What is a Manifestation Determination Review?
A Manifestation Determination Review (MDR) is an evaluation of a student’s misconduct to determine whether that conduct is a manifestation of the student’s disability. MDRs are meant to protect students with disabilities or suspected disabilities from being repeatedly and/or unnecessarily removed from the education environment. An MDR must be performed when a district proposes disciplinary measures that will result in a change of placement for a child with a disability. At the MDR, the conduct must be found to be a manifestation of the student’s disability if:
- The conduct in question was caused by or had a direct and substantial relationship to the student’s disability; or
- The behavior occurred as a result of failure to follow the IEP.
When Does a Change of Placement Occur?
A change of placement occurs whenever a student is removed from school for more than 10 consecutive days or for a total of 10 or more full or partial days throughout the school year for similar behavioral problems. For this reason, it is important for parents to keep track of any time that their student is removed from school, including half days or any time the parent is asked to pick the child up early from school.
Who is entitled to an MDR?
MDRs are required for students who have been determined to have a disability and thus have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 Plan. MDRs are also required in cases where students do not yet have an IEP or 504 Plan, but where the district knew that the child was a student with a disability before the incident occurred.
Who should be involved in the MDR?
- The MDR should be conducted by the district, the parent, and relevant members of the IEP team (as determined by the parent and the district).
- Parents can request that certain individuals be present for the MDR (e.g., school psychologist).
- Parents may also invite individuals who have knowledge and expertise regarding the student (e.g., outside service provider or diagnostic doctor). If possible, have them join the meeting in person or via phone as part of the student’s team.
How do you prepare for an MDR?
Request the student’s past and current disciplinary records. This packet, containing witness statements and other information, is prepared by the school and kept in the student’s disciplinary file. You are entitled to these records and will want to use them to prepare for the MDR. You want to have a very clear, detailed, and accurate understanding of precisely what happened and why it occurred. To accomplish this, request the full investigation report, witness statements, photos, and videotape (if it exists). Review any relevant documents and sources, including but not limited to: eligibility documents, the IEP, and evaluation results.
Identify the student’s disability
- Research the disability and its manifestations using a reputable source (such as the DSM-5).
- What does the source list as the manifestations of the disability?
- You need to be able to show a causal connection between the student’s disability and the behaviors. Familiarize yourself with the student’s Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) if the student has one. Determine if the school followed the steps agreed upon in these documents.
- If you do not have a copy of the FBA/BIP you can request them in writing from the school. You can prepare for the MDR using the FBA and BIP. In order to succeed, you will need to understand the student’s disabilities and how they impact his/her behavior. Be prepared to explain it to the rest of the team, and be ready to prove what you have to say in writing (e.g., from the DSM-5, the student’s IEP or BIP, and/or an evaluation). Make sure you record the MDR in case you disagree with the result and want to appeal the decision.
What must the IEP team do if the behavior was found to be a result of the disability?
- Conduct a functional behavior assessment (FBA) and implement a behavior intervention plan (BIP) or, if one is already in place, modify the document to address the behavior.
- Unless the misconduct falls under the definition of a “special circumstance” (discussed below), return the student to the placement from which the student was removed, unless the parent or adult student and the district agree to a change of placement as part of the modification of the behavior intervention plan.
What if the behavior is NOT found to be a result of the disability?
If the behavior is not found to be the result of the student’s disability or the district’s failure to properly implement the IEP, the student is subject to the same school-wide disciplinary procedures as students without a disability; however, general and special education services must still be provided to the student after the 10th day of removal. If the parent(s) or guardian of a student with a disability or an adult student with a disability disagrees with the decision made during the MDR, they may appeal the decision by requesting a due process hearing or filing a state complaint.
Can schools ever remove a student without taking their disability into account?
Yes. Under special circumstances, schools can remove a student for up to 45 days, without regard to their disability, if the student does any of the following while at school, on school premises, or at a school function:
- Carries or possesses a weapon
- Knowingly possesses or uses illegal drugs, or sells or solicits the sale of a controlled substance
- Inflicts serious bodily injury upon another person.