Suspension & Discipline:

Students’ and Parents’ Rights in the Discipline Process

Students and families have legal rights related to attending public schools, even when children get in trouble at school. Many families do not understand these rights when their child is expelled or suspended. Below is a summary of parents’ and students’ rights when there is a disciplinary problem at school:

Step 1: A Student Breaks the Rules.

A student can get in trouble in school in many different ways. According to the law, schools should have a handbook that explains the school district’s rules and the consequences for breaking them. For example, if a student chews gum, she might receive a detention.

School districts should make sure that parents who don’t speak English are informed of the school’s policies either by providing a translated handbook or otherwise informing the parents in their native language of the policies through a parent meeting or visit from a school official.

Step 2: School Officials Question the Student.

Often a student is sent to the principal’s office or to another school official to talk about the rules violation. Sometimes police officers interview students. If the school officials find that the student has broken a serious school rule, she is often sent home with either a written or oral warning not to come back until there is a meeting with the parents.

If a student is accused of breaking a serious school rule, the student should clearly state, "I WANT MY PARENTS HERE." A parent or guardian SHOULD BE PRESENT when the school officials or police ask questions. Sometimes students confess to something that they did not do because they feel frightened and intimidated.

REMEMBER! Under the law, students do not have to answer questions without their parents present. Students may remain quiet. Also, parents and students have a right to contact a lawyer for advice and representation.

3.) Step 3: The First Disciplinary Hearing- Informal Meeting with the Principal

The school should notify parents that they have a right to a informal hearing to talk about the proposed punishment within three (3) days after the student is suspended from school. In an informal meeting with school officials, the principal will explain to the parents what happened and what the consequences for the offense will be. The parents have the right to question school officials about what happened and challenge the school’s accusations.

Parents should be notified in their native language either in writing, in a visit, or by a telephone call, so that they can understand what will happen at the hearing. Schools should also provide a translator in the meeting, so that parents can participate in the meeting with the school officials. Students and parents have the right to bring a lawyer to this first disciplinary hearing

For minor disciplinary problems where there is a suspension of one or two days, the disciplinary process usually ends with the informal hearing with the principal; however, if there is a more serious disciplinary problem, the student and parents must have a hearing in front of the school board. For example, when a school wants to suspend a student for more than 10 days, then there must be a formal hearing in front of the school board.

Step 4: Understanding The Consequences of Breaking School Rules.

The consequences of breaking school rules can be different between schools. Depending on the student’s actions, he can receive after school detentions, extra homework, or other disciplinary actions.

The most severe disciplinary actions are suspensions and expulsions. These terms are often misunderstood. What are suspensions and expulsions?

Suspension: A student is not permitted to return to school for a certain period of time as result of a student’s behavior. (For example, a student could be suspended for one semester and allowed to return at the beginning of the next semester.)

Expulsion: A student is not permitted to return to school at any time in the future unless the parents or guardians re-apply and the student is re-admitted. (For example, a school might permanently expel a student. The student would not be able to come back to school until the parents ask for special permission.)

IMPORTANT! A student can be suspended from school up to 10 days without having a hearing before the school board. Any longer suspension or expulsion requires a hearing before the school board.

Step 5: The Second Disciplinary Hearing – Before the School Board

Usually, the school board only gets involved when there is a serious violation of the school rules. Depending on the actions of the students, the school officials may recommend that a student be suspended for a certain period of time or permanently expelled. The school officials will make a discipline recommendation to the School Board of the School District.

The School Board must hold a hearing within 10 days of the first suspension from school. During the hearing in front of the school board, the parents and students have the right to present information and challenge the severity of the discipline (for example, asking for a shorter period of suspension).

If a student believes that she is falsely accused of breaking a school rule, she and her parents can bring witnesses to formal hearing before the school board and question school officials why the student is being accused.

DON’T FORGET it is important to remember that parents have a right to consult an attorney about their student’s problem at school. There might be some remedy through the court.

Discipline and Learning Disabilities:

If a student has learning or emotional difficulties, she has special rights during a disciplinary hearing. A student who has learning or emotional disabilities may not be kicked out of school and must stay in the same classes until there is a formal hearing to determine whether his discipline problem was caused by his disability. If the school officials determine that the discipline problem was caused by the student’s disability, the student must stay in school.

Zero Tolerance Laws

Under Michigan Law, if a student breaks certain rules he is automatically given a long-term suspension or permanent expulsion. These are violations of school policy which have very serious consequences.

A student may not:

          • Knowingly possess a weapon (guns, pellet guns, knives, clubs, bombs) on school grounds
          • Commit arson on school grounds
          • Commit criminal sexual conduct (unwanted touching, sexual assault)

Parents’ and Students’ Rights During Suspension and Expulsion.

During the discipline process, a student and their family have rights protected by the U.S. Constitution and the State of Michigan Constitution, which include the following:

        • Parents and students always have the right to consult an attorney for advice and representation
        • Parents and students (over the age of 18) have the right to ask for their academic records at any time. Schools must provide copies of academic records, which include discipline reports, grade reports, and other records.
        • Parents and students have the right to receive notices of the charges, the time of the hearing, the right to an interpreter (if they can’t speak English), and other relevant information about the hearing.
        • Before a discipline hearing is held, the parents have the right to ask for the evidence that the school has to prove the student’s violation of the rule.
        • Parents and students have the right to ask school officials and administrators about the charges brought against them.
        • If parents or students cannot speak English, the school must provide an effective translator during hearings and for all communications between school and home.

If You Need Legal Advice or Representation:

A small number of free legal aid offices handle special education matters. To find programs that serve your area, visit the home page of this site, www.michiganlegalaid.org.

If you wish to call a private attorney for representation, you can either look under "attorneys" in the yellow pages, or contact the Michigan State Bar Lawyer Referral Service at (800) 968- 0738.

Finally you can contact the following agencies in Michigan for advice:

Student Advocacy Center (734) 222-5443

Michigan Protection and Advocacy 1-800-288-5923

Michigan Department of Education Student Ombudsman 1-888-323-4231


This article appears courtesy of Farmworkers Legal Services.