According to the California School Board Association, research shows that harsh discipline measures fail to improve school safety or student success. Suspensions and expulsions result in an increased risk of students dropping out of school, grade repetition, lower test scores and increased detention in juvenile justice facilities, all of which contribute to the school to prison pipeline. 


These discipline policies disproportionately affect minorities and students with disabilities.

Data shows students in California with disabilities lose far more days of instruction due to suspensions than their peers. During the 2016-2017 school year, students with disabilities lost an average of 22 more days of instruction than those without disabilities due to these policies.

Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports

In an effort to stem the tide of suspensions and expulsions, in recent years, school districts in California have adopted Positive Behavior Intervention Strategies, also know as PBIS, which are universal, school-wide prevention strategies for improving student behavior and school climate. The underlying goal is to teach behavioral expectations in the same manner as any core curriculum subject. Each school focuses on three to five behavioral expectations that are positively stated and easy to remember. Instead of telling students what not to do, the school will focus on the preferred behaviors. For example, one school chose the expectations: Be safe. Be responsible. Be respectful. 


PBIS uses a three-tiered public health model to create primary (school-wide), secondary (targeted) and tertiary (individual) systems of support. For children whose behavior remains a problem under the school-wide positive behavior strategies, they may receive more individualized targeted interventions, such as the participation in group therapy under tier two, or individual therapy under tier three. 

Special education behavioral supports

For children who qualify for special education services, behavioral strategies and supports may be written into their IEPs. These behavioral strategies may include a myriad of supports such as:



A functional assessment is an approach to figuring out why your child acts a certain way. The term "Functional Behavioral Assessment" comes from what is called a "Functional Assessment" or "Functional Analysis" which is the process of determining the cause (or "function") of behavior before developing an intervention. The intervention must be based on the hypothesized cause (function) of behavior. 

A behavior intervention plan, often called a BIP, is an action plan to address certain behavior that is impeding a student's learning or that of other students. For a student with an IEP or 504 plan, the BIP becomes a part of these documents.


A BIP includes “positive behavioral interventions, strategies and supports." Behavior Intervention Plans should focus on understanding ‘why’ the behavior occurred (i.e., ‘the function’ or ‘communicative intent’) then focus on teaching an alternative behavior that meets the student’s need in a more acceptable way. This includes making instructional and environmental changes, providing reinforcement, reactive strategies and effective communication. This is explained and outlined in the following manual.

The American Civil Liberties Union recommends school districts prohibit the use of zero tolerance policies that prevent a thoughtful response to any given student discipline matter. Instead, the goal is to teach appropriate behavior. 


Manifestation Determination

Call us for a free phone consultation:


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Or send us an email: 


980 9th Street, 16th Floor, Sacramento, CA 


3017 Douglas Blvd., Suite 300, Roseville, CA


Or meet with us at

1901 Harrison Street, Suite 1100

Oakland, CA  


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