It’s Toolbox Tuesday! How does the law define “weapon”?

On Tuesdays around here we like to talk about issues relevant to The Toolbox—an all day training program focusing on the kids whose behavior is troublesome.  We talk about 10 tools that are available to schools. One of those—Tool #5—is about the “special circumstances” that authorize a principal to order a removal of the student for up to 45 school days.  There are three circumstances that the law treats as “special.” One of those involves possession of a “weapon.”

So how does the law define that term?  Our IDEA regulations tell us that it has the same meaning as the term “dangerous weapon” in other parts of federal law.  So, we have to look up the definition of “dangerous weapon.”  When we do, we find that a “dangerous weapon” is:

a weapon, device, instrument, material, or substance, animate or inanimate, that is used for, or is readily capable of, causing death or serious bodily injury, except that such term does not include a pocket knife with a blade of less than 2.5 inches in length.

So if a student has possession of a knife with a 3-inch blade, the student has a “dangerous weapon” and is subject to removal for up to 45 school days, regardless of whether the behavior is a manifestation of disability or not.

But slow down.  The law authorizes a removal of up to 45 school days, but it does not require it.  You have to think about how you would treat a non-disabled student who committed the same offense. Many districts would not send that kid to DAEP for nine weeks (45 school days). In fact, my impression is that most districts would impose a penalty shorter than 45 school days.  If that’s how you would treat the non-disabled student, then that’s how you should treat the student with a disability.

This is the kind of thing we review in the Toolbox training. If interested, let me hear from you.  I’m at