Education Law - Student Expulsion
Connecticut, like many other states, is placing increased attention on student discipline in light of recent instances of school violence. Many schools have adopted a zero-tolerance policy with regard to drugs, weapons, and violent crimes. In recent years, Connecticut has seen a decline in drug-related expulsions and an increase in weapons-related issues. As we attempt to keep our schools safe, our standard for dangerous/threatening behavior is lowered, putting students at greater risk of expulsion. School disciplinary policies are further exacerbated by racial discrimination, with students of color being expelled at over three times the rate of white students. Students with disabilities are also twice as likely to receive suspensions, and students from low-income families are at a great disadvantage compared to those with a high-income background.
National research shows that discipline practices that exclude students from instruction, such as suspensions and expulsions, do not help to improve either that student’s behavior or the school’s climate in general. Exclusionary discipline has negative consequences for students, such as increased risk of being held back a grade, dropping out of school, and future involvement with the juvenile justice system. In 2017, Connecticut’s average expulsion lasted 115 days – more than enough to have a permanent impact on the quality of the student’s education. In addition, this type of mark on a student’s permanent record can have drastic effects on their chances of college admission and even their ability to pursue certain careers as an adult.
Student and Guardian Rights
As more children are facing discipline, more guardians are retaining attorneys and challenging the grounds on which their student was expelled, as well as the procedures that were followed by the school district in the course of the disciplinary proceedings. Under state law, students who are recommended for expulsion are entitled to a case hearing before the expulsion, except in extreme cases where the student is “so disruptive or threatening that they must be removed from school before the hearing.” In this case, the hearing is to be scheduled as soon as possible after the student’s removal. This is a required process regardless of the reason for the expulsion or the age of the student. In addition, if a student does face expulsion, they must be offered an alternative educational opportunity during their time away from school. As of January 2018, Connecticut law mandates “a full time, comprehensive experience, where learning is comparable to what the student would experience in a regular school environment.”
There are several exceptions to these rules. First, Connecticut law mandates a one-year expulsion for carrying certain firearms and deadly weapons on school property. In addition, the alternative education offer is not mandatory if the student is 16 or 17 years old and they are facing discipline for a deadly weapon/firearm or for selling/distributing illegal drugs. However, a special education student must be offered an alternative special educational opportunity regardless of the circumstances of their expulsion.
At their hearing, the student and their legal guardian have the right to be represented by legal counsel and to all other regular legal rights, including the right to question all witnesses. The hearing will be held either by the local school board or, at the school’s discretion, an impartial hearing board in which no school board members are present. For a student to be expelled, a decision must be made by a majority vote with a minimum of three votes in favor of expulsion. If applicable, police may testify and provide information about the arrest, at the request of the student, guardian, principal, or hearing board.
For students with disabilities, a Planning and Placement Team (PPT) must meet before the expulsion hearing to determine if the behavior in question was caused by the student’s disability. If the team determines that it was, then the student cannot be expelled. However, if the disability did not cause the misconduct, the student may be expelled after a hearing as described above.
A student must be expelled from school if the expulsion board finds there is reason to believe they:
(a) possessed certain weapons [see below] on school grounds or at a school-sponsored activity
(b) carried such a weapon off school grounds without a permit or used it to commit a crime
(c) sold or distributed, or tried to sell or distribute, illegal drugs on or off school grounds
The mandatory expulsion requirement covers the following weapons:
(1) Firearms: any weapon that can expel a projectile by explosive; a firearm frame, receiver, muffler, or silencer; or any destructive device, which includes explosives, incendiaries, and poison gases
(2) Deadly Weapons: one from which a shot can be discharged, a switchblade or gravity knife, billy, blackjack, bludgeon, or metal knuckles
(3) Dangerous Instruments: something that, under the circumstances in which it is used, can cause death or serious injury, including an attack dog or a vehicle
(4) Martial Arts Weapons: a nunchaku, kama, kasari-fundo, octagon sai, tonfa, or Chinese star
In addition to weapons and drug-related misconduct, a school board may expel a student whose conduct on school grounds or at a school sponsored activity:
(A) is dangerous to people or property
(B) seriously disrupts the educational process
(C) violates a publicized school board policy
A board may also expel a student for misconduct outside school if it both violates a publicized board policy and seriously disrupts the educational process.
In deciding whether conduct seriously disrupts the educational process, a board may consider whether, among other things:
(1) the incident happened close to a school
(2) other students from the school or a gang were involved
(3) the conduct involved violence, threats of violence, or illegal weapons
(4) injuries occurred
(5) alcohol was used
In cases of mandatory expulsion as described above, the student must be expelled for one calendar year, but an expulsion board can modify the expulsion period on a case-by-case basis. In all cases, when deciding how long an expulsion lasts and the type of alternative educational opportunity (if any) to offer, a board may consider the student’s past disciplinary problems that have lead to in- or out-of-school suspensions or past expulsions.
An expelled student can apply for early readmission to school. Readmission may occur at the local school board’s discretion or the board may delegate the responsibility to the school superintendent. The board or superintendent can impose conditions on readmission. Readmission decisions cannot be appealed to court.
A school district must include a student’s expulsion on their cumulative educational record. But unless the expulsion was for carrying a dangerous weapon or selling or distributing illegal drugs, the expulsion must be expunged from the record if the student is neither expelled nor suspended for two years after their return to school or the student graduates.
Team Up with a Student Defense Lawyer
If you or your child is in danger of being expelled from school, you need the guidance of an attorney who will fight adamantly for your best interest. Parents and children are going up against hearing boards who deal with expulsions for a living. They are intimately familiar with the hearing rules and requirements for witnesses, evidence, procedure, and for winning. Parents and students are usually new to the expulsion process, placing them at a distinct and unjust disadvantage. And the unfortunate truth of the matter is that in many regions, hearing boards are made up of disciplinarians, paid by the district as employees, who are unlikely to simply “see reason” after hearing a parent plead their child’s case. Too many parents place their faith in the district to “do the right thing” for their child, and too often these parents face worst-case-scenario consequences as a result.
It is much more difficult to fight an expulsion after the fact than prior to the hearing. Therefore, it is in a student’s best interest to hire a defense attorney as soon as possible to level the playing field. Student defense representation can dramatically improve your chances of avoiding expulsion. Attorney Michael Dolan is a seasoned and dedicated defense lawyer who also served as Personnel Chair to the Hamden Board of Education for nearly a decade. With three children having gone through the Connecticut educational system, Attorney Dolan is familiar with the inner workings of both public and private schools, and is sure to approach your case with compassion. Dolan Law Firm has the insight and skills necessary to get your disciplinary charges reduced or dismissed.
Don’t face a hearing board underprepared or unrepresented. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation and find out how we will help you fight your expulsion.