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“Just a Bad Day” or Undocumented Suspension?

There are many reasons why students are sent home. The purpose of this article is not to debate when an incident is ‘send-home’ worthy or ‘suspension’ worthy. Rather, it is to explain why send-homes without proper documentation are actually against school policy and why parents who race to pick up their children every time the school calls actually are doing a disservice to their children.IDEA does not restrict schools from disciplining children with disabilities. When a child violates school rules and is a danger to himself, herself, or others, the temporary removal of that student may be necessary. However, if a school chooses to dismiss a child during the school day for a disability-related incident, the school is actually suspending and excluding the child from his educational programming. The school administrator is required to complete suspension paperwork in order for the child to be dismissed.

Parents may not want the stigma of suspension tied to their child. They may not want anything on file that ever suggests their child was disruptive enough to be suspended. But what’s the other side of the argument? What are the benefits of parents requesting that suspension paperwork be completed? 

Each school system and the Maryland State Department of Education keep track of suspensions for a number of reasons. Most important is to ensure that students in any subgroup are not being disproportionately suspended. In 2010-11, HCPSS suspended only 9% of the student population. Notably, however, 22% of those students had a disability. There is no clear data on how many more undocumented suspensions there were. If every parent were to ask for the suspension paperwork, MSDE would have more accurate data to reconsider regulations and interventions.

Another benefit to documentation is that it can lead to more productive discussions about placement and/or behavior intervention plans. When behavior impedes learning—which a dismissal from the education day implies—IDEA requires IEP teams to consider positive behavioral interventions and supports. If a child is repeatedly sent home for having another ‘bad day,’ documentation would lead to an IEP team meeting and, after 10 dismissals, a manifestation determination. Teams would be required to consider whether the student’s conduct is a manifestation of the student’s disability, whether the conduct is a result of failure to properly implement the IEP, and/or whether a functional behavior assessment or review of a behavior plan is necessary. 

Patty Daley, executive director of the HCPSS Office of Special Education, encourages parents to use their best judgment on when to pick up their child, but notes that parents are not required to pick up their child for behavior unless he or she has been officially suspended. She further advises that parents who are concerned about undocumented suspensions contact the instructional team leader at their school and/or the resource teacher assigned to the school.