School Disciplinary Hearings
For many parents, learning that their child is being subject to a school disciplinary hearing is earth-shattering news. K12 education is of paramount importance and the disruption of being removed from school can have a detrimental impact on the livelihood of both the child and the parents, who must scramble to make adequate accommodations. It is for this reason that understanding the disciplinary hearing process is important.
Education is a fundamental right in Minnesota, to which every child is entitled. See In re Expulsion of N.Y.B, 750 N.W.2d 318 (Minn. Ct. App. 2008) (citing Minn. Const. art. XIII § 1). Moreover, as ruled by the United States Supreme Court, education is a right protected by the due process clause of the United States Constitution. See Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565 (1975). This means that before a child may be expelled from school, they are entitled to procedural protections to ensure that their interest in education is not being unreasonably diminished. These procedural safeguards include the right to:
- A hearing to challenge the legitimacy of the proposed disciplinary act;
- Adequate notice of such hearing to the student and their guardian(s);
- Adequate notice of the allegations against the child with sufficient material supporting the allegations; and
- The opportunity to present evidence and compel witnesses on the child's behalf.
Id. The Minnesota legislature has expanded these basic procedural rights to include things such as:
- The right to notice of low cost legal resources to aid in the child's defense;
- An impartial decision-maker;
- The right of the child to not testify; and
- The ability to appeal any decision made during the disciplinary hearing to the commissioner of education
Minn. Stat. § 121A.47. While there may seem to be many protections in place, in practice, disciplinary hearings often lack fundamental fairness, leaving the child exposed to the very real possibility that they could be expelled based on a biased decision of a school board. Therefore, it is essential to have a firm understanding of the process and what can be expected before you and your child enter the hearing.
The Disciplinary Hearing Process
First, every school, through the school board, must adopt a disciplinary policy that delineates the rules of conduct that students must abide by, possible penalties for breach, and the grounds and procedures for discipline. These policies are public and should be reviewed thoroughly in the event that you receive notice of a disciplinary hearing. Generally, there are two primary methods that a school will discipline a student who commits a serious infraction against the rules of conduct: (1) suspension; and (2) expulsion. Suspension is the lesser of the two punishments, which results in a students banishment from the school for no more than 10 days. Expulsion results in the banishment of a student for up to a year, or indefinitely depending on the infraction. Suspensions, unlike expulsions, have not been deemed to warrant a disciplinary hearing. Instead, all that is required is for notice to be provided of the suspension, the grounds for the suspension, and a meeting between the student and school administration. Minn. Stat. § 121A.46.
Expulsions, however, always demands a disciplinary hearing unless waived by the student. This hearing will be conducted much like a judicial proceeding. It will be headed by one or more "impartial" decision-makers, all of which are usually members of the school board. The school will begin by presenting the evidence they have against the child, and then the child will be allowed to refute the claims through the presentation of their own evidence, including witnesses if they so choose. The decision maker(s) will then provide a recommendation to the school board, who will then issue an ultimate decision within five days.
Important Things to Remember Going into a Hearing
While this process may seem straightforward, it is nonetheless taxing. So, keep these things in mind:
- Know the facts before you enter the hearing. You don't want to be blindsided by evidence. This may require you to press your child for information, but it is essential to raise an appropriate defense
- Don't be afraid to present evidence, call witnesses, and contradict what the school says. Although they have the advantage, you have rights and the truth should prevail.
- Remain calm. While it is important to defend your child, being combative will likely only hinder you child's chances as the decision-maker is often a part of the school board making the final decision.
- Remember that whether your child is suspended or expelled, they are still entitled to education. Alternative education services must be provided to any student who is not permitted to remain at their current school.
- In the event that your child is expelled, it may be possible to reach an agreement with the school to withdraw the child's enrollment to avoid an expulsion on their record.
Ultimately, the best course of action to take if you get a notice that your child is facing a disciplinary hearing is to seek help from an experienced attorney. The attorney will be well-versed in the process and will be able to best represent the interests of your child. As stated, Minnesota requires that notice of low-cost legal resources be made available to the guardians of children facing expulsion.
Speak with a Dedicated Attorney About Your Options
Don't feel that you must face this challenge alone, call BK Law Group today if you have further questions about school disciplinary hearings or your child is in need of representation.