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School Discipline and Special Education: Guide for parents when your student has an IEP

Are you having a difficult time understanding why your learner is constantly disciplined for what appears to be linked to their identified disability? 


Does the school say things like: 

  • “We need you to come and pick up x early.” 

  • “This is not a suspension; we just need you to come and get x to go home early."  

  • “X is having a tough day; can you come and pick x up?” 

  • “X knows what he/she is doing, and this is against the district’s discipline policy/matrix/rules/etc.”


This is a common experience for families and students with both visual and invisible disabilities. It stems from schools not having a full, working understanding of the student's disability and how the disability appears for each student. Not every student with ADHD, or any other qualifying disability, may display the same behavior or have the same challenges. Schools end up grouping behavior and disciplining students with a series of progressive punishments. They mask the progression with words/phrases like “equity” and “we are keeping our learning community safe,” when in fact what they are doing is using practices that historically oppressed students with disabilities even further.  Schools should be using evidence-based practices that authentically promote a restorative nature while ensuring they are age and developmentally appropriate. There is no unilateral approach to discipline, especially for students with disabilities. That is at the core of IDEA, individual!  


Know your and your student's rights when it comes to school discipline!  


Here is some advice next time the school calls and “asks” if you can come and pick up your child. Before answering their question, ask:

  • Why?  We know this seems too simple, but it makes the school explain why they are calling you and ask follow-up questions.  

  • Whatever the school says, ask them to explain what the behavior looks like

  • What interventions were tried and documented?

  • What triggered (or what was the antecedent to) this behavior you described?

  • If I pick up X, how will this be documented? If they say parent choice or excused, remind them they are asking you to come and pick up your child. You did not initiate the dismissal from school like you would for a doctor's appointment. And therefore, this should be considered a suspension. 

  • You have every right to say, "No, I cannot pick up x at this time.” Then ask what their plan is for the remainder of the school day?

  • Know your rights by being empowered.

  • Read the student handbook/conduct. 

  • Read district discipline procedures, usually located in Board of Education documents on the district website.  


When the school tells you what the consequence will be:


  • Ask how they determined the consequence

  • Ask them to see the policy that was allegedly violated

  • Ask them if the consequence is developmentally appropriate

  • Ask them if the consequences have taken into account the student-identified disability

  • Consider engaging in a conversation around alternative consequences that are more appropriate for your child and aligned with their learning strengths.  


An advocate can help you navigate these tricky situations. Special education discipline is a complex process requiring experience and expertise. Reach out to Sage Educational Advocacy & Consulting LLC for guidance and advice!

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