Order Code RS20309
August 20, 1999
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: House
and Senate Amendments to Juvenile Justice
American Law Division
The Senate on May 20, 1999 and the House on June 17, 1999 passed substantially
similar amendments to the due process provisions in the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA). IDEA provides federal funds to the states to assist them in
providing an education for children with disabilities. As a condition for the receipt of
these funds, IDEA contains requirements on the provision of services and detailed due
process procedures. In 1997 Congress amended IDEA in the most comprehensive and
controversial reauthorization since IDEA’s original enactment in 1975. One of the most
contentious issues addressed in the 1997 legislation related to the disciplinary procedures
applicable to children with disabilities. This issue was raised again in Amendment 355
to S. 254, 106th Congress, the Violent and Repeat Juvenile Accountability and
Rehabilitation Act of 1999, which passed the Senate on May 20, 1999 and Amendment
39 to H.R. 1501, the Child Safety and Protection Act, which passed the House on June
17, 1999. This report will be updated as appropriate. For a more detailed discussion of
the due process provisions in IDEA see Jones, "Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act: Discipline Provisions in P.L. 105-17," CRS Report 98-42.
Background and Current Statutory Language Relating to Discipline
IDEA was originally enacted in 1975 due to the fact that children with disabilities
often failed to receive an education or received an inappropriate education. This lack of
education led to numerous judicial decisions, including PARC v. State of Pennsylvania1
343 F. Supp. 279 (E.D.Pa. 1972).
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and Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia2 which found constitutional
infirmities with the lack of education for children with disabilities when the states were
providing education for children without disabilities. As a result, the states were under
considerable pressure to provide such services and they lobbied Congress to assist them.3
Congress responded with the grant program still contained in IDEA but also delineated
specific requirements that the states must follow in order to receive these federal funds.
The statute provided that if there was a dispute between the school and the parents of the
child with a disability, the child must “stay put” in his or her current educational placement
until the dispute is resolved. A revised stay put provision remains in IDEA.
Issues relating to children with disabilities who exhibit violent or inappropriate
behavior have been raised for years and in 1988 the question of whether there was an
implied exception to the stay put provision was presented to the Supreme Court in Honig
v. Doe.4 Although the Supreme Court did not find such an implied exception, it did find
that a ten day suspension was allowable and that schools could seek judicial relief when
the parents of a truly dangerous child refuse to permit a change in placement. In 1994,
Congress amended IDEA’s stay put provision to give schools unilateral authority to
remove a child with a disability to an interim alternative educational setting if the child was
determined to have brought a firearm to school.
In 1997 Congress made significant changes to IDEA and attempted to strike “a
careful balance between the LEA’s (local education agency) duty to ensure that school
environments are safe and conducive to learning for all children, including children with
disabilities, and the LEA’s continuing obligation to ensure that children with disabilities
receive a free appropriate public education.”5 This current law does not immunize a child
with a disability from disciplinary procedures but these procedures may not be identical to
those for children without disabilities. In brief, if a child with a disability commits an
action that would be subject to discipline, school personnel have the following options:
suspending the child for up to ten days with no educational services provided,
! conducting a manifestation determination review to determine whether there is a
link between the child’s disability and the misbehavior. If the child’s behavior is not
a manifestation of a disability, long term disciplinary action such as expulsion may
occur, except that educational services may not cease. If the child's behavior is a
manifestation of the child's disability, the school may review the child's placement
and, if appropriate, initiate a change in placement.
! placing the child in an interim alternative education setting for up to forty five days
(which can be renewed) for situations involving weapons or drugs, and
348 F. Supp. 866 (D.D.C. 1972).
For a detailed discussion of the intent behind the enactment of P.L. 94-142 see Jones, “The
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: Congressional Intent,” CRS Report 95-669 (May 19,
484 U.S. 305 (1988).
S.Rept. 105-17, 105th Cong., 1st Sess. 28 (1997); H.Rept. 105-95, 105th Cong., 1st Sess. 108
! asking a hearing officer to order a child be placed in an interim alternative
educational setting for up to forty five days (which can be renewed) if it is
demonstrated that the child is substantially likely to injure himself or others in his
School officials may also seek a Honig injunction as discussed previously if they are
unable to reach agreement with a student’s parents and they feel that the new statutory
provisions are not sufficient.6
Senate and House Amendments to IDEA
Violence in schools again surfaced on the congressional agenda with S. 254, the
Violent and Repeat Juvenile Accountability and Rehabilitation Act of 1999 which passed
the Senate on May 20, 1999 and H.R. 1501, the Child Safety and Protection Act which
passed the House on June 17. Both of these bills contain amendments offered on the floor
relating to discipline under IDEA. Essentially these amendments would change section
615 of IDEA to eliminate the requirements regarding disciplinary procedures for children
with disabilities who carry or possess a gun or firearm (Senate) or weapon (House) to or
at a school, on school premises, or to or at school functions. The Senate passed
Amendment 355, offered by Senators Frist and Ashcroft, by a vote of 74 to 25.7 The
House passed Amendment 35, offered by Representative Norwood, by a vote of 300 to
Under the Senate amendment, school personnel could discipline a child with a
disability who possessed a gun or firearm at school in the same manner as a child without
a disability could be disciplined. A child with a disability who is disciplined under this
amendment would be able to assert a defense that the carrying or possession of the gun
or firearm was unintentional or innocent. This provision could help to address the problem
of a child with limited mental capacities who had someone place a gun in his or her
backpack; however, the exact implications of this provision are somewhat uncertain since
it is not specified to whom or when this defense would be asserted. During debate,
Senator Frist stated that this defense would be made to the school’s principal or teacher
and that the due process procedure applicable would be the same process available to
The House amendment contains a similar provision except that it uses the term
"weapon" instead of "gun or firearm" and contains an additional sentence stating that
school personnel "may modify the disciplinary action on a case-by-case basis." The Senate
amendment defines firearm to be the definition at 18 U.S.C. §921 which reads:
For a more detailed discussion of these provisions see Jones, “Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act: Discipline Provisions in P.L. 105-17,” CRS Report 98-42 (April 19, 1999).
145 C.R. S5691 (May 20, 1999).
145 C.R. H4532 (June 17, 1999).
145 C.R. S5541 (May 19, 1999).
The term “firearm” means (A) any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is
designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an
explosive; (B) the frame or receiver of any such weapon; (C) any firearm muffler or
firearm silencer; or (D) any destructive device. Such term does not include an antique
The House amendment does not contain a definition but would apparently use the
definition of weapon already contained in section 615(k) of IDEA, 20 U.S.C. §1415(k).
There is some ambiguity about the applicability of the definition, however, since the House
amendment states that "actions taken pursuant to this paragraph shall not be subject to the
provision of this section, other than this paragraph." Apparently the section referred to
is section 615 and the intent of this provision in the amendment would be to eliminate
IDEA's due process procedures.
The amendments further state that the IDEA provision regarding the continuation
of educational services during an expulsion or suspension would not be applicable
although the local educational agency may choose to continue to provide educational
services to the child in a location determined by the local education agency. Educational
agencies would not be considered in violation of the IDEA requirements regarding state
or local educational agency eligibility for funds10 because of the provision of discipline, and
services or assistance under the amendment and actions taken under the amendment are
not subject to other procedural safeguard provisions of IDEA.11
The Senate and House amendments include conforming changes relating to citations
to section 615 of IDEA. Similarly, in the Senate amendment a subsection would be added
to the Gun-Free Schools Act stating that notwithstanding any other provision of 20 U.S.C.
§8921, the section shall be subject to the amendment contained in section 615 of IDEA.
Debate on the House and Senate Amendments
Both the House and Senate amendments were the subject of emotional debate. The
general theme sounded by proponents of the amendments was that recent incidents of gun
violence in the schools necessitated the changes in IDEA to allow school officials more
control over discipline. The opponents of the amendments argued that the discipline
provisions in IDEA had been carefully crafted in the 1997 reauthorization and that the
result of the amendments would be more criminal behavior by having children with
disabilities who had possessed weapons without supervision and educational services.
Senate Debate. The Frist-Ashcroft amendment was the subject of extensive debate
in the Senate. Senator Frist stated the amendment would change existing law which he
described as allowing “one child in a special education class who brings a gun or a bomb
to school (to be)...treated preferentially compared to another child who does not have a
disability or is not in special education who brings a gun or bomb to school.”12 Tying this
issue to recent school shootings, Senator Frist further observed:
20 U.S.C. §§1412, 1413.
20 U.S.C. §1415.
145 C.R. S5529 (May 19, 1999).
Clearly the way we have set up this federally mandated disciplinary procedure with this
loophole sends students a mixed message about guns in schools. It basically says if you
are in special education, you are going to be treated in a special way if you bring a gun
into school, but if you are not in special education, you are going to be treated like
everybody else and you are going to be expelled. What a mixed message when we are
talking about guns. When we are talking about the shootings, the 27 deaths in our
classrooms and schools that we have witnessed, we must respond.13
Similarly, Senator Ashcroft described the amendment as a “school safety issue.”14 He also
stated: “This is a bill that provides for equity, simply saying that principals and
superintendents should have the power, without interference from the Federal
Government, to remove students from school who come to school with a firearm, an
explosive or a gun.”15
Senator Harkin disagreed with this characterization of the amendment. He noted that
under current law “school authorities can unilaterally remove a child with a disability, first
of all, for the first 10 days, and provide no services whatsoever. Second, if it is found that
their actions were not a manifestation of their disability, then of course he is treated in the
same manner as nondisabled children, and can be kept out in an alternative setting
forever.”16 Senator Harkin also argued that the amendment would make the schools and
communities less safe as children would be out on the streets with no educational services
and quoted from numerous letters from police and prison authorities as well as the national
PTA, and the National Association of State Boards of Education. The common theme in
these letters was concern about denying children with behavioral problems educational
services since this was seen as “shift(ing) the problem to the neighborhood and streets
surrounding the school.”17
Senator Jeffords also opposed the Frist/Ashcroft amendment agreeing with Senator
Harkin that current law allows for removal of a child with a disability who has a
disciplinary problem although educational services must be provided after ten days.
Senator Jeffords observed: “the basic question is, in the final analysis, should the school
have to afford an alternative education situation and pay for it.”18
House Debate. The House debate was similar to that in the Senate. Representative
Norwood, the sponsor of the House IDEA amendment, argued that it ends the "two-tiered
145 C.R. S5690 (May 20, 1999).
145 C.R. S5689 (May 20, 1999).
145 C.R. S5684 (May 20, 1999).
145 C.R. S5687 (May 20, 1999)(quoting from letter from the National Association of
State Boards of Education). It should also be noted that an amendment proposed by Senator
Harkin also passed the Senate with S. 254. This amendment, which does not specifically address
IDEA, would require school personnel to “ensure that immediate appropriate interventions and
services, including mental health interventions and services, are provided to a child removed from
school for any act of violence, including carrying or possessing a weapon at school....” Funds
would be authorized to support this program.
145 C.R. S5534 (May 19, 1999).
discipline policy that is in current law" and stated that it "sends a message that weapons
at school will not be tolerated."19 He also emphasized that the amendment clarifies that
school personnel can modify any disciplinary action on a case-by-case basis.20 Mr. Talent
supported the amendment and observed that he had heard from teachers and other
educators in his district that they need the authority to remove violent children from the
classroom, including children considered disabled under IDEA.21
Representative Scott opposed the amendment arguing that it "guts an historic
bipartisan legislative act which was signed into law just 2 years ago."22 He also
emphasized the importance of continued educational services for children, stating: "I know
of no public policy benefit which can be achieved by sending these children into the street
without any educational services even if they are being involved with weapons." He
contended that there was no deterrent effect to the cessation of education and that
research indicates that children with disabilities who do not receive educational services
are less likely to be employed and more likely to be involved in crime.23 Mr. Owens also
opposed the amendment, referring to it as "a back-door ambush of children with
145 C.R. H4523 (June 17, 1999).
145 C.R. H4524-4525 (June 17, 1999).
145 C.R. H4524 (June 17, 1999).
145 C.R. H.4528 (June 17, 1999).
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