It is always a good idea to question an allegation that a child with a disability is bullying her peers. A central component of bullying is an imbalance of power between the perpetrator and the recipient of the bullying behavior in favor of the perpetrator. Children with disabilities do not typically possess a real or perceived position of power over other children. The behavior that is described as bullying may be a sign of an underlying and unaddressed disability-related need. Thus, a child’s aggression or harming behavior should, at a minimum, trigger the inquiry into a potential unidentified disability or a failure to incorporate the right program and services in the child’s IEP.
If your child has not yet been evaluated for special education eligibility, her offending behaviors, subsequent suspensions and other disciplinary actions, should be sufficient for her school to suspect that she may be eligible for services, triggering the obligation to conduct comprehensive evaluations in all areas of suspected disability. [Torrence Sch. Dist. v. E.M. 51 IDELR 11 (C.D. Cal, 2008).]
If your child already has an IEP, the ongoing maladaptive behaviors may indicate that her needs were either not properly assessed in the past or she is experiencing new needs as a result of a change in her circumstances. In either case, district must conduct an assessment to identify your child’s behavioral needs in order to address behaviors such as peer conflicts, aggression, defiance, frustration, anxiety or task-avoidance. An IEP meeting must be held to amend her IEP, based on this assessment of her needs. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.303(a).] Even if current available information from prior assessments and observations is sufficient, and no need for re-evaluation exists, the district must still convene a new IEP meeting to review the child’s existing program and adjust the type, amount, frequency and location of services aimed at meeting the child’s underlying social and emotional needs. [Dear Colleagues Letter, 61 IDELR 263 (OSERS/OSEP 2013).]
When a child’s aggressive behaviors result in disciplinary removals that would constitute a significant change in placement, (i.e. child is removed from her placement for 10 consecutive days or more, or when there is a pattern of removals that would constitute a change in placement because of the number or proximity of the removals), then the school must conduct a manifestation determination review (MDR) to determine the relationship between the conduct and the child’s behavior. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.530(e)(1).] For a child eligible under Section 504, district must also conduct a re-evaluation before making such a significant change in placement. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 100.35.] See Chapter 8, Information on Discipline of Students with Disabilities.