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School Expulsion: What Is the Process? What Can You Do?

This article was produced by LARCC in cooperation with CLS, GHLA, NHLAA, and SLS.

School Expulsion: What Is the Process? What Can You Do?

Is your child being expelled from school? Learn about the expulsion process and what you can do to protect your child's rights. 

What is the difference between suspension and expulsion?

illustrationThe main difference between suspension and expulsion is the amount of time a student must stay out of school. A suspension may only last for ten days, but an expulsion can last up to one year.

Who makes the final decision to expel?

Usually, the Board of Education will appoint an impartial hearing officer, such as someone from the community who does not work for the school district, to listen to reports about the incident from the school, the student and witnesses, and to make the decision whether or not to expel. In some cases, an impartial "hearing board" of more than one person may be appointed or three or more members of the Board of Education itself may conduct the hearing and make the decision.

When can a Board of Education expel a child?

A student must face expulsion proceedings if he or she:

1. Possesses a gun or other deadly weapon on school grounds or at a school activity.

2. Uses a firearm or other deadly weapon to commit a crime off school grounds.

3. Sells or attempts to sell illegal drugs, on or off school grounds.

A student may be expelled if he or she:

1. Violates a school rule on school grounds or at a school activity.

2. Acts in a way that is disruptive or endangers other people or property on school grounds or at a school activity.

3. Violates a school rule off school grounds and is "seriously disruptive of the educational process."

My child has gotten into trouble and may be expelled. What rights do we have?

  • The right to a hearing before actually being expelled, except in cases of emergency, such as where a child may pose a danger to self or others if the child remains in the classroom. A student has a right to a formal expulsion hearing on or before the 11th school day after he or she has been excluded from school. (If it is a suspension, the hearing must be before the 11th suspension or 51st day of suspension.) This hearing may be before three members of the Board of Education, or the Board of Education may appoint a "hearing board" of one or more persons.
  • The right to notice before an expulsion hearing. The notice must explain which rule the school believes was broken and what the child actually did to break the rule.
  • The right to bring an attorney to the hearing if you have one. There is no right to have an attorney appointed for an expulsion hearing. Even though there is no right to have an attorney appointed, the notice must provide you with information on how to get representation. If you do not have an attorney, you can bring someone else as an advocate. Call Statewide Legal Services as soon as you think your child might be expelled.
  • The right to explain the child’s side of the story to the board which includes the right to present evidence such as documents and testimony from witnesses.
  • The right to question or "cross examine" any of the witnesses the school may present to support its case for expulsion.
  • The right for the parent and student to get, in advance of the hearing, a complete set of all documents that the school will be presenting to the hearing officer as well as any written statements by teachers, witnesses, etc. In addition, the parent should ask for a complete copy of the student’s entire school record as there may be helpful information.

illustrationWhat can I do to get ready for the hearing?

Expulsion hearings are usually scheduled within 10 days or less, so you should begin to prepare for the hearing as soon as you receive the notice. There are five steps you should take to prepare for the hearing:

1. Ask to see your child’s school record. Reading the record will help you understand what the school believes has happened. It should have information about the incident, including names of witnesses that the school might ask to testify at the hearing and documents the school may use as evidence at the hearing.

2. Try to talk to as many of the school’s witnesses as you can before the hearing to find out what they plan to say.

3. Make a list of people who can be witnesses to help you tell your side of the story. Talk to these people so you will know what they will say and ask them to come to the hearing. You may also want to find some "character" witnesses. A good character witness would be an adult from outside the family, such as a scout leader, someone from your church, or a coach who knows your child and can say some positive things about him or her.

4. Plan your strategy for the hearing. Remember that two issues will be decided at the hearing:

  • whether the child should be expelled and;
  • how long the expulsion should last.

5. Ask for help if you need it. If you have trouble doing things on time or keeping track of paperwork, ask a friend or family member to help you prepare for the hearing and practice what you would like to say.

If you are nervous about the hearing, ask someone you trust to drive you to the hearing and stay with you for support. If possible, talk to an attorney. Below is a list of organizations to contact for legal advice if you have not already done so.

Each case will be different, but here are four possible scenarios for you to consider:

a. If you think the school simply has the facts wrong and that your child did not violate the rules, you will want to find witnesses or documents that will support your version of what happened and try to show the hearing officer that there is no reason for the expulsion.

b. You may agree with the school about what happened but feel your child had a good excuse and should not be expelled. You may have witnesses or documents to help show why your child acted as he or she did, or you may simply have to explain that your child’s behavior was justified and expulsion would be too severe a punishment under the circumstances.

c. You may agree with the school about what happened and want to concentrate on making sure the expulsion period is not too long. You will want to insist that a long expulsion is too severe a punishment or that a long expulsion will be very harmful to your child. Character witnesses are particularly helpful here.

d. You may want to try a combination of strategies. You can try to prove that the school’s version of events is wrong. And, you can ask that if your child is expelled, the expulsion last for only a short time.

What will happen at the hearing?

While a hearing is not as formal as a court trial, it is a legal proceeding and will probably be your only opportunity to tell your story. There is no right to appeal the hearing officer’s decision in court if you are not happy with the outcome. The hearing will either be tape-recorded or a stenographer will take down all that is said. The hearing officer will listen while each side tells its story and will then decide:

1) whether the child has done what he or she is accused of doing; and

2) if so, should the child be expelled and how long the expulsion will last.

The School’s Presentation

It is up to school officials to present enough evidence to justify expelling the student. Therefore, the school goes first in presenting its "case." A school official will be the one to ask questions of the school’s witnesses. In addition to having people tell what they saw and heard, the school can give the board documents that support its position. The school may offer evidence about past discipline problems. Remember, the school has to prove that your child actually broke the rules by having someone with first-hand knowledge of the situation tell the facts to the hearing officer. For example, a principal cannot tell the hearing officer "I did not see what happened, but afterwards the teacher told me _________".

If the school does not produce a witness who was actually there when the incident took place, or tries to prove its case using only written documents, be sure to point this out to the hearing officer. After the school official is through asking questions of each witness, the student, parents or their representative may ask their own questions, or "cross examine" the witness.

The purpose of cross-examination is to bring out additional information that might be helpful to the child’s case. It will not help your child’s case if you argue with a witness, even if you think he or she is not telling the truth. It is better for you and your own witnesses to explain what happened when it is your turn to speak to the board.

The Student’s Response

When the school has finished presenting its case, it is the child’s turn. Ask each of your witnesses to come forward to speak one at a time. Ask them to tell the board what they saw or heard or what they know about the incident or your child. The school will then have a chance to cross-examine each of your witnesses.

Your child does not have to testify about what happened, and in some cases, should not be a witness. (See the question below about Juvenile Court). If there is a person who would be a good witness for your child, but that person will not come to the hearing at your request, you can ask the hearing officer to send the witness a subpoena. A subpoena requires the witness to attend the hearing.

If you want the hearing officer to subpoena a witness, make this request as far ahead of the hearing as you can. (Use Sample Letter A.)

Once all of the witnesses have spoken and any written evidence has been given to the hearing officer, each side will have a chance to make a final statement. This is your chance to summarize what you think happened and what you think should happen. Finish by asking the hearing officer not to expel your child and/or to expel your child for only a very short time.

To make the best possible presentation to the board, you will need to be prepared, organized and polite. Angry words or conduct directed at the school officials or the board will only add additional stress to the situation and may even hurt your child’s case.

What if my child has been arrested and has to appear in Juvenile Court?

It’s not unusual for a child to face expulsion and criminal charges for the same incident. The school can expel the child even if the criminal case is still going on and there is no conviction. Expulsion hearings usually take place before the criminal case is resolved so the child should be careful not to make statements at the expulsion hearing which could be used against him/her later in Criminal or Juvenile Court. Be sure to consult with the public defender or defense attorney handling the criminal matter about what, if anything, your child should say at the expulsion hearing.

If we lose the hearing and my child is expelled, will my child be able to continue receiving an education?

If your child is under sixteen, he or she will be offered alternative education during the expulsion. If your child is between the ages of sixteen and eighteen and wants to continue his or her education, alternative education will be offered so long as your child complies with any conditions the board may set. However, the board does not have to offer alternative education to students between sixteen and eighteen if the incident involved weapons or drugs, or if the student has been expelled before.

illustrationWill the expulsion stay on my child’s school records forever?

The expulsion will be erased from the child’s school record if he or she graduates from high school, unless the expulsion was for possession of a firearm or deadly weapon.

 

Can I stop the expulsion by transferring my child to another school or school district?

If your child withdraws from school before the expulsion hearing is held, his or her record will still contain the notice of expulsion hearing. In most cases, the new school district cannot refuse to admit your child based on his/her record alone, but it has the option of holding its own expulsion hearing based on the incident at the old school.

Can the school withdraw a child from its attendance rolls without going through the expulsion process?

No child under 18 can be withdrawn without a parent’s permission. However, schools sometimes withdraw children over 18 from their rolls if the child has not been attending school very often. Just because your child has been withdrawn, however, does not mean he or she has lost the right to attend school. If your child starts attending school again after being withdrawn, he or she should be administratively re-admitted. However, the child may not receive credit for classes due to poor attendance.

My child has disabilities and is in special education. Can he be expelled?

Your child cannot be expelled if the school wants to expel your child for behaviors that are caused by your child’s disability. If the school is considering expulsion, it must hold a Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meeting first. Two things need to be decided at this PPT. First, was the misconduct caused by your child’s disability? Second, was the behavior caused by the school’s failure to put some important part of the IEP (your child’s individualized educational plan) into place?

If the answer is yes to either of those questions, the team should talk about changing the IEP to fix the problem. The team should not recommend expulsion. If it is decided that the answer to both questions is no, your child could be referred for expulsion.

If your school does not schedule a PPT meeting, use Sample Letter B to request a PPT meeting.

What if my child’s PPT decides that the misbehavior was not the result of his disability?

If the PPT decides that the behavior was not a result of your child’s disability, it may go ahead with the expulsion hearing. If you disagree and believe the misconduct was caused by the disability, you may request a due process review to appeal the PPT decision. (Use Sample Letter C.) Normally, the child’s education will continue in the alternative setting chosen by the PPT until the due process review has been completed. However, the child could return to his or her prior special education program if both the parent and school agree to the return. The due process hearing must happen within 20 days of the date it is requested. The due process officer must make a decision within 10 school days after the hearing.

If your child is expelled, he or she will still have to be placed in a program where the IEP can be carried out in the least restrictive environment.

illustrationYour child cannot be expelled for behaviors that are caused by your child’s disability. If the school is considering expulsion, it must hold a Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meeting first. 
 
 
 
 

What if I think my child is eligible for special education, but the school has never identified him as a special education student and now he is being expelled?

The school can expel your child if he is not an identified special education student unless the school had knowledge that your child is a child with a disability. Some ways that the school might know your child has a disability is if:

  • you have previously expressed your concern about your child in writing to the school;
  • you requested an evaluation of your child;
  • your child’s behavior or performance in school showed that he/she needed special education, or
  • school personnel expressed a concern about your child through the school’s special education referral system.
  • If you believe your child should have been identified as needing special education, you should immediately request a PPT meeting. Then, when you go to the expulsion hearing, you should ask for a postponement of the hearing before the hearing starts. You should show the hearing officer a copy of the letter you wrote asking for a PPT meeting. (See Sample Letter B.)

What if my child has already been expelled and I think he is eligible for special education services?

You should immediately request an expedited evaluation of your child by requesting a PPT. (You can adapt Sample Letter B below to request an evaluation PPT). If possible, you should consult with an attorney before making that request to see if your child is eligible for an independent evaluation by someone not employed by the school. If your child is found to be eligible for special education services, the school must provide those services even if your child is already expelled. If you disagree with the evaluation results, you can request a hearing using Sample Letter C.

Sample Letters

Sample Letter A

Sample Letter B

Sample Letter C

Resources

Legal Representation:

Are you looking for an attorney to represent your child at an expulsion hearing? If you are low income and your child needs legal assistance at an expulsion hearing, call Statewide Legal Services (SLS) at 1-800-453-3320.

Because expulsion hearings are often scheduled very quickly, please call SLS immediately once you know your child is being recommended for expulsion. SLS may provide advice over the phone, mail information, or refer you to a legal services office or private attorney at no cost to you.

Yale Law School Legal Services Organization
P.O. Box 209090
New Haven, CT 06520
203-432-4800

Quinnipiac University School of Law - Civil Clinic
275 Mt. Carmel Avenue
Hamden, CT 06518
(203) 582-3238

Other Resources for Parents of Children with Disabilities:

State Office of Protection and Advocacy
60 B Weston Street
Hartford, CT 06120-1551
860-297-4300 or 1-800-842-7303
www.state.ct.us/opapd/

Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center
338 Main Street
Niantic, CT 06357
1-800-445-2722
Spanish speaking callers: 203-776-3211
www.cpacinc.org

Learning Disabilities Association of CT Inc.
999 Asylum Avenue
Hartford, CT 06105
860-560-1711
www.ldact.org

SERC (State Education Resource Center, State Dept of Education)
25 Industrial Park Road
Middletown, CT 06457
Parent Assistance Line: 1-800-842-8678
Web: www.ctserc.org

This booklet was produced by the Legal Assistance Resource Center of Connecticut in cooperation with Connecticut Legal Services, Greater Hartford Legal Aid, New Haven Legal Assistance Association, and Statewide Legal Services.

The information in this booklet is based on laws in Connecticut as of 4/2011. We hope that the information is helpful. It is not intended as legal advice for an individual situation. Please call Statewide Legal Services or contact an attorney for additional help.

For more information, contact:

Statewide Legal Services: 860-344-0380 (Central CT & Middletown) or 1-800-453-3320 (all other regions).

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