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Your Child's Rights in School

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

Your Child's Rights in School

School rules 

Every school-age child has the right to an education.  There are rules about:

  • going to school and getting there on time (attendance)
  • residency (where you live and what school your child can attend)
  • suspension (removing a child from the classroom or school for a period of time)
  • expulsion (removing a child from school for up to 180 days)

Every year the school must tell you what the rules are and what will happen if a rule is broken. Most schools give every family a student handbook or make one available online.

Talk to your child about the school’s rules and be sure that he understands them.

If the school says your child broke a rule, the school has to tell you which rule they think your child broke, give your child a chance to tell his story, and discipline your childaccording to school guidelines.

If you have a question about a school rule or about the way your child was disciplined:

  • check the school handbook to read about the rule they say was broken
  • ask the school administrators for more information
  • call Statewide Legal Services at 1-800-453-3320.

Attendance

It is important for every child to attend school.

Children have the right to be in school until they are 21 if they have not gotten a diploma.

You are responsible for making sure that your child attends school from age 5 (you may sign a form asking that your child starts school at 6 or 7) to age 18 (or graduation). Your 17-year-old can withdraw from school with your written permission.

EXCUSED ABSENCES

Your child may be excused from school for a good reason, such as an illness. Write a note to the school asking them to excuse your child's absence. If you child misses ten or more days of school, you will need to give the school a written note from a doctor. Absences may also be excused if other limited circumstances apply (death in the family, court appearance, etc.).

UNEXCUSED ABSENCES

If your child is absent from school without a good reason, the absence is unexcused. As few as 4 unexcused absences can cause problems.

TRUANCY

If your child has 4 unexcused absences in one month or 10 unexcused absences in one school year, he is truant.

Truancy is a very serious problem. If your child is truant:

  • he could lose course credit
  • he could be sent to Juvenile Court
  • the school could call the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and report you for educational neglect
  • you can be fined or made to do community service

Sometimes children miss a lot of school because they have emotional problems that make it hard for them to be in school. Sometimes children are being bullied by another child and are afraid to go to school.

The school must ask to talk with you about solving the problems that are causing your child to miss school. Be sure to go to the meetings to talk with school staff about how to help your child.

When the school meets with you, they should talk about ways to fix these problems so your child can feel comfortable at school.

You have the right to ask that your child be evaluated for special education services. Do this in writing. Read our article Special Education.

Which district your child goes to school in

Most children must go to school in the district they live in.  Sometimes children can go to school in another district.

  • If you are homeless (you do not have a permanent place to live and are staying in a shelter, motel, car, or with friends):
    • You can choose for your child to keep going to school in the district you lived before OR go to school in the district where you are staying now.
    • The school must give your child transportation back to your old district if you choose.
    • Every school has a homeless liaison. Talk to this person for help.

Discipline for regular education students

If the school thinks your child broke a rule, makes it hard for others to learn, or makes the school unsafe, the school will discipline your child.  Your child may be:

  • removed from the classroom
  • given an in-school or out-of-school suspension
  • expelled from school

Check your school handbook for more information on school discipline and your rights.

Remember! A school can’t make you pick up your child unless the school is suspending her.

SUSPENSION

Suspension is any removal from the classroom that is longer than 90 minutes.

One suspension can be for up to 10 days. The school must notify you within 24 hours that your child has been suspended.

Your child has a right to get homework assignments and make up all missed work, including tests, during a suspension. Ask the school for this work so that your child can keep up with the class.

EXPULSION

Expulsion is much more serious than a suspension. An expulsion can last for up to 180 school days.  You must act fast to defend your child.   Try to get legal help right away. If you cannot afford a lawyer, call Statewide Legal Services at 800-453-3320.

  • The school MAY try to expel your child if she:
    • Breaks an important behavior or safety rule (check your school’s handbook for a list of these rules), disrupts the school, or endangers people or property
  • The school MUST try to expel your child if she:
    • brings a dangerous weapon to school or a school function
    • tries to sell illegal drugs on or off school grounds
    • uses a deadly weapon to commit a crime off school grounds.

If the school is trying to expel your child, there will be an expulsion hearing.

You have the right to have a lawyer with you at the expulsion hearing. Your lawyer will defend your child’s rights.

TIP: If criminal charges are brought against your child because of what she did, it is very important for you to get a public defender or private lawyer right away.

For more information on expulsion and your child’s legal rights, read our article School Expulsion.

Discipline for special education students

There are some extra rules that protect special education students.

  • Whenever a special education student is suspended for more than 10 days in a school year, the school must hold a Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meeting.
  • A special education student can’t be expelled if:
    • the student’s disability was the reason she broke the rules, or
    • part of the student’s IEP (Individual Education Plan) was not provided and this caused her to break the rules.

TIP: A special education student who is expelled has a right to get all the education services listed in the IEP, even if she is sent to another program.

For more information about the rights of special education students, read our article Special Education.

School records

You have the right to see your child’s school records.

The school may charge a fee for the records. If you can’t afford to pay, you have a right to a free copy. Ask for your child’s records in writing.

Regular Education Student
Look at record.......within 45 days
Get a copy............within 45 days

Special Education Student
Look at record.......without unnecessary delay and before a PPT meeting or hearing
Get a copy............within 10 school days

Generally, the school can’t share your child’s records with anyone else without your written permission, but there are limited exceptions, such as when there is a health or safety emergency. Also, the school can share your child’s records with other teachers or school staff in the school system.

Bullying

Bullying is when a student repeatedly makes fun of, threatens or embarrasses another student

  • at school, a school activity, or on the bus
  • verbally, physically, online, or in a text message
  • which has a harmful effect on the student and/or the student’s environment at school

The school must meet with the student being bullied and the student who is doing the bullying. Read your school handbook to find out more about the policy on bullying.

Sometimes, bullying is a crime. You should contact the police if your child is the victim of a crime.

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 April 2014. We hope that the information is helpful. It is not intended as legal advice. For advice on your situation, call Statewide Legal Services or contact a lawyer.

For more information, contact:

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

Not from Connecticut?

Most of the information on this web site is for Connecticut residents only. Visit LawHelp.org to find a legal services program and/or a legal information web site in your area.