School Discipline: Rights for All Students

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A school can suspend or expel any student from school for a gross misdemeanor or persistent disobedience. Some dangerous behavior might count as gross misdemeanors. Persistent disobedience could be constant disruptions in class that do not improve after other school responses. School administrators must decide whether suspension or expulsion is in the best interest of the school, not the student. Administrators have a lot of discretion (leeway) when deciding whether to suspend or expel a student.

Principals, vice-principals, or other school administrators handle most discipline. If a student will be kept out of school for more than a few days, the superintendent and school board may become involved. School administrators must give you a written notice. The notice must explain why the school is disciplining your child and what you can do if you don’t agree with the school’s actions.

Informal Rights for Short-Term Discipline

Short-term discipline is a suspension or expulsion for 10 school days or fewer. In these cases, the student must be given verbal or written notice of the reason(s) for the suspension. If the student denies the reasons, the school must give the student a chance to explain what happened.

This can be an informal conversation between the student and the school official. For example: Principal Smith accuses John of disobeying Teacher Jones and asks, “Did you do it?” John says, “No.” Principal Smith says, “I don’t believe you. You’re suspended for three days.” This conversation counts as the minimal notice required for short-term suspension.

Formal Rights for Long-Term Discipline

Suspensions for more than 10 school days must follow more formal procedures. This could be a written notice. It should list the reasons for the suspension and let the parents know they can appeal the decision to the school board. The 10-day rule is important because it involves your right to formal notice and a chance to appeal. It is illegal to suspend a student for more than 10 school days without a formal notice and a chance to appeal.

Serial Suspensions

Suspensions can be added together if they make a pattern. If these add up to more than 10 school days in a school year, they are called serial suspensions. If your child receives a series of short-term suspensions, you may have the right to formal notice and a chance to appeal. The reasons behind the repeated suspensions might mean your child can get Special Education Services (SES). To learn how to request SES, read How to Ask for Special Education Services for My Child.

Constructive Suspensions

If your child has not been formally suspended or expelled but has been removed from class for more than 10 school days, this is known as a constructive suspension. Examples of constructive suspension are in-school suspensions and sending your child home during school hours. Constructive suspensions could require formal notice from the school and give you a right to appeal. Like serial suspensions, the reasons behind constructive suspensions might mean your child can get SES.

Indefinite Suspensions

When a school administrator tries to keep your child out of school for an unknown amount of time, this is known as an indefinite suspension. An example of an indefinite suspension would be not allowing your child to return to school until they see a therapist. This type of suspension might require formal notice and give you a right to appeal if your child is out of school for more than 10 days. The reasons behind an indefinite suspension might mean your child can get SES.

School Board Hearings

If your child is suspended for more than 10 school days, you can appeal the suspension at a school board hearing. The hearing will discuss whether your child committed the offense as charged and, if so, what the punishment should be. Your child has the right to present their side of the story, and to call and cross-examine witnesses. After hearing all the evidence, the school board will decide whether your child committed the offense. If so, the board will decide the appropriate punishment. Often the punishments for offenses are listed in the Student Code of Conduct. The board may be limited to those punishments. Some Student Codes of Conduct allow the school board to give different penalties than those listed in the Code.

Decisions by the school board can be appealed to court. However, courts often agree with the school’s decisions. Unless there was a major error, school boards often believe the administrator in charge of the student’s discipline. A court that reviews an expulsion will probably not reverse the school’s decision unless the student can prove that the school violated the student’s rights in a major way.

You can learn more about the 10-day rule and school board hearings in Students With Disabilities: An Advocate’s Guide by Disability Rights Michigan.

Student Code of Conduct

Most school districts have a Student Code of Conduct. The Student Code of Conduct describes what type of offenses can be punished and the kind of punishment for each offense. Student Codes of Conduct are public records, meaning anyone can see them or get a copy. You can request them from the school or look for them on the school district’s website. You can also request them under the Freedom of Information Act. Many Student Codes of Conduct also have rules that explain how parents may exercise their rights to notice and appeal.

If you are working with a student who is being suspended or expelled from school, get a copy of the specific school district’s Code of Conduct. You can check the Code to see if long-term suspension or expulsion is described as the punishment for the alleged offense. You can also find information about the student’s right to a formal hearing.