Legal issues related to special education discipline in public schools
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is the federal law, which defines within its provisions, the way students are disciplined in school. Schools must follow the procedures as set forth by these statutes. Decisions made by the administrator and/or the IEP team regarding the disposition of the student must meet the guidelines as set forth by IDEA and the state administrative code for that particular state. Because discipline has long been an important concern of administrators, teachers, and parents, it is not surprising that courts and legislators have addressed issues regarding the use of disciplinary procedures with students in public schools. In fact, the law has been an important force in the development of how we use discipline in public schools. Understanding the legal restraints and requirements that guide school personnel when disciplining students is important for teachers and administrators. Through the analysis of court cases, this study provides insight into the legal issues, outcomes, trends, and guidelines before the courts in the area of special education discipline and informs education leaders to help them make prudent decisions. This qualitative, descriptive study involves 132 court cases identified through West's Education Law Digest and West's Education Law Reporter over a 37-year time period from 1975-2011. Cases are analyzed using the format outlined by Starsky and Wernet in their book, Case Analysis and Fundamentals of Legal Writing, 4th Edition, and are divided into 10 issues: Placement, FAPE, Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies, Stay-Put, Suspension, Seclusion/Restraint, Manifestation, Expulsion, Corporal Punishment, and Due Process Hearing. From the research, 16 guidelines are established in order to help enlighten educators regarding special education discipline. It is the author's hope that these guidelines will foster an understanding of the critical need for school administrators to be aware of the law with respect to disciplining students with disabilities.