Yesterday's annual School Law Institute, sponsored by the Practicing Law Institute, covered a number of topics of interest to the attorneys, advocates, and school employees in attendence -- and should be of interest to parents as well. Not covered by the program, but very much a feature of the day, was the new format in which the conference was conducted, with each participant having an iPad at their seat, set up to provide the course materials, PowerPoint presentations, and course evaluations at the touch of a button. This is the kind of experience some of our children have in their iPad powered classrooms, and it was fascinating to see how this group of professionals, who ranged from their twenties through grey-haired seniors, handled this technology.
One topic covered at length was manifestation determination, the process by which a school is required to look at a student facing long term suspension (10 days or more, or a combination of shorter suspensions which add up to ten days or more) to determine if the student's conduct is connected to a disability. For example, if a student who has been classified as having an emotional disturbance and has an IEP in place is facing a suspension for fighting, the school is required to convene a meeting to determine whether the student's behavior was a manifestation of his disabilty. If so, his IEP team needs to immediately put in place appropriate measures to address this problem behavior and set up a behavioral intervention plan (or modify the one he may already have), so that the issues that triggered the fighting are included. This does not mean that students with IEPs cannot get suspended from school. Just that before that happens, the school needs to take a look at the student's disability and determine whether his IEP is doing a sufficient job of helping the student to deal with his areas of difficulty. These rules apply to public, charter, and state approved non-public schools, but not to other private schools.
Another presentation, by former Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York, Elisa Hyman, Esq. focused on the disparities in how affluent families and those without means fare when dealing with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It is more difficult for families who do not speak English, who do not know how to go about finding legal representation, or who cannot lay out tuition for a private school to avail themselves of the benefits of the IDEA. Ms. Hyman and her colleagues are working to use the attorney fee provisions of the IDEA to obtain services and an appropriate education for students who might not otherwise receive the free, appropriate, publicly funded education contemplated by the law.