The Toolbox is a set of 10 “tools” that school officials can use to address discipline problems with students with disabilities.  The Toolbox provides a framework and a common vocabulary designed to assist you in serving each child appropriately while also providing a safe and orderly school environment.

Tool #7 is the FAPE Free Zone! You will not find that term in the law or the regulations.  But you will find a statement that schools are required to provide FAPE to “children with disabilities who have been suspended or expelled from school.”   34 CFR 300.101(a).  Thus the general rule is that kids are entitled to FAPE even when they are suspended or expelled.  However, another regulation carves out a small exception to that general rule.  34 CFR 300.530(d)(3) says that schools are required to provide services to kids who are removed from their current placement for 10 days or less in the school year only “if it provides services to a child without disabilities who is similarly removed.”

Thus a student with a disability may be suspended out of school, without the provision of services, for up to ten cumulative days during the school year, so long as the general education student would be treated the same.  FAPE is not required for those ten days: thus, a FAPE Free Zone.

Keep in mind that Texas limits out of school suspension to three days per offense. A student with a disability could be suspended out of school on three occasions for three days at a time. This would amount to nine days and the student would still be within the FAPE Free Zone. The law would not require you to provide services. We would suggest, however, that good practice would call for you to take a look at what’s going on.  It would probably be a good idea to craft a behavior plan or in some other proactive way address the student’s misconduct.

The FAPE Free Zone is there when you need it, but should not be used lightly.  The emphasis is on keeping students in school and using a removal from the IEP placement only when necessary. But Tool #7 is there for you when a short term removal from services is called for.

In the Toolbox training we spend a good bit of time going over what days count toward the 10-day limit.  If you are interested in the Toolbox training, contact me or Haley Armitage at the law firm. We’d love to spend a day with you going over all ten tools.

Be sure to check in next Tuesday for Tool #8.  Anytime we talk about the FAPE Free Zone we get the question: “OK, but what if we go past ten?” That’s what Tool #8 is about. Stay tuned.