An Arizona school district violated the IDEA when it removed an elementary school student with autism to an interim alternative educational setting (IAES) without justification. The student did not inflict serious bodily injury on another person, an ALJ concluded. However, the ALJ declined to award the student compensatory education, since the IAES provided him meaningful educational benefit. Bisbee Unified Sch. Dist. No. 2, 54 IDELR 39 (SEA AZ 2010).
When removing a student to an IAES without regard to whether the conduct is related to his disability, school districts need to ensure that at least one of the IDEA’s exceptions truly apply. The serious bodily injury exception is limited to severe injuries, such as those involving extreme physical pain or prolonged impairment of a bodily member. Here, the district argued that a principal suffered extreme physical pain when a student kicked him. Although his knee was allegedly swollen and he visited a doctor a month later, the principal’s activities on the day of the incident indicated that he was not in severe pain.
Here, although the school district claimed that the student inflicted extreme physical pain when he lunged at the principal and kicked him while being restrained, the principal’s actions following the incident revealed otherwise. The principal said he felt a “sharp pain” and went home for the rest of the day. Although his knee was swollen, he did not seek medical attention, and instead drove 200 miles the next day. It was not until three weeks later did he receive a cortizone injection. Despite finding that the incident was related to the student’s disability, the district removed the student to an IAES for up to 45 school days without regard to whether his conduct inflicted serious bodily injury. “Serious bodily injury” requires substantial risk of death, extreme physical pain, protracted and obvious disfigurement, or protracted impairment of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty. Here, there was no such finding. ”Therefore, [the school district] did not have legal authority to place [the student] in an IAES,” wrote the administrative law judge.