PHILADELPHIA — The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has ruled against a special needs student who was expelled for bringing a knife to school.
The court ruled on March 12 that the school in this case wasn’t required to apply a manifestation determination, the process of considering how the student’s disability could have affected his behavior. According to the opinion, a manifestation determination is used to decide “if the conduct in question was caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to, the child’s disability” or the result of a failure to implement a child’s Individualized Education Program.
“The court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that a manifestation determination prior to expulsion was not required here,” the opinion stated.
According to the court, the student’s parents, Jennifer and Garret R., brought the lawsuit against the Colonial School District under the Individuals with Disabilities Act. G.R. was an 11th-grade student at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School in the Colonial School District during the 2016–17 school year.
“As part of his educational program, G.R. attended Central Montco Technical High School, where he participated in a program on automobile mechanics and bodywork,” the opinion stated. According to the opinion, a school district security officer found G.R. with a Smith & Wesson Extreme Ops knife in the school parking lot.
The court said the hearing officer in this case concluded after an evidentiary hearing that the school did not have knowledge of G.R.’s alleged disability prior to the precipitating conduct — that is, bringing the weapon to school. Therefore the school was not required to make a manifestation determination to decide whether bringing the weapon to school was related to an alleged disability prior to expulsion, the opinion stated.
“As a result of his admitted weapon’s possession, G.R. was accused of violating the school’s weapons policy by bringing the Smith & Wesson Extreme Ops knife to school,” the opinion stated.
The court said the school offered G.R.’s parents an expulsion waiver agreement and placement at two possible alternative schools, but neither alternative placement would permit G.R. to continue the vocational program during the year of expulsion, so his parents didn’t accept the alternative placement.
According to the opinion, G.R. was expelled for one year and permitted to seek reenrollment at the Plymouth Whitemarsh High School following the one-year period.
The court said G.R.’s parents have been communicating with the school through email since 2013, regarding G.R.’s academic assignments, study habits and work completion. The hearing officer, according to the court, expelled G.R. without manifestation determination because the parents never clarified their child’s special needs, so the school wasn’t aware of the student’s disability.
According to the court, G.R.’s parents were aware of the school’s special education services, but didn’t request for G.R. to receive special education services.
“The student was not thought to be eligible for IDEA disciplinary purposes,” the opinion stated.