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Navigating The School Discipline Process

One mistake shouldn’t ruin your child’s education. Unfortunately, schools, from kindergarten to college, have a lot of power to deal with misconduct as an education lawyer has experienced many times. Having a school discipline lawyer by your side can help you and your child navigate the school’s disciplinary process and get your student back in the classroom as soon as possible.

The Reality Of School Discipline

Schools face a lot of pressure to keep environments safe from drugs, violence, and firearms. Many have adopted “zero-tolerance policies,” which enforce severe penalties for certain behaviors. A recent survey by the U.S. Department of Education found that 79% of schools enforce zero-tolerance for violence, and 88% do the same for drug possession. Schools continuously add more actions to their codes of conduct, making it essential to understand these rules.

What Causes A School Disciplinary Proceeding?

A school discipline proceeding may arise due to a lack of understanding, an accident, or an honest mistake. For example, schools may initiate a disciplinary inquiry for these offenses as shared by our friends at K Altman Law:

  • Bullying
  • Violence or Threats of Violence
  • Possession of Alcohol, Drugs, or Weapons
  • Disruptive or Insubordinate Behavior
  • Academic Misconduct such as Cheating or Plagiarism
  • Improper use of Computers or Technology

Types Of School Penalties

Should your student be found responsible, their school may impose a wide array of penalties. In most cases, schools typically separate discipline based on in-school consequences and exclusionary punishments.

In-School Consequences:

  • Exclusion or Removal: Prevents your student from attending a particular teacher’s class or activity for up to two days.
  • Detention: Requires your student to stay after school, during lunch-time, or on a Saturday, typically seated in a study hall or quiet room.
  • Revoked Privileges: Participation in extracurricular activities, clubs, and sports teams may be restricted.
  • Restricted Computer or Library Time: Limits optional access.
  • Extra Projects: Your student may need to write an apology letter, complete community service, or pay for lost or damaged property.

Exclusionary Penalties:

  • Short-term Suspension: Bans your student from school for 10 or fewer school days. Some schools assign students to “in-school suspension,” where they attend school but are kept from their regular classroom.
  • Long-term Suspension: Bans your student from school for a period longer than 10 days, but less than one semester or trimester during the current school year.
  • Expulsion: Bans your student from school for up to one semester or trimester.
  • Emergency Removal: Occurs when your student’s conduct allegedly causes an immediate and continuing danger to others or to the educational process. Schools may take action without first providing you or your student an opportunity to be heard. Emergency removal lasts no more than one day.
  • Emergency Expulsion: Excludes your student from school for up to 10 days. After 10 days, it must end or be changed to a different form of discipline. If extended, the school must send a letter changing the emergency expulsion to a long-term suspension or expulsion.

Why Should I Hire A Lawyer For A School Disciplinary Proceeding?

Contacting an attorney early on is imperative because school discipline moves quickly from the alleged act to the imposition of punishment. These school discipline proceedings obstruct the education process, cause undue stress, and consume your student’s day-to-day life. Since disciplinary proceedings can originate from items buried deep in your school’s code of conduct, securing high-quality legal representation should be your first step.

Legal Assistance:

  • Early Intervention: A lawyer can step in early to prevent the situation from escalating.
  • Investigation: Lawyers conduct their own investigation by interviewing pertinent witnesses, collecting and preserving all relevant evidence, and preparing your student’s defense.
  • Representation: Legal representation ensures that your student receives personal respect, due process rights, and the advocacy they deserve.

Every Public School Commits To A Safe Learning Environment

Every public school commits to creating a learning environment where students can thrive. To ensure this, the school district often establishes a student code of conduct. This code details student behavior expectations, disciplinary procedures, and the rights of students. It aligns with state law and federal law (under the U.S.C.) to ensure schools maintain a safe and educational environment for all.

The Changing Landscape Of School Discipline

Gone are the days when school officials could raise a paddle to poorly behaving students. Today, in all but a few states, the practice of corporal punishment is not allowed by law. Schools must now determine different ways to address student misbehavior, especially in light of a growing number of on-campus crimes.

Discipline And Punishment: Emerging Theories

Education programs today are exploring new approaches to student discipline. Discipline isn’t only about punishment; it’s about behavior correction and reducing disruptions to ensure a safe school environment for all. Discipline is part of a broader intervention plan, often including counseling or other educational services. Instead of only punishing students, schools now try to focus on the root cause of poor behavior.

Techniques Include:

  • School-Wide Policies: Reward adherence to key rules.
  • Behavioral Interventions: One-on-one support and incremental disciplinary steps.
  • Teachable Moments: Turning disciplinary measures into opportunities for growth.

Meanwhile, zero-tolerance policies still enforce strict punishment for grave offenses, such as weapon or drug possession. This underscores the no-excuse stance on certain serious behaviors.

Student Codes Of Conduct

Every school district has its own student code of conduct, setting rules and guidelines that students must follow on school property and during school activities. Schools often update these codes with amendments approved by the Board of Education. If a student violates the code, they are entitled to due process rights, ensuring fair treatment and disciplinary action aligned with board policy and state law.

Truancy Overview

Truancy, or being absent from school without good cause, disrupts the education process and affects the student’s future. It is also a community-wide issue, linked to substance abuse, vandalism, auto theft, gang activity, and higher juvenile daytime crime rates. Truants have a higher likelihood of failing to graduate from high school, leading to social and economic issues in adulthood.

The Disciplinary Process

Discipline in schools is essential to maintain a safe learning environment. The process is designed to be transparent, fair, and in the best interests of all students. Here’s a brief overview of the typical steps in the disciplinary process:

  1. Incident Reporting: Reports can be made by staff members, students, or other parties.
  2. Preliminary Investigation: The school conducts an investigation to gather information.
  3. Notification: The student and their parent/guardian receive written notice of the alleged violation.
  4. Meeting/Conference: The student has the opportunity to share their side of the story.
  5. Appeal: Students and parents can appeal to a hearing officer for a review of the disciplinary action.

Appealing Disciplinary Procedures

If parents or students feel that the disciplinary action received is unjust or excessively severe, they can initiate an appeals process. The first step is to submit a formal request, often in writing, to the school or school district. An informal hearing with school personnel may occur, followed by a formal appeal if necessary. For complex situations or concerns about the student’s rights, legal assistance can ensure the student’s rights are adequately protected.

Navigating the school discipline process can be daunting, but having a lawyer by your side can make all the difference. By providing early intervention, conducting investigations, and ensuring fair treatment, lawyers help protect your child’s educational future. If your child faces a school disciplinary proceeding, don’t wait – seek legal help to secure the best possible outcome.