It’s Toolbox Tuesday! Calling the cops is never a problem….is it?

We like to talk about special ed here on Tuesdays, specifically “The Toolbox.” But before we get into that, let me point out that the law firm is holding an audioconference next week that will be of particular interest to special education staff. On January 13, Nona Mathews and Gigi Maez from our Irving office will conduct an audioconference on “IEEs: What Criteria Can You Have?” This is an issue that Nona and Gigi are particularly experienced with, so I encourage you to sign up for this timely and informative session at

The Toolbox is a set of ten tools designed for campus administrators and special education staff for those cases where student behavior is particularly challenging.   To kick off the first Toolbox Tuesday of the year, let’s look back at history, particularly with regard to Tool #10—bringing in law enforcement.

In the early days of our special education laws, some parents argued that schools could no longer contact the police to deal with disruptive behavior from a special education student. The argument was that the police would detain the student, effectively creating a “change of placement.” Thus some early cases asserted that schools could not do this without first holding an IEP Team meeting (ARD) and conducting a manifestation determination.

It might surprise you to know that this argument found favor with one high level court.  In Morgan v. Chris L., 106 F.3d 401 (6th Cir. 1997), the 6th Circuit held that the initiation of juvenile court proceedings was equivalent to seeking a “change of placement” and thus required compliance with the special education law’s procedures, such as an IEP Team meeting.

Congress apparently did not like that outcome, so it changed the law to make it clear that IDEA does not prohibit schools from contacting law enforcement, or initiating juvenile proceedings.  Despite the clarity of that language, some lawyers kept making arguments based on the Morgan case.  For example, consider Valentino v. School District of Philadelphia, 2003 WL 177210 (E.D. Pa. 2003).

What happened here is that the student was arrested at school after a confrontation with a teacher. The parents were not notified of the arrest until 5pm, and the student was detained for 21 hours. The student alleged that the school violated IDEA’s “stay put” provision.  The court ruled in favor of the school.  Key Quotes:

Plaintiff argues that this provision [stay put] prevents any “aversive techniques,” such as arrest, from being used to remove a special education student from his current educational setting. Such a strained conclusion would have the illogical effect of removing all special education students from the reach of law enforcement for any illegal actions taken at school.  This argument cannot be sustained under the language of the statute itself, and accordingly, Plaintiff can prove no set of facts to support this theory.

The court allowed the plaintiff to amend the complaint to spell out the alleged IDEA violations in more detail. The plaintiffs this time raised the issue of a manifestation determination, arguing that the school should have completed this process prior to calling the police.  In 2004, the court rejected this argument:

In light of the above, the Court now concludes that reporting a child with a disability to the appropriate authorities pursuant to [IDEA] does not constitute a change in educational placement and that the provision does not require an administrative hearing before reporting a disabled child to the police.

Note: the “administrative hearing” referred to is a manifestation determination. Thus the court held that calling the police does not trigger a manifestation determination, nor does it amount to a “change of placement” that would invoke the stay put rule.  The second decision is Valentino v. School District of Philadelphia, 2004 WL 225038 (E.D. Pa. 2004).