An analysis of federal law regarding discipline for students with disabilities in the public school context
Spurka, Edward James
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Children with disabilities have only had the same educational opportunities as other children for 27 years. Federal legislation, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has provided procedural safeguards to ensure students with disabilities receive a Free, Appropriate, Public Education (FAPE), and protections against unwarranted disciplinary exclusions. Research for this study focused on analyzing federal statutes, regulations, case law, legal commentary, and historical documents in order to track the historical development of the law and to describe the current status of the law regarding discipline for students with disabilities in public schools. Accordingly, the primary data for this study were derived from federal legislation and U.S. Department of Education regulations and interpretations of federal laws, as well as Supreme Court and federal appellate court opinions concerning special education law and public school discipline. This study analyzed the current status of federal special education law as it applies to discipline of students eligible for special education services in public schools. In the IDEA and the subsequent 1999 Regulations, special education students are afforded more procedural safeguards. Some of the findings in this study include: • Children eligible for special education services under the IDEA have the right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) (34 C.F. R. § 300.13). • The FAPE provision of the IDEA extends to students with disabilities who have been suspended or expelled from the public school system (34 C.F.R. § 300.121). • School districts are obligated to provide a continuum of alternate placements beginning with the least restrictive environment, in most cases being the regular classroom, and extends to the most restrictive, which is providing instruction and services in a hospital or institutional setting (34 C.F. R. § 300.551). • Under § 300.520 of the IDEA regulations as affirmed in The Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Education v. Richard W. Riley (1997), educational services cannot cease for properly expelled students with disabilities, whether or not the misconduct was a manifestation of the child's disability. Regulations defining a FAPE, least restrictive environment and IEPs (Individual Education Plans), are relevant to handicapped students during disciplinary proceedings. As school administrators become more knowledgeable in special education law, they will be better equipped to successfully implement school discipline for students who violate school rules and comply with the IDEA and its regulations.