Parent sues under IDEA after child brings weapon to school | TCTA
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Parent sues under IDEA after child brings weapon to school

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A parent sued a school district under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) on behalf of her child, a 13-year-old seventh grader with special needs. The student was in the gifted and talented program and qualified for special education services as a student diagnosed with autism, ADHD and vulnerability to emotional disturbances. The student had poor impulse control and understanding of social interactions; often misinterpreted verbal and nonverbal communication by others; was unable to evaluate situations quickly and effectively; was unable to control his emotions, especially when triggered; was often irritable and anxious; and had difficulty in asking for assistance.

The student was suspended for two days for fighting. On the day he returned to school, the student brought a clay cutter with him. The student told district personnel that he took the cutter to school "to have something to defend himself" and that he brought it out to show his friends. The student was placed in a DAEP as a result of this incident. The parent administratively challenged the decision and placement, arguing that the student's acts of bringing the clay cutter to school and showing it to other students were manifestations of his autism and ADHD. The hearing officer determined that the clay cutter was a weapon and that the student's possession of it did not stem from his autism and ADHD. The parent then filed an appeal of that determination to district court.

The district court began its analysis by noting that the IDEA requires that, within 10 school days of any decision to change the placement of a child with a disability because of a violation of a code of student conduct, the IEP team shall review all relevant information in the student's file to determine if the conduct was caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to, the child's disability; or if the conduct was the direct result of the district's failure to implement the IEP. The parent argued that the student's actions of bringing the clay cutter to school and showing it to other students had a direct relationship to his disabilities and that the actions were the direct result of the district's failure to implement the IEP.

The court noted that, while the student had difficulties in interacting with others and in responding to peer conflict in the moment, there was no evidence that would connect his disabilities with a premeditated decision to bring a cutter to school in self-defense. In past stressful situations at school, the student would shut down and begin exhibiting signs of frustration, such as grunting, clenching teeth and/or fists, and crying. There was no prior record showing that he had possessed or displayed a sharp object that could be used as a weapon at school with the stated intent to use it to "defend himself" by physical force. This behavior was different than the signs of his disabilities that he had previously exhibited. The court therefore concluded that the hearing officer had correctly determined that the acts involving the cutter were not a manifestation of the student's disability.

The parent also argued that the district failed to implement the student's IEP because it did not develop a new behavior plan to teach the student appropriate skills and how to navigate through the student body by generalizing skills learned in his social skills class. One of the student's teachers testified at the hearing that the implementation of the IEP included daily tracking to determine if further intervention was needed. The daily tracking had not shown a need for additional or different behavior plans for the student. The court therefore concluded that the parent had not produced evidence showing a failure to implement the student's IEP, only a difference in opinion as to whether the behavior plan should have been updated or modified.

Because the student's behavior was not a manifestation of his disability and the district had properly implemented the IEP, the district was permitted to discipline the student for bringing an item to school that he intended to use for self-defense. The court ordered that the lawsuit be dismissed.