The Toolbox is a set of 10 “tools” available to school officials in dealing with students with disabilities who engage in challenging behaviors.  Most of the tools involve ARD Committee action.  But today’s focus is on Tool #5, which is a tool that can be wielded by the principal. Tool #5 deals with “special circumstances.”  When “special circumstances” arise, the principal can act unilaterally.

You may recall that we have a Toolbox because Congress intentionally curtailed the power of campus administrators in dealing with students with disabilities.  No more would the principal be empowered to “unilaterally” order the removal of a student with a disability based on a violation of the Code of Conduct.  But there are some exceptions to that general rule.

First, campus administrators do retain the power to “unilaterally” remove a student for disciplinary reasons for up to ten days, cumulatively, during the course of the school year. We call this “the FAPE Free Zone” and will discuss it two weeks from today when we address Tool #7.

In 1997, Congress restored “unilateral” power to campus administrators in two specific situations: possession of weapons, and possession or use of drugs at school.  In those instances, Congress gave principals the power to order the “unilateral” removal of a student for up to 45 days.  The school would still be obligated to serve the student, but it could be in an alternative environment.

In 2004, Congress extended the “45 days” to “45 school days” and added a third category of behavior: the student’s infliction of “serious bodily injury.”

Thus we now have three types of misconduct that authorize a principal to order the removal of the student for up to 45 school days.  We call these “Special Circumstances."

If the principal, or assistant, concludes that a student has engaged in one of these three types of misconduct, the student can be removed for up to 45 school days, regardless of whether the behavior is a manifestation of disability or not. That’s what makes them “special.”  However, the principal still needs to call for an ARDC meeting. The ARDC needs to make sure that the student will continue to receive appropriate services in what the federal law calls an “interim alternative educational setting.”  Moreover, the ARDC should conduct a manifestation determination as part of its effort to prevent a recurrence of this type of behavior.

In the Toolbox training we go into detail about exactly what type of conduct is covered by the “special circumstances” offenses. And we practice using these tools in conjunction with the specifics of your school’s Code of Conduct.  If you are interested in having the Toolbox training in your district or ESC, contact Haley Armitage at  We’d love to bring the Toolbox to your school!