When a special education student is placed up for expulsion and/or a change of placement is recommended due to a conduct violation, school districts are mandated to convene a meeting (aka manifestation hearing) within 10 days where they make a "manifestation determination." This manifestation determination is supposed to determine if the conduct in question was related to the child's disability as defined under federal law. The manifestation hearing is a VERY important meeting as it can stop the entire expulsion/transfer process. However, most parents have no idea what is going on when they arrive at a manifestation hearing and/or how significant it is until after it is held.
What is a Manifestation Hearing?
Per volume 20 of the United States Code (USC) section 1415(k)(1)(E), districts must determine prior to moving toward expulsion or a change of placement:
1) "If the conduct in question was caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to, the child's disability; or
2) "If the conduct in question was the direct result of the local educational agency's failure to implement the IEP." (Individualized Education Program)
If the answer to either of these questions, as determined by the group at the manifestation hearing, is "yes," the district may not move forward with its recommendation for expulsion and/or change of placement. The student will then be returned to their placement unless the "team" agrees to a different one or certain exceptions apply.
It is thus very important that when parents are notified of any manifestation meeting, they prepare and argue that one or both of these items (#1 and 2 above) applies. They should argue this themselves with their own proof. They should also provide evidence from school records and outside sources that one or both of the above questions is true.
If the manifestation team decision is that the conduct was not a "manifestation" (e.g. neither of the two questions are answered affirmatively) parents can appeal that decision by filing for an expedited due process hearing http://edlaw4students.blogspot.com/2011/01/great-due-process-hearing-reference-for.html. The pending expulsion hearing will then be pushed back until the due process matter runs its course.
As the decision of the manifestation team may stop the expulsion or transfer process completely, it is critical that parents take a stand at this meeting and/or challenge the findings of the team (if they disagree with them).
Education Law Attorney
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814