146 Children’s Legal Rights Journal [Vol. 36:2 2016]
Ryan believes that school districts have been operating under an incorrect paradigm
when it comes to school discipline especially in utilizing exclusionary discipline tactics.
Ryan thinks that overall, if a student’s behavior is disruptive, or violates the school code
of conduct in any way, that student needs to be given a space and a voice. He believes the
school needs to treat that student as an active participant in his own learning and his own
Ryan further believes that students with special needs, like him, and especially
students with IEPs are subject to disparate application of exclusionary discipline policies.
He believes this both because of his own experiences and the experiences of his peers at
the therapeutic school he now attends. Ryan’s assertion is also supported by school
discipline data. Students with disabilities are twice as likely to receive one or more out of
school suspensions as students without disabilities. Further, having a disability also
changes the way a student may be disciplined while in school. While students with
disabilities represent 12% of all students enrolled in public schools nationwide, 75% of all
students subjected to physical restraint in school and 58% of students subjected to seclusion
in school have a disability.
Ryan believes that the changes to substantive school discipline policy outlined in
Public Act 099-0456 (“Act”) are a good start to making inclusive school discipline policies.
Yet, he questions whether the Act will ultimately prevent teachers and administrators from
utilizing the kind of exclusionary discipline policies that they subjected him to.
First, Ryan expressed concern with the requirements for suspension. Under the Act,
schools may only use suspensions of three days or less as discipline if the student “pose[s]
a threat to school safety or a disruption to other student’s learning opportunities.” He thinks
that the term “disruption” is problematically vague; teachers may, and have in his case,
applied this term in a broad way in order to justify exclusionary discipline plans. He thinks
that “disruption” can mean anything, and that “substantial disruption” or “extreme
disruption” might be a better term that would help teachers understand when it is acceptable
to suspend a student for more than three days.
Next, Ryan questioned the way that the Act lists exclusionary discipline practices
as suspensions of more than three days, expulsions, and transfers to alternative school
placements. First, he believes that the type of in school exclusion he experienced is also an
exclusionary discipline practice. Second, he does not understand why schools use a transfer
to an alternative school placement as a form of discipline. He thinks that if transferring is
an option then the student being considered for transfer should have their voice considered
and heard as a major factor in that decision. He believes this option should only be used if
it is clearly in the best interest of the student, and he believes students should be given an
active role in articulating their own best interest. He worries about separating a student
from friends, a social network, teachers and administrators that know and understand that
student, even if that school is a contentious environment at times. Ryan’s opinion is
informed by his transfer experience. His option transfer to a therapeutic school was not