News Update

New federal guidance warns punishing students with disabilities could be discriminatory

New federal guidance warns schools that certain disciplinary measures taken against students with disabilities could violate their right to a free, appropriate education.

The guidance released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights states says “many students with disabilities face discipline because they are not receiving the support, services, interventions, strategies, and modifications to school or district policies that they need to manage their disability-based behavior.”

The guidance adds that students with disabilities are “unnecessarily disciplined more severely than students without disabilities for the same or similar behavior.”

The sweeping guidance took aim at disciplinary practices, such as the use of restraints or seclusion, and other exclusionary practices, such as barring a student from a field trip. It also warns that disciplinary policies that may appear neutral may have the effect of discrimination. A policy requiring students not to interrupt others speaking may, for example, not be applied the same way to a student with ADHD.

The U.S. Education Department also warned against practices that shorten the length of a student’s day, such as removing a student from a classroom, sending the student home early or expelling them. The office writes that removing a student from the classroom more than 10 school days constitutes a “significant change in placement” and a “pattern of removal.” The department writes that it is necessary to convene a Section 504 team to determine if a student with disabilities needs additional services or an evaluation.

The guidance states that “many students with disabilities are subjected to discrimination based on their disability when being disciplined, such as when students with disabilities are unnecessarily disciplined more severely than students without disabilities for the same or similar behavior.”