Manifestation Determination: Definition & Relationship to Student Rights

Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley has a JD degree and is an attorney. She has extensive experience as a prosecutor and legal writer, and she has taught and written various law courses.

A manifestation determination is a formal procedure used to determine if a student's behavioral issue was an expression of that student's disability. This lesson explains manifestation determination.


Let's look at a case sample. Stuey Student is an eight year old with formally diagnosed ADHD, learning disabilities and emotional difficulties. He is educated in a general classroom but receives special education services as part of his Individualized Education Program, or IEP. An IEP is a legal agreement that sets out the disabled child's learning needs and how the school will address those needs.

As a result of Stuey's disabilities, he often becomes frustrated and agitated in the classroom. He is sometimes sent to the principal's office for behavioral issues. Stuey was attempting to cut out Valentine hearts with blunt end, plastic scissors when he became discouraged and distressed. Words were exchanged with another student, who grabbed the heart out of Stuey's hands. Stuey pointed the scissors toward that student and threatened that student. Stuey told the student to go away 'or else.' Stuey was then sent to the principal's office for 'violent behavior' - his first offense of this kind.

Because the school has a zero tolerance policy regarding violence, Stuey was immediately suspended from school for 30 days. Stuey's parents object. They say the school violated Stuey's rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. IDEA is a federal law governing the rights of disabled students and the responsibilities of school districts. Are the parents correct? Let's examine this issue.

Manifestation Determination

IDEA sets out certain disciplinary regulations, including manifestation determination IEP meetings. A manifestation determination is a formal procedure used to determine whether or not a student's behavioral issue was an expression of that student's disability. In Stuey's case, Stuey's IEP team needs to assemble for a meeting. The team needs to decide whether or not Stuey's threatening behavior toward the other student was an expression of his ADHD, learning disabilities and/or emotional difficulties.

Stuey's IEP team will be the same group of people who met to create Stuey's IEP. An IEP team consists of:

  • At least one of Stuey's parents
  • At least one of Stuey's general education teachers
  • At least one of Stuey's special education teachers
  • School psychologist or other expert who can speak to Stuey's diagnoses and evaluations
  • School representative in charge of allocating Stuey's special education services

Keep in mind, however, that not all disciplinary actions require a manifestation determination. Remember that Stuey has been sent to the principal's office before, without triggering this process. A manifestation determination is necessary only for lengthy suspensions or expulsions. This includes when:

  • A parent requests a meeting
  • Suspension is for five or more consecutive days
  • Suspension is for more than ten cumulative days in a school year
  • A change in placement for more than ten consecutive days due to disciplinary issues may occur
  • Expulsion, or removal, from the school may occur

Manifestation Determination Procedures

Manifestation determination procedures can vary a bit from state to state, but generally the steps the IEP team must follow include:

  • Meet within ten days of when the student receives the disciplinary sentence
  • Review all relevant information regarding the student's disability, including the current IEP and all evaluation and diagnostic reports
  • Decide if the student's behavioral issue resulted from an inappropriate placement or educational program for the student. For example, perhaps Stuey is better served in a special education classroom or needs an aid to assist him with fine motor skill projects.
  • Decide if the student's behavioral issue resulted from the student's disability. For example, the team will explore whether or not Stuey's ADHD and emotional difficulties cause certain impulsive behaviors, such as pointing the scissors at the other student.

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