SJ Quinney College of Law, University of Utah


The expansion of police involvement at schools has had serious implications for students with disabilities. By enacting IDEA, Congress recognized that these students deserve special protections and entitlements. In the most recent amendments to this federal law, Congress included important guidelines regarding functional behavioral assessments (FBAs) and behavior intervention plans (BIPs) to outline how school personnel must respond to undesired behavior of students with disabilities. Recognizing the special behavioral needs of students with disabilities is one way to reduce the current reality where students with disabilities are suspended, expelled, restrained, and secluded at much higher rates than their peers.

Although SROs can play a valuable role in the school environment, SROs also must recognize the unique needs and legal protections of students with disabilities. The existing case law reveals two important points. First, SROs can act reasonably towards students with disabilities where safety concerns exist. Second, SROs also can overreact and respond in punitive ways when responding to behavioral incidents involving students with disabilities. Of concern, a few of these recent cases have involved SROs mistreating young children with disabilities.

These cases reveal the need for a comprehensive training program for SROs, clear delineation of the scope of—and limitations on—the SROs’ duties, and strict adherence by both school personnel and the SROs to their respective roles. Ultimately, we hope that this article will increase the awareness of this significant issue and result in a multi-prong approach that involves a variety of stakeholders, including school administrators, teachers, SROs, and parents of students with disabilities.