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E.S.E.A. Gives Schools New Disciplinary Tool

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When Congress reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act earlier this year, it changed the way schools can discipline students with disabilities in some cases.

The final e.s.e.a. version says a student with a disability who brings a gun to school can be pulled from his classroom and put into an interim educational setting for up to 45 days.

But in earlier deliberations, the Senate had wanted to go even further.

Senators adopted two discipline-related amendments during debate over the e.s.e.a. The first, offered by Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., would have waived the "stay put" provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act when a student with a disability brought a weapon to school or demonstrated "life threatening" behavior.

It would have allowed officials to remove the student from his or her placement for 90 days. Despite lobbying from disability-rights advocates, the Senate passed the measure by a vote of 60 to 40.

Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., then offered an alternative that would have allowed such removals in cases in which students brought a weapon to school. It passed the Senate unanimously.

Case in California

When Mr. Gorton presented his amendment, he cited discipline-related cases nationwide, including one that highlights educators' concerns.

In that case, a guard at El Capitan High School in Lakeside, Calif., spotted a gun inside a student's car in a school parking lot in February.

When the district tried to expel the student under a new California law, the boy's parents said he suffered from attention-deficit disorder. They alleged that the boy had forgotten that the gun was in the car as a result of the disorder.

Court documents show the parents did not ask that their son be evaluated for special-education services until two weeks after the gun incident.

The school refused to let the boy return to class, so the parents took the school to court, saying their son needed to be evaluated for special-education services.

The district's evaluation showed that the student was not eligible for special-education services. The parents contested the determination and said that until the issue was resolved the district could not move to expel their son.

The district sought to override the stay-put provision, arguing the student posed a danger.

In March, a federal judge rejected the district's plea. Judge Judith N. Keep said she was bound by a 1992 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which said the claim for special-education services is sufficient to invoke the stay-put provision and parents' due-process rights under the i.d.e.a.

But Judge Keep voiced frustration with her own ruling, saying: "These are the kinds of situations that can cause parents, if they have any money whatsoever, to remove their children from a public school."

--Lynn Schnaiberg

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