When Can Schools Suspend And Expel Disabled Students?

Special education student expulsion suspension

Last Updated on October 17, 2023 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995

Did you know that disabled students can be suspended or expelled from schools? When is this legal and when is it against the law? Here are some basics.

Discipline of special needs students from school
Special education and 504 students may be suspended from school

Disabled Students Can Be Suspended or Expelled

Under the law, all students, even special education students, can be suspended or expelled from California elementary, junior and high schools.

But what if a student is Autistic and on an IEP (Individualized Education Program) or has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and is on a 504 Plan (disability accommodation plan for students)?

The law says “so what” if the student will be suspended only a short time and there is not a pattern of exclusions showing a change in placement.

Exclusions Can’t Go Beyond Ten Days

There is a limit on the length a disabled student can be suspended.

For all students in California, school suspensions can only issue for a maximum of five days for any offense.

When students thereafter face an expulsion recommendation, that suspension may be extended until the expulsion hearing is held. This means a student could be out twenty-five schooldays (or more).

A special education or 504 student cannot be pushed out on this extended suspension, if it will reach beyond ten days, or there have been a pattern of exclusions over ten days, without a special meeting first.

If this manifestation meeting was not yet held, and the student has been out over ten days in a row (or a pattern of exclusions exists extending over ten days), they are entitled to go back to school.

Student interaction special education
Keeping special needs students in school can be critical for their education.

The Manifestation Meeting

If a student is a special education IEP or 504 student, their exclusion over ten days has to be prefaced by a special meeting, called a manifestation meeting. There the manifestation team will determine if the student’s conduct was directly related to the student’s disability and/or occurred as a result of the IEP or 504 not being implemented.

If manifestation is found, the student will return to their placement, unless parents agree otherwise.

If manifestation is not found, the IEP student is still entitled to an education, albeit perhaps in a new environment.

With a 504 student, where no manifestation is found, they will be treated the same way as a nondisabled student. So, if a nondisabled student would be put in a continuation school on an involuntary transfer for the school offense, the 504 student can be also.

Isn’t Keeping Special Ed Students Out Up To Ten Days Discrimination?

No. The exclusion up to ten days is allowed under federal law.

Multiple shorter exclusions up to ten days total (and maybe beyond if there is no pattern showing they are disability-related) are also allowed.

Exclusions May Extend Longer, Regardless of Manifestation, With Certain Offenses

Special education weapons and discipline of students
IEP students who use weapons, illegal drugs, or cause serious bodily harm can be moved for up to 45 days.

Regardless of the manifestation rules, disabled students may be placed in an alternate education environment up to 45 days, (even without an expulsion) if the student commits a school offense that involves illegal drugs, controlled substances, weapons or causes serious physical injury.

What Can a Parent Do?

If a student is a special education or 504 student who is being suspended over and over, parents can request an IEP or 504 meeting to address the suspendable behaviors. If the suspensions form a pattern, they may be a manifestation of the student’s disabilities and need to be addressed. Even if not, the team may still be able to help.

A new assessment can be requested to get to the bottom of things.

Parents should take action and get any support they can if a special needs student is being punished, suspended or expelled by a school.

Special education lawyer Michelle Ball assists students and parents with special education expulsion and suspension matters throughout California. As an attorney, she can assist, from her office in Sacramento, with issues in San Diego, Manteca, Berkeley, Roseville, Lincoln, Rocklin, Elk Grove, Auburn, and anywhere in California.