It’s Toolbox Tuesday! What tools can the principal use “unilaterally”?

We like to talk about The Toolbox on Tuesdays. The Toolbox is a one-day training program focused on serving students with disabilities in a safe and appropriate way. We provide ten tools that school officials can use to accomplish two objectives at once: serving each student in the least restrictive environment, while simultaneously maintaining a safe and appropriate climate for all students and staff.

In the Toolbox training we talk quite a bit about the word “unilateral.” The online dictionary tells us that this word can be defined as “done by or on behalf of one side, party or faction only.” The word comes up in Toolbox training because the Supreme Court told us in 1988 that our special education law was designed to “strip schools of the unilateral authority they had traditionally employed” with regard to the exclusion of students with disabilities.

This does not mean that there is nothing that a principal can do “unilaterally.” The “unilateral authority” that the law “stripped” away was the power to order a long term change in the placement called for in the student’s IEP. Principals cannot do that “unilaterally.” Neither can special education directors, your superintendent, your school board, President Obama or the Pope. Only the IEP Team (ARD Committee) can do that.

So what can a principal do “unilaterally”? In the Toolbox Training we identify three tools that can be used without the assistance of others. Tool #5 involves the removal of a student based on the commission of a “special circumstance” offense. These involve drugs, weapons and the infliction of serious bodily injury. The principal can unilaterally order a removal in those cases, although an ARDC meeting is still necessary to make sure that the student will continue to receive appropriate services. The ARDC also makes a manifestation determination in Tool #5 cases, but the outcome of the MDR does not alter the student’s placement.

The principal can also use Tool #7 unilaterally. This tool involves a short term removal from the IEP placement, as long as the total number of days of removal does not exceed the magic number of ten. We call these ten days “the FAPE-Free Zone.”

The third tool that can be used unilaterally is Tool #10—bringing in law enforcement. This is generally a decision that is made administratively and the primary guideline to keep in mind is to be even handed about it. We should call the police based on the nature of the offense, not the identity of the student.

“Unilateral” is just one of many fun words we discuss in the Toolbox training. If you are interested in a Toolbox training in your district or ESC, just give the Ol’ Law Dawg a shout. Have Tools. Will Travel.



Tomorrow: what comes to mind when you think of “Grease”?