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What you must know about school discipline

Your child acted out in class, again. It’s only December and this is the third phone call home. You believe your child’s disability is playing a role in the misbehavior. But the school is considering suspension.

What rights does your child, who has an IEP or 504, have? Can the school do this?

Every student has two important rights with school discipline: The student’s side of the story must be heard and the school must explain the reason for the punishment to the child and parents.

Children with IEPs or 504s have additional protections. If your child is suspended, time is of the essence. The process is quick and you have limited time to appeal. Cape Cod Advocate has extensive experience supporting parents through this complex process, as described below.

Determine if procedures were followed

The federal IDEA Act states students with IEPs and 504s shouldn’t be disciplined for behavior caused by or related to their disabilities. The school is responsible for following strict policies when the student is being disciplined. Determining if these procedures were followed is an important first step we take on your child’s behalf.

When suspension occurs

Additional protections come into play when a student is suspended more than 10 days (cumulative), or more than twice in a school year under certain circumstances. At times, in-school suspension also triggers these protections. This is called a “change in placement” and the school must notify parents in writing, and provide a written incident report, if requested. The school also has to explain your legal protections and rights. Cape Cod Advocate guides parents through this process, ensuring all relevant information is provided.

Manifestation Determination

Within 10 days of the school’s decision to suspend your child, the IEP team—including you and your education advocate—holds a meeting for a “manifestation determination.” We often recommend inviting other school personnel who may provide helpful input about your child. The meeting is your chance to explain how the child’s misbehavior was a “manifestation” of his disability. We will help you prepare to show that the disability caused or even contributed to his acting out in class.


In preparation for the meeting, we’ll review your child’s IEP or 504 and talk with you and him to find out if parts of the plan were not followed in handling the misbehavior. For example, the plan might state your child should participate in a stress management group weekly, but the facilitator was on maternity leave and the group had been discontinued for weeks. We thoroughly review all of your child’s IEP or 504 paperwork for further insight.

The Decision

If the team agrees that your child’s misbehavior was a manifestation of his disability, there are three immediate results:

  • Your child returns immediately to school

  • A functional behavioral assessment is conducted by the school and IEP team.

  • A behavior intervention plan is developed, or revised, by the IEP team and put into place immediately.

If the team disagrees, meaning the misbehavior was unrelated to the disability, then the disciplinary action stands, but the school must continue special education services. This decision can be appealed, but the turnaround is quick.

Be aware that if the student has a weapon, illegal drugs or causes serious injury to someone else; the school disregards the disability and can significantly lengthen suspension or conduct an expulsion, which involves police and the court system. This might be the time for the team to consider an alternate placement.

Cape Cod Advocate has extensive experience supporting parents through the school discipline process. It is crucial to call us as soon as your child is suspended because the process is quick and there is limited time to appeal. Call us today at 508~428~2288 or email or

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