Federal Court Manifestation Determination Individualized | KingSpry

Rare Federal Court Review of A Manifestation Determination Reminds School Teams to Make an Individualized Determination

Photo of Timothy E. Gilsbach

Posted on October 8th, 2018
by Timothy E. Gilsbach

In a rare review of a manifestation determination under the IDEA, a federal court reminded school entities and parents of the need to look to the specific student’s disability and how it presents, rather than a generalized notion of the disability in question.  In the case of J.H. v. Rose Tree Media School District, No. 17-4766 (E.D.Pa. Sept. 17, 2018), the Court agreed with the school’s finding that a behavior incident was not a manifestation of the student’s disability when it reviewed how the disability specifically presented in the student in question.

Background of the Case

In J.H., the student was identified as having  Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and a specific learning disability in writing.  The student had pre-planned with another student that he would assault a student in the lunchroom while the other student would film the altercation.  As planned, the student attacked a student at lunch by smashing the other student’s face into his lunch and the proceeding to punch the other student in the face. As a result, the victim suffered a broken nose, broken eye socket, a collapsed nasal cavity, an air pocket behind his ear, and a concussion.

Prior to disciplining the student for the assault, the district conducted a manifestation determination, which determined that the incident was not a manifestation of the student’s disability.  The parent appealed that determination, but the federal court agreed with the district.

The Court’s Analysis

The court first explained that critical to an appropriate manifestation is that the team must consider the how the disability manifests itself in the specific student in question and not based upon a “typical” manifestation of the disability at issue.

Applying that analysis to the specific case before the it, the court found that the evidence showed that the student’s ADHD manifested as impulsiveness, low frustration tolerance, and stressors such as home life, but found no evidence of the ADHD manifesting in this specific student in the form of violence.

In addition, the court found that while the team must review the relevant information about the student’s behavior and disability, that does not require every member of the team to look at every piece of information.

In this specific case, the court found that only having two members of the team, rather than the entire team, complied with the IDEA requirements. As a result, the court held that this pre-planned violence was not a manifestation of the student’s disability.

Bottom Line for Schools

The J.H. case is a reminder to parents and school teams that when conducting a manifestation determination, the team must review the behavior in question in light of how the disability presents in that specific student rather than how it may typically present.   

If your school has a question regarding manifestation determinations, please contact your legal counsel or one of the attorneys at KingSpry.


This School Law Bullet is a publication of the KingSpry Education Law Practice Group. John E. Freund is our editor. It is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal advice.