Both federal and Virginia law protect special needs children from unfair discipline at school. To this effect, the state Department of Education has published guidelines for local educational agencies to follow when disciplining children with disabilities.
Understanding your child’s rights when it comes to school discipline can help you recognize when an educator or LEA violates them.
What schools cannot do
Students with disabilities have the right to receive treatment consistent with the treatment of other students — including those without disabilities. Schools may not issue harsher punishments on students with disabilities than those for other students. Your special needs child has a right to equitable treatment.
Virginia Board of Education similarly asserts with the US Department of Education that children with and without disabilities have the right to receive an education. Thus schools should not deprive a student of this right as punishment. In other words, while short term suspensions or disciplinary actions may be appropriate tools to address misbehavior, the school must allow the student to make up assignments and to keep up with the rest of the class. Withholding education as punishment is unacceptable.
What schools must do
If the need to discipline your child arises, the teacher or agency in question must issue clear and detailed reasoning for all decisions. This reasoning should include the specifics of the incident, what measures the teacher or agency took to remedy the situation and which parties the teacher or agency consulted on the issue. If the alleged misbehavior is a repeat offense from your child, the record should also include an assessment of whether the teacher or agency believes your child’s misconduct constituted a pattern of behavior.
In many cases, the school has the responsibility to convene an individual educational plan team to evaluate your child’s alleged misbehavior and to consider whether any revisions to the IEP are appropriate. During these meetings, the IEP team should assess whether your child’s disability or the school’s failure to follow the IEP caused the apparent misbehavior, and whether a behavioral intervention plan is in order.
Parents have the right to dispute disciplinary actions against their children. They may request a hearing and try to resolve the dispute with the LEA. In some cases, parents may need to take civil action against the LEA to protect their child’s rights.