Alternative Placement is a disciplinary measure used in most public and charter schools to provide an alternative learning environment to a student who is struggling in a traditional school setting due to behavioral extremes. Through an in-depth process including observations, assessments, and district-level input, a student can be removed temporarily from their school and assigned to an alternative program that school administrators feel would benefit the academic growth of the student.

As a form of exclusionary discipline, alternative placement is reserved for students with severe behavioral issues including repeated offenses of bullying, violence, and other serious code of conduct violations. General education students as well as students with special needs can be removed from their classroom and designated to an alternative program as deemed necessary by the district.

Regardless of whether or not a student has an IEP, when opting for alternative placement, the school should evaluate the circumstances that led up to the student being recommended for alternative placement to determine whether an alternative placement is appropriate. In addition, when recommending an alternative placement for a student with an IEP, the team should consider if the student’s unique needs could be met in the recommended setting.

Seeking Alternative Placement with an IEP

Individualized Education Plans are legal documents that outline specific parameters for a child’s education. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) offers a degree of protection for a student with disabilities before they are reprimanded for their behavior. Before any disciplinary action can be taken, the IEP team should determine whether the behavior in question has been addressed in the IEP and/or is a manifestation of the student’s disability in what is also known as a manifestation determination meeting.

If the IEP team determines that behavior is not a manifestation of the student’s disability, then the school will move forward with the disciplinary proceeding, which could mean suspension, expulsion, or alternative placement.

If the IEP recognizes that the exhibited behavior is a direct result of the student’s disability, the IEP team shall consider the use of positive behavioral strategies to work with the child in an academic setting. For example, a new Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) may need to be developed to address the observed behavior, and/or the student may be referred for a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA).

A Functional Behavior Assessment is an individualized assessment intended to determine the student’s challenging behavior to help develop an appropriate behavior plan that will address problem behaviors.

A Behavior Intervention Plan is a written plan that the IEP team may create in conjunction with an FBA, and tailored to fit the specific needs of the student. A BIP outlines a student’s target behaviors and details action steps to manage behaviors. For a student with special needs, a BIP is a component of the IEP that helps to identify additional supports and interventions for managing behaviors across the student’s educational setting.

Helping Students Without an IEP

All children can have difficulty with behavior in school but when their behavior begins to affect learning, it is important to identify and address the cause. Not all students are eligible for a BIP but if a parent suspects that their child’s behavior is impeding their learning, parents should request a special education assessment from the district. To begin the assessment process, contact your school administrator.

Behavior Punishments for Students with an IEP

According to California Education Code, many disciplinary rules apply to special education students in the same way they apply to general education students. If the behavior is a manifestation of the student’s disability the school must take measures to better support the student. If the behavior was not caused by the student’s disability, they may face the same disciplinary action as a general education student.

What Can I Do As a Parent?

As a parent, it is important to be involved in your child’s learning as much as possible. If your child has an IEP, you have an active role in developing the goals and expectations for your child. Advocating for your child and working constructively with the school and IEP team can help your child receive maximum results. If you are unsure or lost throughout any step of the IEP or behavioral plan process, it is important to seek professional guidance.

How Can An Attorney Help?

There are a number of courses of action for students who experience behavioral difficulties at school. An experienced special education attorney can help you navigate the challenging process of IEP meetings while advocating for your child’s rights.

Jennifer Chang is an experienced Education Rights Attorney in California. She has successfully assisted many students with disabilities and their families to understand their legal rights surrounding behavior concerns that manifest from a disability and help them receive the services they deserve. To schedule an appointment with Jennifer, contact her office today.