Simply put, discipline in education refers to a broader concept of rules and strategies implemented by schools. Discipline in education is intended to “manage” student behavior; some practices claim to encourage self discipline on the part of the students.

School disciplinary procedures vary drastically from school to school. What is considered to be acceptable discipline also varies according to whether the school is public or private, what state the school is in, and various other factors. The two forms of discipline discussed here will be suspension and expulsion.

Suspension is one type of student discipline in which the student loses some of their educational rights and privileges for a specific amount of time. Generally speaking, the student is denied the right to attend classes and school activities. This can go on for a maximum of roughly one week. Specific rules governing suspension vary according to the school district, as previously mentioned.

Most schools will suspend a student any time there is “good cause” for suspension. What constitutes good cause would generally be any behavior that endangers the health, safety, or emotional wellbeing of others. 

Some examples of the most common grounds for suspension include, but may not be limited to:

  • Assault and battery of a student or school staff member;
  • Possession of a weapon, whether real or fake;
  • Possession, use, or sale of alcohol;
  • Possession, use, or sale of controlled substances;
  • Damage and/or theft of school or private property;
  • Disruption of reasonable school activity;
  • Willful defiance of school authority; and
  • Harassment or threatening of other students or school staff.

Expulsion refers to a student being permanently removed from their educational setting, because of a serious violation of school rules or policies. Once again, how long expulsion may last varies according to the school district as well as by state.

Although much related to school discipline is dependent upon each specific school or district, every school district allows for an academic suspension appeal when any sort of student discipline occurs. A denial of the opportunity to appeal a disciplinary action would be a denial of the student’s due process rights.

How Can I Appeal a Short-Term Suspension or Detention?

In terms of appeals for short-term suspension or detention under student discipline laws, you may be able to request a grievance conference. Doing so would be appropriate if you feel that your student has been disciplined unfairly, but received only a mild punishment such as short-term suspension or detention. Requesting a grievance conference would be on their behalf.

The grievance procedure for mild disciplinary actions is generally less formal than the appeal process for harsher punishments, such as expulsion. Although the exact procedure may differ from school to school, it usually involves:

  • A conference involving the student, parent(s), and principal in order to discuss the incident and punishment;
  • If the parties involved are not satisfied with the conference, they may request a second grievance conference which would be with a designee of the superintendent; and
  • If the parties remain unsatisfied, they would then submit an appeal to their district’s disciplinary appeals board.

Larger violations, whether on the part of the student or the school, would need to be addressed in a different manner. This procedure is, once again, intended for mild disciplinary actions under student discipline laws.

How Can I Appeal a Long-Term Suspension or Expulsion?

Long-term suspension refers to when your student has been suspended for longer than ten days. If they have been suspended long-term, or if they have been expelled, you would want to appeal this decision. Generally speaking, most school districts will offer some sort of method for appealing the disciplinary action.

If you must appeal a more serious punishment, such as long-term suspension or expulsion, you will most likely need to:

  • Contact your county’s appeals office immediately, because there is generally a time limit on how long you can wait to file an appeal;
  • Submit an appeal to the appeals office following their provided procedures;
  • Wait for your appeal to be reviewed by a legal expert, who will evaluate whether the disciplinary action was appropriate under the circumstances; and
  • Request an appeal hearing once the legal expert has evaluated your claim.

What Rights Do I Have at an Appeal Hearing?

As previously mentioned, student discipline becomes a bigger issue when the discipline violates the students rights, specifically their right to due process. Due Process refers to the Constitutional right provided by the 14th amendment, which states that no state can “deprive any person of their life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” What this means is that the state cannot legally deprive you of your basic rights without first allowing you proper legal proceedings. An example of this would be a trial.

Each and every student has the right to education. Whenever a student is deprived of this right through disciplinary proceedings, such as suspension or expulsion, the student is entitled to due process. This right to due process includes the right to notice, as well as a fair hearing prior to the administration of long-term suspension or expulsion.

It is important to note that all long-term suspensions and expulsions, no matter the circumstances, must be evaluated in a formal hearing. During this hearing, the student has the following rights:

  • Know what specific rules were allegedly violated;
  • Have the decision regarding the suspension or expulsion decided by an impartial, three-person panel;
  • Bring evidence and witnesses to support the student’s case;
  • Bring legal counsel to represent themselves; and
  • Have the hearing be closed to the public in order to protect the privacy of the student.

Because the rules regarding appeals differ according to state, it is imperative that you understand the laws in your district. Some other rights that you will most likely have associated with an appeal hearing are:

  • The right to represent your child, or to hire a lawyer at your own expense;
  • The right to bring a person, who is not a witness to the hearing, as a supporter;
  • The right to request an interpreter;
  • The right to examine the evidence that the school is using against your child;
  • The right for your child to be present at the hearing; and
  • Your child will have the right to confront witnesses that testify against them, and present a defense or explanation of their behavior.

What If I Am Not Satisfied with the Outcome?

If your student is denied the right to due process, you can use this as a defense to a suspension or expulsion decision. This is because a denial of due process procedures provides grounds for the reversal of a suspension or expulsion decision of the board of education, and for immediate reinstatement to school.

Due process rights can only be denied temporarily in an emergency situation. If the school believes that your student poses an immediate threat to themselves or others, the school staff can suspend them immediately for up to ten days without a hearing. However, the due process procedures must be provided as soon as possible because again, only in emergency situations can due process be provided following the application of discipline as opposed to preceding the application of discipline.

If you are not satisfied with the outcome of the appeal hearing, you may make a written appeal to the district superintendent’s office.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

If you wish to appeal a decision regarding student discipline, you should consult with an experienced local government lawyer. It is important that the student’s rights especially are protected, and that all local and federal procedures are followed. 

An experienced local government attorney will help you understand what those rights and procedures are. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you and/or your student, as needed.