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Public School Disciplinary Hearings

Disciplinary hearings in public schools are completely different than disciplinary hearings that are held in college. If your child has been threatened with disciplinary action by his or her school, it is very important for you to understand the rights that you and your child have. Public school disciplinary hearings have become increasingly adversarial with strict, mandatory punishments. By taking steps to protect your child’s rights when facing a disciplinary hearing, you may secure a more favorable outcome.

Why Public School Discipline Has Become So Strict

Years ago, school administrators and teachers handled school discipline matters themselves, utilizing discretion in deciding how to deal with different infractions of the schools’ disciplinary codes. With increased focus on gangs and drugs in schools along with school massacres at schools across the country, many schools have adopted zero-tolerance policies with strict punishments attached. A large number of schools have school resource officers on-site who are police officers, and the officers often handle misconduct, funneling students from schools into the juvenile justice system. The disciplinary hearings have consequently become much riskier for students, leading to the need for legal representation at the hearings in many cases.

Notice Requirements and Procedures

Schools must notify the parents of children who they intend to suspend. The notices must be sent in writing, and they may be hand-delivered or mailed to their parents’ home. The notice must outline what happened that lead to the suspension decision. It may also include information such as hearing dates and a listing of the child’s rights. The notice must either be given shortly before the suspension starts unless the principal has made the determination that the child is a disruption to the school or poses a danger to others. If the suspension will be five days or less, students have the right to request a hearing with their principal. At the conference with the principal, students have the right to question the people who reported the alleged misconduct. Students have the responsibility of requesting a conference with the principal because it is not automatic. Your student may bring you with him or her, and he or she may also be able to bring an attorney if the principal agrees. If your student is 16 or younger, he or she has the right to continue with equivalent schoolwork while he or she is suspended.

Superintendents’ Hearings for Long-Term Suspensions

Under the law, students can only be suspended for six days or more if the superintendent issues the suspension. The school must notify you before the suspension starts in writing, and the district may either hand-deliver it to you or send it via express mail. In the notice of a long-term suspension, you should find an explanation of why the school is planning to suspend your student. It will also include information about your child’s right to ask for a formal hearing about the suspension. The school may place your child on a short-term suspension while he or she is waiting for the hearing.

The hearing is supposed to be fair, but it is very important to have legal representation by a lawyer who is experienced in education law and school discipline cases. Your child’s lawyer will be able to present evidence on your child’s behalf, cross-examine witnesses who are called to testify against your child and to give a summation to the hearing officer. Your child has the right to remain silent and cannot be forced to testify. If the alleged misconduct may also result in criminal charges, it is important for you to talk about this with your child’s lawyer. If criminal charges have already been filed, your lawyer may request an adjournment to postpone the hearing while the corollary criminal case proceeds. Finally, your child has the right to appeal a decision by the hearing officer to a higher level.

Getting help for your child when he or she is facing a suspension is very important. Even if your child is not criminally charged, disciplinary records can remain on his or her educational record, making it more difficult for him or her to go to college in the future. If your child was arrested by the school resource officer, having an arrest record may also cause damage even if the charges are ultimately dismissed. With legal help from an experienced lawyer, you may be able to help your child to avoid more serious consequences and to protect his or her academic record. Contact us today to learn more about your child’s rights and to schedule a consultation.