Behavior and Discipline

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When a student in special education gets suspended or expelled, the school district must still follow Washington State laws and regulations governing discipline that apply to all students. At the same time, however, there are additional special education discipline protections for when school districts remove a student who is eligible, or deemed eligible, for special education from their educational placement.

Thus, a student in special education may be involved in two processes simultaneously:

  1. General education discipline process, following the rules and procedures to address whether the student actually engaged in the misconduct, including any decisions about the length and type of removal; and
  2. Special education discipline rules and procedures to make decisions about whether a student will be removed from their current special education placement, and if so, the services that will be provided to the student.

Be sure to familiarize yourself with both the general education discipline timelines and procedures, and the special education procedures. For more information about general education discipline procedures, visit OSPI’s Student Discipline page.

Students eligible for special education, in general, may not be removed from their educational placement for more than 10 school days in a row or be subjected to a series of removals that total more than 10 school days in a year. Removals of 10 days or more are considered to be a change of placement.

When a student is removed from their educational placement for more than 10 school days, a manifestation determination meeting must be held within 10 days of the removal. This meeting is to determine whether the student’s behavior was a manifestation of their disability. This determination is made by you, the district, and other relevant members of the IEP team (as decided by you and the district). A manifestation determination meeting is a distinct process only for students in special education that is separate from any other general education disciplinary hearings or procedures.

The exception to the rule, however, is when your student's misbehavior involves Special Circumstances – weapons, illegal drugs, or serious bodily injury. A manifestation determination meeting must still occur, but, your student may be removed for up to 45 school days regardless of whether your student’s behavior was a manifestation of their disability.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP)?

A behavioral intervention plan is a plan incorporated into your student’s IEP if determined necessary by the IEP team for your student to receive FAPE. The behavioral intervention plan, at minimum, must describe:

  • The pattern of behavior(s) that impedes your student’s learning or the learning of others;
  • The instructional and/or environmental conditions or circumstances that contribute to the pattern of behavior(s) being addressed by the IEP team;
  • The positive behavioral interventions and supports to: (1) reduce the pattern of behavior(s) that impedes your student’s learning or the learning of others and increases the desired prosocial behaviors; and (2) ensure that the consistency of the implementation of the positive behavioral interventions across all of your student’s school-sponsored instruction or activities;
  • The skills that will be taught to your student and monitored by the school district as alternatives to the pattern of challenging behavior(s) identified.
What are positive behavioral interventions?

Positive behavioral interventions are defined as strategies and instruction that can be implemented in a systematic manner in order to provide alternatives to challenging behaviors, reinforce desired behaviors, and reduce or eliminate the frequency and severity of challenging behaviors. Positive behavioral interventions include the consideration of environmental factors that may trigger challenging behaviors and teaching your student the skills to manage their own behavior.

What is a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA)?

A functional behavioral assessment (FBA) is a type of evaluation used by a school district to determine the cause (or “function”) of behavior before developing an intervention(s). An FBA is generally considered as part of a problem-solving process for addressing challenging student behavior. It relies upon a variety of techniques and strategies to identify the purposes of specific behavior and is used to inform and guide IEP teams in selecting positive behavioral interventions to directly address student behavioral needs.

What happens if my student’s misconduct is determined to be a manifestation of their disability?

If any behavioral violation is determined to be a manifestation of your student’s disability, then the IEP team reviews and revises your student’s BIP, if one is already in place. If no BIP is place, but it is determined by the IEP team to be appropriate to incorporate into your student’s IEP, then an FBA is conducted to help inform the development of a BIP for your student.

If the district was not implementing your student’s IEP (including a BIP if one is already in place), then the district must take immediate action to correct those deficiencies. After the removal period, your student returns to their current placement unless you and the district agree to a different placement or a hearing officer orders a different placement.

What happens if the misconduct is determined not to be a manifestation of my student’s disability?

If the behavioral violation is determined not to be a manifestation of your student’s disability, then school personnel may use the same general education discipline procedures, in the same manner, and for the same period of time, as it would for a student who does not receive special education services. On the other hand, if the removal is for more than 10 school days, then the school must still provide special education services to your student. The IEP team decides the appropriate Interim Alternative Educational Setting and special education services to meet your student's needs. If appropriate, an FBA may still be conducted and used to develop a BIP for your student’s IEP.

Can a school district give my student a long-term suspension or expulsion for misconduct related to their disability?

No. Your student may not be disciplined for misconduct that results in a change of placement (more than 10 days) if the behavior was caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to your student’s disability or, if the school district failed to implement your student’s IEP, including any BIP. A manifestation determination meeting, however, must first take place to determine whether your student’s behavior was a manifestation of their disability.

Can the school district send my student to another school because of their misconduct?

It depends. If the misconduct was determined to be a manifestation of your student’s disability and does not involve Special Circumstances, then no – the district may not send your student to another school and they will return to their original placement unless you, the IEP team, and the district agree otherwise.

When your student's misconduct involves Special Circumstances, however, the district may remove your student to an Interim Alternative Educational Setting as determined by the IEP team. This action may occur regardless of whether your student’s behavior was a manifestation of their disability for up to 45 school days.

What can I do if I disagree with the school district’s decisions?

If you disagree with the reason why your student is being disciplined, you can use the general education procedures for appealing disciplinary decisions made by the school.

If you disagree with the manifestation determination, disagree with decisions about the special education services provided to your student during their removal, or disagree with any decision regarding your student’s placement, then you can request an expedited special education due process hearing. For more information on due process hearings, go to the Disagreements & Complaints section and visit the Dispute Resolution page.

Behavior & Discipline Resources