It’s Toolbox Tuesday!! Can we require a “risk assessment” before a student returns to school?

The Toolbox is a one-day training program that focuses on serving students with disabilities appropriately, while maintaining safety for all.  IDEA requires schools to continue to serve students who may be seriously disruptive to the school, or even violent. How do you do that, and also maintain a safe school campus?

Sometimes we hear of districts conducting a “risk assessment” pertaining to a particular student.  When you have reason to believe that a student may pose a significant risk, this might be something to consider.

But a few words of caution are in order.  First, the term “assessment” connotes a need for parental consent.  If you are going to retain someone with some degree of expertise to help you figure out if a student presents a substantive risk, you would need to have parental consent for that “assessment.” Another word for “assessment” is “evaluation” and we know that evaluations require parental consent.

Second, the person conducting the assessment should be a person with some degree of expertise, such as a psychologist.   A quick Google search revealed that there are simple forms available for a so-called “Risk Assessment.”  But having someone fill out a form you found on the Internet sounds more like quackery than good practice. So deal with people with some expertise.

Third, do not suspend a student for an indefinite period of time, with the student’s return to school contingent on a risk assessment. This is what a school in South Dakota did, and a subsequent complaint went against the district.  The ruling in the case noted that “a school cannot unilaterally make completion of a risk assessment a perpetual requirement for that child to be returned to school.”

The school has other options if there is a genuine concern over a student’s presence on a particular campus.  In Toolbox terminology, the school can use Tool #2 to seek a change of placement with parental agreement. Or it can employ Tool #4 to seek an expedited hearing and an order from a hearing officer or court to remove the student to a safer location for a period of time.  Acting “unilaterally” and removing the student for an indefinite, and therefore, way too long, period of time is risky.

The Complaint investigation in South Dakota was decided on April 18, 2016 and we found it at 116 LRP 34997.