When can a School Suspend a Student?
Schools may discipline students for a variety of behavioral issues. These may include talking out of turn, interrupting a teacher, a fight at school, or bringing drugs or weapons to campus. In these scenarios, the school administrators and ultimately the principal retain wide latitude in determining a student’s punishment. The school administration can issue these punishments with little to no input from the student or their guardians.
Do Students Facing Punishment have any Rights?
Schools and teachers may discipline students in a variety of ways including verbal warnings, reprimands, in, or out, of school suspension, and even expulsion. Some of these punishments are harsher than others and there are a couple of instances where certain rights of the student are triggered. First, if the principal is recommending expulsion or a suspension of longer than 10 days, then the student shall be given a hearing in front of school officials. Additionally, if a student is accused of committing an assault or battery upon a teacher or school employee, then a hearing may be had if the employee so wishes, regardless of the punishment.
Anytime a suspension longer than 10 days or an expulsion is imposed Georgia law requires that the student is given a hearing. This hearing is heard in front of a hearing officer, panel, or tribunal of school officials. This hearing will only happen after the child and family are given notice either in person or by receiving a letter in the mail. This notice must include where the hearing will be heard, what happens at the hearing, what the allegations are against the child, and will advise the parties of their right to be present with their attorney.
After the suspension starts, the school only has 10 days to provide the student with notice of this hearing. At the hearing, both the school and the student can present their own evidence to the tribunal as well as challenge the other party’s evidence through cross-examination. Teachers at the school may also be witnesses, however, should always be given at least three days notice that there is an upcoming hearing. Finally, this entire hearing must be recorded in electronic or written form and made available to everyone involved in the hearing.
Students have the right to bring an attorney to the hearing to represent them. These hearings are different from criminal proceedings, however, because the school will not provide a student with an attorney. Even if a student cannot hire an attorney they, along with their parents, still have the right to speak up for themselves and challenge the school’s evidence.
At the beginning of the hearing members of the tribunal will explain to the student and their parents what will take place during the hearing. Parents and the student are free to ask questions about the hearing if they do not understand the instructions from the tribunal. First, the school will present its evidence and witnesses. The school will call their witnesses and ask them to tell their side of the story. The student and parents then have an opportunity to ask questions of the school’s witnesses. After that the student may call witnesses to tell their side of the story, they may tell their side of the story themselves, or even have someone who knows the child speak about the child. This could be someone from church, the community, a coach, etc.
Can the Student Appeal?
At the end of this hearing the disciplinary office, panel, or tribunal must issue its decision based on the evidence it heard. This decision must be sent to everyone involved in the preceding within 10 days. Along with the notice of the decision, the student should be provided with information on how to appeal the decision if the student wishes to do so.
Following the hearing with the school, if the student chooses to appeal, then the hearing is heard by the local school board. This appeal must be done in writing and be filed within 20 days of the school tribunal reaching their decision. While this appeal is pending the school superintendent may (but does not have to) permit the student to return to school until the appeal is heard and decided.
If an appeal does take place, then the local school board will review the electronic or digital recording from the hearing and issue their decision based on that record. The local school board can uphold the disciplinary action, strike it down, or modify it.
Is that all the Student can do?
If the student is still unhappy with the result they may appeal yet again. This appeal must be made within 30 days of the local school board issuing their decision. To make this appeal the student notifies the local school district who then has 10 days to transmit the appeal to Georgia’s state school board. This appeal generally takes place in Atlanta, but the state school board will notify the student of the details regarding the appeal.
If a student remains unhappy with the outcome, then they have one final option. The last resort for a student at this point is to return to their home county and appeal to the Superior Court. This appeal is much different than the one made to the state board because the student has the appeal in their hometown courthouse as opposed to in front of the State board in Atlanta.
In sum, schools have many options when disciplining a student. But, that does not mean that a student is left without options if they believe they have been wrongfully disciplined or are simply facing an unfair result. A student is not required to live with the decision that a principal made regarding their discipline. The student has the right to several different appeals and may use the legal process to challenge their discipline.
Disclaimer: this article is for informational use only and is not intended as legal advice. Each person should consult with an attorney if they need legal advice or representation.
Tyler Moffitt is a Family Law and Criminal Defense Attorney who practices Carrollton, LaGrange, and Columbus, GA. He graduated from John Marshall Law School, and has been practicing for several years now. Tyler Moffitt takes great honor in defending the accused. Learn more about his experience by clicking here.