School Discipline and the Special Needs Child


Published:

The federal government recently issued new guidelines aimed at reducing suspensions and expulsions in public schools. Their call to action included statistics showing that children with disabilities are disproportionately affected by school disciplinary procedures. Recent complaints filed against Durham Public Schools (in 2013) and Wake County Public Schools (in 2014) by civil rights and disability advocates are likely to raise additional concerns for Triangle-area parents of children with special needs.

Ann M. Paradis, a local attorney who represents students and their parents in matters of education law, notes that children whose conditions may affect their behavior — such as attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, mental health challenges and cognitive disabilities — tend to receive a disproportionate amount of disciplinary action, ranging from temporary removal from the classroom to expulsion and even arrest by school resource officers. As the government, schools and advocacy organizations work to address this complex issue, it's more important than ever for parents to know their children's rights and to advocate for appropriate solutions to discipline issues at school.

While each child's case is unique, the following mandates exist under federal education law:
• A child with a diagnosed disability is entitled to the same opportunities as his or her nondisabled peers (a "free and appropriate education") provided in the least restrictive environment possible. An Individualized Education Plan or 504 Plan documents the services and supports that a child will receive them. If the disability includes behavioral challenges, appropriate interventions should be part of the plan. Nancy Keuffer, exceptional children compliance/behavior support coordinator for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, notes that parents can play a critical role by helping their child understand what is appropriate behavior at school. "I always tell parents it's important for them to review the school's code of conduct, including information about disciplinary policies for exceptional children," she says.
• Students who receive special education services can only be suspended for a cumulative period of 10 days before the school must conduct a manifestation review to determine if a student's behavior is a result of his or her disability. If the review finds that the student's behavior is a manifestation of disability, suspension for more than 10 days is generally not allowed.
• Paradis says any disciplinary action that removes the child from the educational setting (such as in-school suspension or being sent home early) may constitute exclusion. Schools should document all such interventions so a complete record of disciplinary action is available. A series of shorter suspensions that form a pattern equivalent to 10 days' removal requires an manifestation review as well. Schools should document all such interventions so a complete record of disciplinary action is available.
• Even if it is determined that a disability did not contribute to the behavior, in which case a longer-term suspension is allowed, schools are required to provide educational services during the suspension, create a behavioral intervention plan and determine if further assessment is appropriate.
• Special education students are protected from unilateral movement to a new school, such as an alternative program, as that constitutes a change of placement. "Placement decisions must be made by the IEP team, of which the parent is an important member," Paradis says.

Paradis recommends that parents attend all manifestation review meetings and request a review of the child's special education plan to determine if additional services are appropriate. "Most of the time, suspended and excluded students are not being provided the necessary supports to be successful in school," she says.

Keuffere says if school officials are seeing a pattern of infractions related to a student's disability, it is the IEP team's responsibility to "protect and support that child. If the pattern persists, then it means we need to try different interventions."

Legal Recourse for Exclusion

Parents who feel their child's rights have been violated may take legal recourse. "If changes are not made to the student's IEP to prevent further incidents, the parent could consider filing a complaint with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction or consulting an attorney about filing for a due process hearing with the Office of Administrative Hearings," Paradis says. "Parents of students who are excluded ... due to their disability could also consider filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. Frequently, exclusion can be resolved quickly with a letter from an attorney."

There is one significant exception to the above protections: If a student brings a weapon or drugs to school or causes serious injury to another person, he or she can be removed from school for 45 days, regardless of whether the conduct was a manifestation of disability. In such cases — and in less serious incidents as well, depending on the school's policies — the student may be charged with a criminal offense. While juveniles are typically appointed an attorney to represent them in court, Paradis recommends securing counsel with experience in education law as well.

It is important to note that without an IEP or 504 Plan in place, a student with a disability may be treated the same way a more typical peer would be. Parents who have concerns that their child's behavior is related to an undiagnosed disability should request a psychoeducational evaluation by the school.

Ultimately, Paradis emphasizes, it is the school's responsibility to meet the standards of federal law, but parents are often their child's best advocate.

"Many times parents feel guilty after they start learning about student and parent rights, and they regret not knowing the information earlier," she says. "But I don't think it's ever too late to learn more about your child's disability, learn the law, and develop effective advocacy tools."

Many schools are taking the new federal guidelines seriously. Keuffer, for example, heads a CHCCS committee working to address disciplinary rates among sub-groups of students, including those with special needs. But it goes beyond that.

"We're looking at disciplinary procedures for all students," she says. "We're looking at the function of behavior and how to use 'restorative practice' — not just imposing a punishment, but rather working with the student to change the behavior and improve the response in the future."

Resources for Families

Disability Rights North Carolina
disabilityrightsnc.org
North Carolina's Protection and Advocacy agency, established by federal mandate to protect the rights of people with disabilities and their families through legal support, advocacy, referral and education.

U.S. Department of Education
ed.gov
Information about federal education law and student rights in schools.

Public Schools of North Carolina, Exceptional Children's Division
ec.ncpublicschools.gov
State Department of Public Instruction's information and resources on special education.

Partners in Justice
arcnc.org/partners-in-justice
Program established by The Arc to provide support to individuals with intellectual disabilities and their advocates in navigating the criminal justice system.

See "Disability Support and Advocacy" and "Special Education Eligibility/Support" in our Exceptional Child directory listings for additional organizations working on behalf of individuals with disabilities.

Karen Lewis Taylor is a writer, editor and mother of two. She and her family live in Apex.

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June 2019

For almost 200 years, farmers brought their wheat and corn to what is now Yates Mill to have their grains ground into flour and meal. Today, you can stop by the Yates Mill visitor center to see a...

Cost: Free

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Historic Yates Mill County Park
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500 S. Salisbury St.
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It`s 1863 at Yates Mill, and the yard is alive with activity! Step back in time with our 19th-century costumed interpreters and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal.  Tour fee:...

Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60+), $3/Child (ages 7-16), Free/Child (6 - under)

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Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Crowder County Park
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Cost: $12/resident, $16/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
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Cost: Free

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Carrboro Cybrary
100 N Greensboro St
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-918-7387
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Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
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Cost: See website for fees

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Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
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Telephone: 833-202-7626
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Kids hike, make projects and engage in nature activities. Ages 5-8. Register online. Choose course #124691.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Kids hike, make projects and engage in nature activities. Ages 5-8. Register online. Choose course #124963.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Travel 238,900 miles above the earth as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of humans’ first landing on the moon. What's it like to travel in space? With the help of some volunteers, kids...

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Orange County Main Library
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Travel 238,900 miles above the earth as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of humans’ first landing on the moon. What's it like to travel in space? With the help of some volunteers, kids...

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Orange County Main Library
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Ages 11 and older with special needs stroll through the woods. Register online. Choose course #124383.

Cost: $2/resident, $3/nonresident

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Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
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Vacation Bible School includes dinner. Register at wpumc.com/vbs

Cost: Free

Where:
White Plains United Methodist Church
313 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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Telephone: 919-467-9394
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Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Cost: See website for fees

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Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
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Vacation Bible School includes dinner. Register at wpumc.com/vbs

Cost: Free

Where:
White Plains United Methodist Church
313 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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Sponsor: White Plains UMC
Telephone: 919-467-9394
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Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Court
Knightdale, NC  27545
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Cost: $5

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Drive
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Martha Kane
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Bees are really important in our gardens! Read The Honey Robber and the Bee by Eric Carle and discover the world of bees and honey! Find your fellow bees by following your sense of smell, make a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
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Enjoy tea time for the whole family. Samples of hot tea, cold tea, and kombucha will be provided, along with games and family fun.

Cost: Free

Where:
IngenuiTea Kombucha Coffee & Tea
514 E Williams St
APEX, NC  27502
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Sponsor: IngenuiTea Brews
Telephone: 919-438-3684
Contact Name: Mark Poole
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Vacation Bible School includes dinner. Register at wpumc.com/vbs

Cost: Free

Where:
White Plains United Methodist Church
313 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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Sponsor: White Plains UMC
Telephone: 919-467-9394
Contact Name: Michele Vansteen
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Enjoy an out-of-this world space spectacular event. Preschoolers and their families are invited to fly in for space-themed games, crafts, and more. No registration required.

Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Court
Knightdale, NC  27545
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Ages 11 and older with special needs enjoy yoga and breathing exercises. Register online. Choose course #125022.

Cost: $9/resident, $11/nonresident

Where:
Bond Park Community Center
801 High House Rd.
Cary, NC  27513
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Join park staff for an informal fishing experience for the whole family. Bring your own poles or borrow one of ours through the Tackle Loaner Program. Bait and basic instruction are provided. All...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
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Cost: Free

Where:
N.C. Museum of History
5 E. Edenton St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Enjoy giant checkers, giant jenga, bubbles, and special art activities in Downtown Park. All other permanent games (ping pong, bocce ball, chess) will continue to be available.

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Park
319 S. Academy St.
Cary, NC  27511
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Parent and child ages 2-5 water plants in the native wildflower gardens. Register online. Choose course #124907.

Cost: Free

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Join Optimist Aquatic Center as thousands of kids and adults around the world unite for the world's largest swimming lesson. The World's Largest Swimming Lesson will celebrate its 10th...

Cost: Free

Where:
Optimist Aquatic Center
5902 Whittier Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Website »

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Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Court
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Website »

More information

Vacation Bible School includes dinner. Register at wpumc.com/vbs

Cost: Free

Where:
White Plains United Methodist Church
313 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Sponsor: White Plains UMC
Telephone: 919-467-9394
Contact Name: Michele Vansteen
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Every year on June 21, we enjoy the most hours of sunlight during the whole year. Discover the science and cultural celebrations behind this special summer day. Make a pretty sun catcher to hang in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

What do Historic Yates Mill County Park and the woodland faeries have in common? They both love nature! Take a short walk near the millpond to search for evidence of faeries (sightings are not...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Enjoy magic, storytelling and origami with Yasu Ishida. Grades K-5.

Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Court
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy an indoor/outdoor vendor market with food trucks, coffee, live music outside and plenty of fun for all ages.  

Cost: Free

Where:
Pine State Coffee
1614 Automotive Way
Raleigh, NC  27604
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Night Market
Website »

More information

Vacation Bible School includes dinner. Register at wpumc.com/vbs

Cost: Free

Where:
White Plains United Methodist Church
313 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Sponsor: White Plains UMC
Telephone: 919-467-9394
Contact Name: Michele Vansteen
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How many fireflies can you catch? Sign up for an evening of summer fun as we catch and release lightning bugs. Explore what gives them a special glow through hands-on discovery, games, and more!...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Every year on June 21, we enjoy the most hours of sunlight during the whole year. Discover the science and cultural celebrations behind this special summer day. Make a pretty sun catcher to hang in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: $12/person. Free for ages 2 and younger.

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Cost: Free

Where:
Duke Homestead State Historic Site
2828 Duke Homestead Rd.
Durham, NC  27705
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Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
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DIY Fest returns with more than 30 artisans and family-friendly activities to support the mission of Durham 150, the anniversary of the incorporation of the City of Durham. 

Cost: Free

Where:
The Scrap Exchange
2050 Chapel Hill Rd.
Durham, NC  27707
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Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
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Want to get inside Historic Yates Mill? Join us for a half-hour tour (starting at 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30 or 3 p.m.) to view the main power drive and milling machinery while exploring the mill's history...

Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60+), $3/Child (ages 7-16), Free/Child (6 - under)

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
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More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
NC Cooperative Extension
721 Foster St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Sponsor: March of Dimes/Duke Family Medicine
Telephone: 678-246-9027
Contact Name: Courtney Simpson
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Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Cost: $12 advance tickets, $15 at the door. Free for ages 12 and younger

Where:
Vollmer Farm
677 NC Hwy 98 East
Bunn, NC  27508
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Sponsor: Vollmer Farm
Telephone: 919-496-3076
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Enjoy a movie under the stars and play games at 7:15 before the movie starts. 

Cost: Free

Where:
E. Carroll Joyner Park
701 Harris Rd.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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