Students’ Rights when Encountering Suspension
While it is true that students are required to follow all school rules and regulations, they still have rights that must be protected. Enforcement tools such as suspension and expulsion are critical to ensure a safe and secure environment for staff and students alike. However, these tools must be carried out according to Discipline Codes of Conduct, specific to your school district and/or to your state. Be sure to get a copy of your Code of Conduct or Discipline Code each year, it contains important information about suspension. Most schools post their Discipline Codes online.
“Short-Term” Suspension (5 school days or shorter)
Suspension is a serious punishment that can have important consequences on the student’s education and their future. There are certain rules a school must follow in order to suspend a student. Schools are required to implement suspensions in a manner that protects a student’s right to an education and ensures the student’s right to due process. Under New York state law, school principals have discretion to suspend students for up to five days. There is little a student can do to fight these administrative suspensions, unless the action would cause a serious or immediate detriment such as being kicked off of a sports team.
The school must provide a student with “notice” before the suspension begins or shortly thereafter. Notice is a letter that informs a student and his/her parents that the school wants to suspend the student and why. It will also inform the family of important dates, people to contact for information, and maybe an explanation of the student’s rights. Additionally, notice of the suspension must be given before it begins. If the principal determines that the student is a danger or a disruption, a short-term suspension can begin before notice is given, but notice must be given within 24 hours. The notice must include a description of the event and the date that it took place. The description must also have enough detail for the student to understand what event the suspension is regarding. For a short term suspension, a student has the right to request a conference with the principal, where the student, parent/guardian, or attorney can question the person who accused the student of misbehaving, if it is a teacher, school employee, school officer, or administrator. It is important to remember however, that under a short term suspension, a student only has a right to request such a conference; they are not automatically entitled to one.
“Long-Term” Suspension (6 school days or longer)
In New York State, only the Superintendent of your School District can suspend a student for more than 5 days. Similar to short-term suspension, the student is entitled to “notice” as described above. However, students that receive a long term suspension are entitled to a formal suspension hearing and need not request one. If a student believes that the hearing cannot or will not be conducted fairly or without bias, or if a parent is unsure of their child’s rights, they should contact an attorney immediately. An attorney can represent the student in that hearing, or negotiate privately with the superintendent, building principal or school board. They have the resources to show the school authorities that there are other solutions available, whether the behavior stems from family tensions, learning difficulties, or a student's need for special services.
If your child’s school is maneuvering to suspend your child, you as the parents should consider hiring a legal representative to demand a hearing and fight unreasonably harsh punishment. Before you take action, contact an experienced attorney who understands students' rights.