The Manifestation Determination Review

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All students have rights when they are disciplined. However, students with disabilities have extra rights. An important one is their right to a formal review of their behavior before long-term suspensions or expulsions. This review is called a Manifestation Determination Review (MDR). An MDR is used to decide if the behavior was caused by a disability.

An MDR must happen within 10 days of a school’s decision to change the placement of a student with a disability for disciplinary reasons. A change of placement happens when a student with a known disability is expelled or suspended for more than 10 school days in a school year. The suspension can be for more than 10 days in a row. Or, it can be a pattern of short-term suspensions that add up to more than 10 days in a school year. To learn more about changes in placements, read School Discipline: Rights for Students With Disabilities.

Any student with an IEP or 504 Plan is entitled to an MDR. Students who have a known disability are also entitled to an MDR. A school has knowledge of a student’s disability once it gets a written request to evaluate that student for Special Education Services (SES). If your child is facing a change in placement for disciplinary reasons, but no MDR has been scheduled, you can use the Do-It-Yourself Letter Requesting an MDR tool to request an MDR.

The MDR Meeting

The MDR is held by a team made up of members of the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team, including the student’s parent(s). The MDR Team decides whether the behavior that led to the discipline was caused by the student’s disability. They must also decide whether the behavior was caused by the school’s failure to follow the student’s IEP.

The MDR Team must consider all important information related to the student’s misbehavior. This includes:

  • Information related to the incident

  • Test and evaluation results

  • Information from the parent(s)

  • Observations

  • The student’s current IEP and IEP progress reports

  • Information from community service providers, if available

  • Other relevant information

The MDR Team’s Decision

If the behavior was caused by the student’s disability or by the school’s failure to follow the IEP, then the behavior was a manifestation of the student’s disability. This means a school cannot suspend or expel the student. The student should return to their prior educational placement. The IEP Team can also decide another placement is more appropriate.

The school must do a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA). An FBA helps school staff understand how the problem behavior serves the student. This allows them to decide how best to reduce or stop the problem behavior.

The school must also do a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). A BIP is designed to help prevent behavioral problems by looking at what causes them. A BIP should include plans to teach the student alternative behavior.

If the MDR finds the behavior was not a manifestation of the student’s disability, then the student can be disciplined. The discipline should be the same as the discipline for students without disabilities who did the same, or similar, thing(s).

Before the school can expel or suspend your child for more than 10 school days, it must give you written notice. This notice must:

  • Inform you of the school’s decision

  • List reasons for the proposed action

  • Give you information about your right to appeal the school’s decision

Interim Alternative Educational Settings

If your child is suspended for more than 10 days or expelled, they could be placed in an Interim Alternative Educational Setting (IAES). Your child’s IEP Team, which you are a part of, will decide on the IAES. Your child will still be entitled to SES while suspended or expelled. The IAES should allow your child to continue working towards goals set in their IEP. A possible IAES could be your home.

If you disagree with the MDR you can appeal the decision. Your child could stay in the IAES until a judge decides the appeal or until the suspension or expulsion term ends, whichever is sooner.

In some cases, your child could be moved to an IAES for 45 days regardless of whether the behavior is caused by their disability. This can happen if:

  • Your child brings a weapon to school

  • Your child uses, sells, or has illegal drugs at school

  • Your child causes serious physical harm to another person at school

  • A hearing officer orders that your child be placed in an IAES for 45 days

Challenging the MDR Finding

You can challenge an MDR decision directly or indirectly.

You can indirectly challenge an MDR decision by asking for an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). Asking for an IEE may not stop the school from suspending or expelling your child. To learn more about IEEs and other evaluations, read Evaluations for Students With Disabilities.

You can also ask the school board to order a reconsideration of the MDR decision. If this request is approved, your child’s suspension or expulsion will be postponed until the IEP Team meets again. You can use the Do-It-Yourself Letter Requesting Reconsideration of Discipline tool to help draft your request.

One way to stop the school from suspending or expelling your child is to challenge (appeal) an MDR decision directly. You must take several steps to formally appeal any decision made by the school or the IEP Team during the MDR process.

First, you must ask for an expedited due process hearing. You must file a request to start the hearing process. Expedited due process hearings are different than other due process hearings. They are expedited (on a faster track) because a student receiving SES is facing disciplinary action.

You can use the Do-It-Yourself Request for an Expedited Due Process Hearing tool to draft a letter to the Michigan Department of Education asking for this hearing. To learn more about due process hearings and the steps you need to take, read Due Process Hearings and Education-Related Complaints.

You can learn more about challenging an MDR in Students With Disabilities: An Advocate’s Guide by Disability Rights Michigan.

The Stay Put Provision

During your appeal, your child will typically stay in the last educational placement agreed to in the IEP. This is known as the “stay put” rule.

Think about the following example:

John, a student in special education, misbehaves. The school administration recommends that he be expelled. John can be suspended for up to 10 days. During this time, the school must do two things:

  1. Send a notice to his parents and set up a school board hearing if John does not admit he did what the school says, and

  2. Schedule an MDR to decide if John’s misbehavior was caused by his disability.

What if…


The MDR Team decides that John’s misbehavior was a manifestation (result) of his disability.

The school board cannot expel John. He must be returned to his prior educational placement. Or, his IEP Team could decide it would be better to change John’s placement. John must also be given an FBA and a BIP.

The MDR Team decides that John’s misbehavior was not a manifestation of his disability. His parents do not ask for a due process hearing.

The school board may meet and expel John from school. However, John is still entitled to SES while he is expelled so that he can continue to make progress on his IEP goals.

The MDR Team decides that John’s misbehavior was not a manifestation of his disability, but John’s parents disagree with this decision. They appeal by filing a due process hearing request to challenge the decision.

John will stay in the IAES until the appeal is resolved or the expulsion term ends.