Toolbox Tuesday!!  Was it a manifestation of disability?

If a student is diagnosed with autism, any violation of the Code of Conduct is likely a manifestation of that disability: right?  Same goes for students who are identified as needing special education due to a serious emotional disturbance: right? So if you have a student with both of these conditions, it’s predictable that any misbehavior will be considered a manifestation of one or both disabilities: right?

That’s not how the hearing officer viewed the matter in a Texas due process hearing decision from earlier this year.  The ARDC concluded that the student’s behavior was not a manifestation of disability and the hearing officer affirmed that decision. 

Like most decisions from a special education hearing this one is heavily redacted.  Consequently, we are not told exactly what the student did that led to his assignment to a DAEP.  Despite that, we can glean some important lessons from this decision. 

First, the ARDC reviewed all of the relevant records before making a decision:

The MDR Committee reviewed Student’s current FIE; Present Levels of Academic and Functional Performance information from teachers, school records, including permanent records, group/individual achievement records; discipline records, information from parents, and IEP/BIP goals, and placement.

Second, the ARDC reviewed IEP implementation to make sure that the student’s misconduct was not attributable to the failure of the district to do its job.  The teacher testified about how she implemented the IEP, and the Committee noted that the student’s BIP did not address the behavior that led to the DAEP placement. 

Third, the hearing officer emphasized that the MDR sets a high bar.  Key Quotes:

The standard for establishing a manifestation for the purposes of an MDR under IDEA is a high bar, requiring a close correlation between the disability and the conduct. Simply showing a connection to the disability is not sufficient….

Hearing officers and courts have consistently looked for a causal connection between the ways the student’s disability has manifested itself in the past at school and the behavior at issue in the disciplinary incident. 

The bottom line is this: The IDEA’s limit on disciplinary consequences for students with disabilities applies “only when the conduct violation has a documented and close connection to the behavior the student has exhibited previously at school stemming from their disability.”

It’s a Toolbox case!  Here, the district used Tool #6—a Disciplinary Change of Placement.  Tool #6 can only be used when the behavior is not a manifestation of disability. Here the district persuaded the hearing officer that it used Tool #6 properly, even though the student was identified with both autism and an emotional disturbance. It’s Student v. Klein ISD, decided by hearing officer Deborah Heaton McElvaney on March 23, 2023.  It’s Docket No. 157-SE-0123, and it’s reported in The IDELR at 123 LRP 16835. 


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Tomorrow: jury trial.