The New Jersey Department of Education recently issued an advisory providing guidance regarding the submission of medical clearance from a psychiatrist, physician, or other mental health professional as a contingency for a student returning to school following a behavioral incident.

The advisory cites data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that indicate more than 33% of high school students experienced mental health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic and nearly 50% of all students reported feeling sad or hopeless. Out of an abundance of caution for the safety of students and staff, local educational agency administrators may seek to remove a student from school pending clearance from a psychiatrist or other medical professional following a behavioral incident.

Barring a student from school pending a psychiatric clearance is an informal removal and is subject to the disciplinary requirements in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,  N.J.A.C. 6A:14-2.8 and N.J.A.C. 6A:16-7.2 and 10, which include, but are not limited to, provision of services by the fifth day of removal to ensure progress in the general education curriculum or the goals and objectives of the individualized education program, convening of a manifestation determination meeting and revisions to the IEP. Should the LEA make the determination that the behavior of a student is likely to result in injury to the student or others and proposes to place the child in an interim alternative educational setting, that determination can only be made by an administrative law judge, and the placement shall not exceed 45 school days.

N.J.A.C. 6A:14-1.1(d), requires that special education and related services be provided to students with disabilities at public expense, with no charge to the parents. A clearance by a psychiatrist or other medical professional as a requirement to return to school is considered an assessment provided at public expense. LEAs shall not require parents or guardians to incur the cost of a psychiatric clearance.

July 2022 guidance regarding the discipline of students with disabilities from the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, included information on informal removals, which are actions taken by school personnel to remove a student for part or all of the school day without invoking disciplinary procedures in the IDEA.

Considerations for Students Identified as Potentially a Student with a Disability

The IDEA and N.J.A.C. 6A:14-3.3(f), require that the disciplinary requirements set forth in federal and state special education regulations apply to students who are identified as potentially having a disability. Students who have been referred to the child study team or are undergoing an evaluation to determine eligibility for special education are considered potentially a student with a disability. Any removal from school, including removal pending psychiatric clearance, is subject to the protections in the IDEA and N.J.A.C. 6A:14-2.8, and N.J.A.C. 6A:16-7.2 and 10.

Questions should be directed to the Office of Special Education at 609-376-9060 or via email.