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Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: Discipline Provisions in P.L. 105-17

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The 1997 Amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act are the most comprehensive and significant changes made since its original enactment. Several of the most important changes were made regarding the discipline of children with disabilities. Congress attempted to strike “a careful balance between the LEA’s (local educational agency’s) duty to ensure that school environments are safe and conducive to learning for all children, including children with disabilities, and the LEA’s obligation to ensure that children with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education.”

Generally, the new provisions give schools increased flexibility for dealing with children with disabilities who misbehave. A school may now place a child with a disability in an interim alternative educational setting for not more than forty-five days if the student has been involved with drugs or weapons (not just firearms as under previous law). An impartial hearing officer may order a change in placement for a child with a disability to an interim alternative educational placement for up to forty-five days if the hearing officer finds that the school has demonstrated by substantial evidence that leaving the child in the current placement is substantially likely to result in injury to the child or others. In addition, P.L. 105-17 codifies the previous interpretation by the Department of Education that educational services may not cease for children with disabilities who have been suspended or expelled. Final regulations, issued by the Department of Education on March 12, 1999, elaborated upon these statutory requirements. This report examines both the statutory and regulatory provisions relating to discipline as well as recent proposed amendments. It will be updated as necessary.