Manifestation Determination (MD) Review is Not a Hearing and Parents Must Have Input into Makeup of the MD Team.

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 A pet peeve of mine is the common misperception that the manifestation determination review process is a "hearing." The IDEA requires that when a student with a disability has his/her educational placement changed for a disciplinary reason that a meeting be held to determine the relationship between the student's misconduct and the student's disabilities (see Discipline and Disability: Determining When a Child’s Misbehavior in School is Related to Their Disability). That process is referred to as a Manifestation Determination (MD) review. The team that conducts that review is composed of the relevant members of the student's IEP team. Which members of the IEP team are relevant is determined by the student's parents and the school district. Thus, the MD review team is determined by both the parents and the school district. The MD review team meeting is just that- a meeting. It is not a hearing.

Unfortunately, some educators, parents, and advocates began referring to the MD review process as a "hearing." A "hearing" is an adversarial process before a hearing officer. Again, the IDEA  describes the MD review process as a meeting, not a hearing. This issue was addressed in Cherry Creek School District #5, 56 IDELR 149, (SEA CO 1/24/2011).

My office filed a complaint with the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) on behalf of a mother whose son was being expelled from school after a manifestation determination (MD) review meeting that determined her son's misconduct was not related to his disability. The mother was concerned that prior to the meeting she was not informed that she could invite individuals to the MD review meeting and she was not informed who the district was inviting to the meeting. As a result, the mother did not have an opportunity to assist in determining which members of the IEP team were relevant and should be included on the MD review team. Moreover, after the meeting, the mother was informed that "the hearing officer at this meeting determined that the behavior of concern was not a manifestation of [Student's] handicapping condition."

The CDE Complaints Officer determined that the school district failed to inform the parent either of her right to invite members of the IEP team, or of the members of the team the school district had already invited. This violation of the IDEA impeded the mother's opportunity to participate in the MD meeting. Moreover, the school district's reference to the meeting as a "hearing", indicated a misunderstanding of the process. According to the Complaints Officer:

"The MD process is a collaborative meeting of district staff, the parent, and relevant members of the IEP team...The MD meeting is not an adversarial hearing process where the district and parent present witnesses to a hearing officer in support of their respective positions."

The Complaints Officer required the school district to reconvene the meeting with an MD review team as determined by both the parent and the school district, to revise district policies regarding the MD process, and to train district staff on the the revised policies.