAN 61 (1980): 459-461.
Rossell, J. and R. Peterson. "Analysis of School District Policies for
Disciplinary Action with Handicapped Children." Unpublished paper, University of
Zantal-Wiener, K. A. "Implementation of a Disciplinary Policy for Handicapped
Students." Unpublished manuscript. University of Maryland, College Park, 1986.