In-School Suspension and IDEA Law

Federal law limits suspensions, so does in-school suspension count?

Schoolboy struggling in educational exam

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Children who receive special education services in school do so under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This federal law provides for the free and appropriate public education (FAPE) of children with disabilities and spells out each child's special education plan within their individualized education program (IEP).

Part B of IDEA, which covers the education of children ages 3-21, mandates that a child's disability must be taken into account if they are removed from regular classes due to behavioral misconduct, but only under certain circumstances.

The IDEA rules regarding behavioral misconduct in children with disabilities, as well as the limit placed on how many days they may be removed from class due to misconduct, are a bit complicated. Because of this complexity, it can be hard to understand all of the guidelines.

Parents commonly express confusion about when and how a child's disability is taken into consideration if they are suspended or expelled.

How IDEA Handles Disabilities and Behavioral Misconduct

According to the U.S. Department of Education's IDEA website, "the primary vehicle for providing a FAPE is through an appropriately developed individualized education program that is based on the individual needs of the child."

Within the IEP for students with behavioral issues are provisions for the implementation of positive support measures and interventions to address any behavior that interferes with their own learning or that of other students.

However, if a student's behavior violates the school's code of conduct, Part B of IDEA states that they may be removed to an alternative educational setting, which may include on- or off-campus suspension or expulsion.

The Manifestation Meeting

A student cannot be removed to an alternative setting for more than 10 days in one school year before the school is required to hold a manifestation meeting, which is a collaboration between the student's parent, the local education agency (LEA), and the IEP team.

At the manifestation meeting, the discussion is focused on:

  1. A review of the IEP
  2. Parent and teacher observations
  3. Decisions about whether the child's behavioral misconduct resulted from their disability or was due to a failure of the LEA to fully implement the IEP

If either of the conditions in number three are met pertaining to the cause of the student's misconduct, then the misconduct is considered to be a manifestation of the child's disability.

If this is the case, the IEP team is required to conduct a behavioral assessment and put a behavioral intervention plan in place (or make changes to the existing plan if the student already has one), in order to address the misconduct that resulted in the child's placement in suspension.

The student is then placed back in their regular classroom, unless the parent, LEA, and IEP team agree to a change in placement.

The intention is to make sure that children who have learning or behavioral issues are not being punished for their disability rather than receiving the support they need.

It is important to note that if the child's behavior is determined not to be a manifestation of their disability, then they can be disciplined just like any other student, which may mean more days in suspension.

Does In-School Suspension Count Toward the 10-day Limit?

In-school suspension (ISS) is considered a removal from the regular school environment, and days spent in ISS count toward the 10-day limit.

Part B of the IDEA mandates that students in ISS continue to receive the FAPE that they would be receiving in their regular classes. They must also receive the special education services and any necessary behavioral supports included in their IEPs.

Note that there is a gray area within the 10-day rule between "consecutive" and "cumulative" days. A student may not be in suspension for more than 10 days at a time (consecutive), but if another violation occurs after that period and the student is placed in ISS again, a new 10-day period begins.

This is where the confusion also begins. A student can be removed from classes for more than 10 cumulative days within one school year without a manifestation meeting as long as there is no "disciplinary change of placement."

Defining a Disciplinary Change of Placement

Understanding this term is crucial for parents and caregivers, as this is the deciding factor in whether a manifestation meeting must be held.

If the decision is made by school personnel to make a change of placement for the child after the 10-day limit has been reached, a manifestation meeting must be held (and the parents or caregivers notified) within 10 days of that decision being made.

According to IDEA, "a disciplinary change of placement is a disciplinary removal of more than 10 consecutive school days or a series of removals that total more than 10 school days in a school year that constitute a pattern of removals because of factors such as the length of each removal, the total amount of time that a child has been removed, and the proximity of the removals to one another."

As you can see from the definition, there is quite a bit of room for interpretation here.

The decision about whether a series of in-school suspensions "constitutes a pattern of removals" and whether their "proximity to one another" causes them to count as a change of placement (in which case a manifestation meeting would be required) ultimately rests with school personnel and/or a hearing officer.

However, remember that if school personnel determine that your child needs a change of placement, you as the parent or caregiver must be notified. A hearing officer will only become involved if you dispute the school's decision.

Risks of In-School Suspension for Students With Disabilities

Even when a school is acting within the limits of the law and providing services and access to education while a child is in ISS, there may still be grounds for parents to advocate for an IEP meeting.

It is rarely appropriate for a child to be suspended for more than 10 cumulative days in the school year. These children may face social stigma and self-esteem issues when separated from their peers, not mention losing crucial learning time in their regular classroom.

A 2018 article by the Center for American Progress outlines how much more often 3- to 5-year-old special needs children are disciplined compared to their non-disabled peers. While the number of special needs children made up only 12% of the early childhood programs studied, they comprised 75% of the suspensions and expulsions.

This disparity is not only unfortunate for students with disabilities, it could also have lasting effects on their emotional, behavioral, and academic progress.

Unless and until an in-school suspension can be carried out in a way that is positive for the student, it's likely that the suspension will foster negative feelings about school and lead to isolating behavior and even school refusal.

What to Do If Your Child's Needs Are Not Being Met

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) provides three ways for parents and caregivers to appeal a decision made by the school regarding their child's educational plan:

  • State complaints
  • Mediation
  • Due process complaints

If you need to file a complaint, the U.S. Department of Education's Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE) provides a listing of state agencies to connect you with someone who can walk you through the process and choose the best option for you and your child.

A Word From Verywell

When your child has been suspended and is facing a disciplinary change of placement, it is important for you to be their advocate. You want to make sure they are receiving the behavioral and academic help they need at school, in accordance with their IEP and their rights under IDEA.

Some children who are "regulars" in ISS may be calling out for smaller classrooms and individual attention. If this is not an option at your child's school, a manifestation meeting can be a crucial step in finding them a more suitable educational environment.

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Article Sources
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  1. Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. About IDEA.

  2. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Topic areas.

  3. Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. Section 1415 (k).

  4. Kids Legal. Special education discipline: suspensions and expulsions.

  5. Novoa C, Malik R. Suspensions are not support. Center for American Progress. January 17, 2018.