Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Low Down on Manifestation Determination Reviews (MDRs)

One of the more challenging meetings for any school psychologist is the manifestation determination review. Manifestation determination reviews (MDRs) occur when a student with a disability has been suspended for 10 or more days, with the purpose of examining if the suspendable behavior had a direct and substantial relationship to the child's disability and/or if the behavior was a direct result of the school not implementing the student's Individualized Education Plan (IEP). I won't get into the legal guidelines and specifications of the MDR process, but highly recommend you understand the expectations of your state. For any New Yorkers out there, check out Part 201: Procedural Safeguards for Students with Disabilities Regarding Discipline.

When facing an MDR, remember your most important client: the student. You will have advocates, parents, teachers, administrations, and more all with things to say about the suspension, but MDR is all about making sure that the kiddo is not being punished for a behavior that is part of their disability or because their IEP wasn't implemented. Remember, IEPs are legally binding documents, and if they are not followed properly, you can have a lot of trouble on your hands. It is unfair to suspend a student for something they may not be able to help, and thus, we have MDR to protect them. It's serious, but it's important and a good thing, because it allows us to look out for a kiddo who might not be able to advocate for himself and to investigate a change in services if what is on the IEP is not sufficient.

As a psychologist who may be leading an MDR meeting, there's lots to do to prepare. You want all the information possible, even if it seems like too much! An extremely well-informed decision is the safest and most appropriate when we're talking about a kiddo's education. Some things to consider:

  • Talk to everyone who witnessed or was involved in the incident that resulted in the suspension. Find out the facts, the chain of events, if this is a pattern of behavior, and more!
  • Make sure you know the suspended student's IEP like the back of your hand... why and how the student meets criteria for a certain disability, every accommodation and modification, typical behaviors and levels of functioning for the student, etc. 
  • In the same vein, interview the teacher either before the meeting or during and have them explain specifically how they're meeting each accommodation related to the behavior in question, such as special seating arrangements, refocusing & redirection, behavior modification, etc.
  • Does the kid have any diagnoses outside of their special education classification (i.e. a student with a Learning Disability also being diagnosed with ADHD)? You need to consider those, too, when making a decision, so re-read any diagnostic criteria.
  • Review the Functional Behavior Assessment/Behavior Intervention Plan (FBA/BIP) and talk to the teacher to see exactly how it's being implemented and the progress being made on it. Get data and specific information. 
  • Find out if the student was in the appropriate program from their IEP when the behavior occurred. If not, the IEP may not have been implemented with fidelity. (i.e. if the IEP says a 6:1+1 for all academic and special areas, was that being followed, or was there no aide/a mixed group with general ed students/etc?)
The outcomes of MDR aren't always easy, especially when it means canceling a suspension because a student's behavior is related to their disability or the IEP wasn't implemented properly. At some point along the way (if you haven't already), you will have an angry teacher or administrator who doesn't want the student back in school because of the severity of their behavior. I can say myself that I had a teacher virtually run out of an MDR meeting down to the main office to scream at the principal that I was sending her kiddo back to school. But remember: your client is the child and your job is making sure that their educational needs are being met and they aren't being punished unfairly. 

Feel free to leave your comments and thoughts on MDR, particularly tips and tricks that have helped you! Go forth and MDR, you Super Psychologists! 

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