Special Education Discipline – Picking Up Your Child From School?

I have received many phone calls over the years from parents who tell me that their child’s school has asked them to pick up for disciplinary reasons.  The typical story from parents is they have a child with a disability that has behavioral challenges at school.  At work, a parent – usually the mother – receives a phone call from a school administrator or teacher that their child has been misbehaving and she should pick up her child as soon as possible.  The frantic parent agrees to pick up her child at school and then misses the remaining day of work. Sometimes the school tells the parent do not bring the child back for 2-3 days. The parents agrees.  Two or three days later, the parent returns with her  child to school.  A few weeks or months later this pattern repeats itself.  The parent again receives a phone call from the school to pick up her child because of behavioral reasons.   I have talked with parents that have picked up their child from school numerous times.  This has resulted in some parents losing their job or they have been told by their employer they cannot continue to do this.  When the parent loses her job, she ends up staying  home with her child.  A few parents withdraw their child from school because it becomes too difficult to keep picking up their child at school. Suffice it to say many parents have endured and suffered great hardship, emotional distress, frustration, and loss of a job and income among other things because the school asks them to pick up their child at school. Is this legal?

I do not think so.  The problem is school systems and schools get away all too often with calling up a parent to pick up their child with a disability when the child become aggressive or disruptive at school.  I ask why doesn’t the school address the child’s challenging behaviors in the first place instead of throwing up their hands and saying we cannot deal with your child behaviorally. Doesn’t this say the school personnel do not know what they are doing?  Doesn’t this say the child’s IEP and behavior plan, if any, is inappropriate? Doesn’t this say the school is trying to skirt around the procedural protections afforded children with disabilities when disciplining them?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA provides the school system must comply with a number of procedural rules before imposing out of school system. In general, a school can impose out of school suspension for a child with a disability up to ten school days in a school year.  If the school system intends to suspend a child with a disability more than ten consecutive school days, then the school system must conduct a manifestation determination meeting to determine the school complied with the IEP and if the student’s conduct is directly related or substantially caused by the child’s disability.  If not, the school may  conduct a disciplinary hearing and can administer disciplinary according to its Student Code of Conduct.  If the manifestation determination team determines the child’s conduct was directly related or substantially caused by the child’s disability, then the IEP team has a number of options, including modifying the IEP and behavior plan, conducting a functional behavioral assessment if one has not been conducted, and changing the child’s educational placement if the parents agree.  There are also other procedural safeguards and rights that children with disabilities have under the IDEA when being disciplined by the school. See  http://www.aea10.k12.ia.us/divlearn/specialeducation/docs/SE_Discipline_final.pdf

You will not find anywhere in the IDEA that a school can circumvent the procedural protections and safeguards afforded children with disabilities in disciplinary matters such as asking a parent to pick up their child from school.  When this happens the school can technically say the parent picked up the child so there is no out of school suspension. In other words, the school can get away with sending the child home, which is tantamount to an out of school suspension. These days will not count toward the total of ten school days the school is allowed by law to impose out of school suspensions. So if the child’s school has asked you to pick up your child five days, ten days or more, there will be no record of an out of school suspension in your child’s educational records.

What should you do instead of picking up your child?  I know it may be troubling, but refuse to pick up your child.  Do not agree to do it. The school cannot legally require you to pick up your child because of disciplinary reasons unless and until it imposes out of school suspension for violation of the Student Code of Conduct.  Yes, the school may threaten to suspend your child but remember you have rights and procedural safeguards to protect you and your child under the law if the number of days of out of school suspension exceed ten days in a school year. Instead, I would ask for an emergency IEP meeting to address your child behavioral problems. at this meeting you can ask for modification of the IEP.  You can ask for a functional behavior assessment. You can ask for a behavior intervention plan or modification of the plan. You can ask for a behavioral specialist to assess your child and attend the meeting.  The point is the school must provide an appropriate education for your child.  A school does not provide an appropriate education for child when it asks you pick up your child for disciplinary reasons.

Finally, I would contact a special education attorney to discuss your options.  Special education law and procedure can be difficult to understand.  It is a maze of rules and procedures. An attorney who concentrates in special education can help you understand your rights and the school system’s obligations under the law to provide appropriate behavioral interventions, strategies and supports for your child.  You have other options instead of picking up your child at school because the school asks you to do so.