Student DisciplineIndividuals With Disabilities Education Act Gao ID: GAO-01-210 January 25, 2001
Standards for discipline and safety in schools are set primarily by local school districts. Federal and local regulations provide additional protections to special education students who misbehave to ensure that they are not unfairly deprived of their rights to an appropriate education. GAO reviewed regular and special education discipline policies to determine whether there were any differences in how disabled and non-disabled students were disciplined. GAO found the rate of misconduct among special education students was higher than that of regular education students. Despite little difference in the actions taken by schools to discipline regular education and special education students, a sizeable minority of principals voiced concern that their schools' discipline policies impeded proper disciplinary action. Although the 1997 Individuals With Disabilities Education Act amendments and final federal regulations gave schools more flexibility in handling discipline issues, GAO's analysis showed that local school district policies can provide additional protections when compared with provisions in the final regulations. Restrictive local policies may alter the balance between protecting the rights of disabled students and ensuring that administrators are able to maintain a safe and orderly environment. Because the more common concerns GAO identified about different treatment for special education students resulted largely from local policy, changes in federal law will not address these concerns.