In a case handled by Thrun Law Firm, a Michigan Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) recently ruled that a student’s disability did not cause her misconduct and that the school’s decision to expel the student did not violate the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
A 12th grade student with a physical impairment reported to school administrators that a male student forced her to engage in sexual activity on the school bus. The school conducted a prompt investigation and determined that although the sexual activity occurred, it was consensual. School administrators recommended that the female student be expelled for engaging in sexual activity on the bus and for making a false sexual assault report. A manifestation determination review (MDR) meeting was held, and the MDR team found that the behavior was not a manifestation of the student’s physical impairment. The student was expelled.
The student and her parent challenged the MDR team’s determination, arguing that the MDR team had not properly reviewed an outside medical report, which included information that the student sometimes behaved immaturely in social situations. At hearing, some MDR team members testified that they did not review the report until after the MDR meeting, but that nothing in the report led them to believe that the behavior was a manifestation of the student’s disability. The parent was unable to offer any evidence that the student’s behavior was related to her physical
At an MDR meeting, the team must review the relationship, if any, between the student’s behavior and the student’s disability and review the implementation of the student’s IEP. If the student’s behavior either had a direct and substantial relationship to the student’s disability or was caused by the failure to implement the student’s IEP, the student must be returned to his or her previous placement. The school must also conduct a functional behavioral assessment or review the student’s behavior plan. If the behavior is not a manifestation of the student’s disability or was not caused by an IEP implementation failure, the student may be disciplined in the same manner as a nondisabled student, but may be entitled to services during the period of suspension or expulsion. In some limited circumstances, a student may be moved to a different setting even if the student’s behavior was a manifestation of the student’s disability.
The MDR team must consider all relevant information, including any information from the parents. The MDR team must also document all information considered in determining the relationship between the student’s behavior and the student’s disability. Failure to consider all relevant information may result in the manifestation decision being overturned or other legal liability.
In this case, the ALJ found that the MDR documentation specifically listed the outside medical report as a source of information. The ALJ determined that all relevant information was considered and agreed that the student’s behavior was not a manifestation of her disability. The ALJ noted that even the student’s outside therapist declined to conclude that the student’s behavior was a manifestation of her disability. The school also provided evidence that the student had not engaged in similar misconduct in the past. In fact, the student’s disciplinary record contained only one entry from several years earlier. The parent had the burden of proof to establish that the conduct was a manifestation of the student’s disability. The ALJ found that the parent did not meet that burden.
The outcome in this case turned heavily on witness testimony. Not a single witness, other than the parent, believed that the student’s misconduct was related to her physical impairment. Had MDR team members disagreed on the relationship between the student’s disability and the misconduct, the ALJ may have ruled in the parent’s favor.
MDR teams must ensure that all relevant information is considered at the MDR meeting. We recommend that a staff member be assigned the task of reviewing the student’s file in advance of the MDR meeting. If a parent or the student offers additional information at the MDR meeting, the MDR team should take time to review and consider that information. The MDR team should also allow others with knowledge about the student to provide input at the MDR meeting, if the parent or student requests such an opportunity. Giving the parent and student ample opportunity to provide information and documenting all efforts to obtain information will provide a solid defense for the MDR team’s final decision.