It’s Toolbox Tuesday! Are there tools that the principal can employ “unilaterally”?

The Toolbox is a day-long training session focusing on the disciplinary options schools have when  dealing with students with disabilities. We usually begin the training with an explanation of the one and only case about this issue that has reached the U. S. Supreme Court. The case is Honig v. Doe (1988).  In that case, the Supreme Court noted that Congress had intentionally “stripped” school officials of the “unilateral” authority they had historically employed to exclude students with disabilities from the school setting.  

It’s important to emphasize the word “unilateral.” While school principals no longer have “unilateral” power to remove students with disabilities from the school setting, they are not at all powerless.  In fact, that’s one of the main themes of the Toolbox—to emphasize what “tools” are available and how they can be used properly.

Long term removals of students with disabilities have to go through the ARD process, and are subject to review by a special education hearing officer. Thus no single school official can “unilaterally” remove a student from the school setting on a long term basis.  But campus administrators retain the “unilateral” power to order short term removals, as long as they don’t accumulate to more than 10 days in the school year.  A short term removal within that 10-day window is what we call “Tool #7” in the Toolbox vocabulary—the FAPE-Free Zone.

Principals can also use Tool #10 “unilaterally.” Tool #10 is a referral to law enforcement in those cases where a student may have committed a crime.

Tool #5 comes close to being a tool that can be used “unilaterally.” Tool #5 enables the principal to order a removal of the student to an “interim alternative educational setting” (IAES) for up to 45 school days in cases involving “special circumstances.”  Those circumstances involve either drugs, or a weapon, or the infliction of “serious bodily injury.”  The principal can order this removal regardless of the outcome of the manifestation determination.  So this is close to unilateral authority, but it still requires the ARDC to determine what “IAES” should be used.  So Tool #5 is not quite as simple (or “unilateral”) as Tool #7 or #10.

Does this sound interesting?  Helpful??  Maybe you should book a Toolbox workshop in your district or ESC.  If interested, contact me ( or Haley Armitage (