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Navigating IEPs and 504s in School Investigations Ensuring Student Rights and Safeguarding Education

Director of Student Services

Albany County School District #1

As schools progress through the year more and more situations are arising where administrators are responding to reports of possible violations of students Title IX Rights and/or acts of bullying and harassment. Schools are also finding that more and more of these incidents include students who are identified as receiving support from an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 Plan (504) and feeling like their hands are tied.    

For some administrators navigating the investigation process and providing appropriate supportive measures for the complainant and respondent while ensuring that you are not violating the protections of a student with an IEP or a 504 can be an intimidating process especially when all parties involved need support moving forward. 

Understanding IEPs and 504’s 

Starting with the understanding that all students have due process rights when it comes to school discipline. School officials also have to be aware of the added layer of protection for students identified with a disability. If a student who is receiving the services of an IEP or a 504 has a change of placement for more than 10 days in the school year or a pattern of removing a student from their learning environment the school is responsible for evaluating if the behavior that is breaking the rules is because of their disability, this is referred to as a manifestation determination

In that determination, the IEP Team or the 504 Team will identify if the behavior is or is not caused by the student's disability. If the behavior is not caused by the disability the school should proceed as they would for all other students in that district. If the team determines that the behavior is because of the disability then the student has to be allowed back to school and the team needs to develop and implement plans to address the behavior and support the student’s needs in school. In circumstances where a weapon is brought to school, serious bodily injury has occurred to another person, or incidents of illegal drugs at school Administrators can temporarily change a student placement for up to 45 days to ensure the safety of the school and to ensure an appropriate plan is developed for the student’s return.   

Incident Investigation

Regardless of whether a student qualifies for an IEP or a 504, all students must be in an environment where they can learn. As administrators move through the investigation process (a topic that has been explored in detail throughout past posts)  they must be identifying and providing supportive measures for both the complainant and the respondent. If either of those parties is receiving support from an IEP or 504, including members of their team to discuss appropriate support for their student’s behavior without discussing any detail of the incident

For some administrators, it becomes difficult to provide supportive measures to respondents, but it is important to remember that this situation could be utilized as a learning opportunity to correct inappropriate behavior before it becomes something more serious. Also, by providing supportive measures to all parties you are demonstrating impartiality and providing a fair investigation for all students. 

As we move through the investigation process schools have to make sure that appropriate safeguards and legally defensible actions are put in place to protect everyone. If inappropriate actions of a student are a manifestation of that student's disability, we must provide the necessary supportive measures for the complainant to feel safe in school while also ensuring supportive measures are put in place for the respondent to support their access to their education. Reassuring our communities that we will investigate any report of inappropriate behavior and communicating the processes of how schools will fulfill that commitment is important to maintaining the trust our communities should have with our schools today. 

For more resources and training on managing incidents involving special education services, consider McGrath Training Solutions. We offer expert advice and training programs designed for school administrators and teachers.


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