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S.W. and Joanne W. v. Holbrook Public Schools

O'Toole, D.J.

Expulsion case.

S.W. and Joanne W. v. Holbrook Public SchoolsIn this case, a ninth-grade student who had not previously been identified as having a disability was expelled from school for allegedly providing drugs to another student. In an important interpretation of IDEA requirements regarding not-yet-identified students, a federal court ruled that she was entitled to invoke IDEA protections and to retain them even after the school district conducted an evaluation and determined that she was not a “child with a disability” within the meaning of IDEA.Following the expulsion, the student’s parent requested an evaluation for IDEA eligibility, and attempted to invoke IDEA’s discipline protections, which would have required a manifestation determination, entitled her to continued education services and, perhaps under the unique circumstances of her case, allowed her to “stay-put” in her current educational placement. IDEA allows a student who was not identified as eligible for services under IDEA at the time of the disciplinary incident to invoke IDEA protections nonetheless if the school system knew, or should have known, that she had a disability. In this case, the student had entered the school system from a different school district a year before the incident. A notation in her health record from the prior school indicated that she was taking medication at home for attention deficit disorder. During her first year in the new school, she failed all of her classes. The staff from the school met to discuss her educational difficulties, but did not refer her for a special needs evaluation.The federal court ruled that these allegations were sufficient to conclude that school officials had knowledge that the student had a disability prior to the incident that triggered her expulsion. The school system, however, had since conducted an evaluation and determined that she was not a “child with a disability” under IDEA. The student had filed a complaint and requested a due process hearing to challenge that determination, which were still pending. The school system argued in federal court that because it had evaluated the student and found her ineligible under IDEA, she no longer had the right to invoke IDEA protections. The court rejected this argument, ruling that the school system’s point applies only when the evaluation was done before the incident that triggered the disciplinary action. Here, the evaluation was only done after the fact, and the negative eligibility determination had been appealed. Therefore, the student remained entitled to invoke IDEA’s disciplinary protections even after the school system found her ineligible.(Summary by Eileen Ordover)

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