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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

Listen: 

School rules 

  • Every school-age child has the right to an education.

The rules at your child’s school help make school a safe place for children to learn. Most important school rules are set by law. There are laws 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 (not allowing a child to return to school for up to 180 days).

Each year, your child's 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 each year or make one available online.

  • It is important to read and understand the rules in the school’s handbook.

You should talk to your child about the school’s rules and be sure that he/she understands them.




Be sure to read the rules
in the school's handbook.







  • If the school says your child broke a rule, he/she has the right to be treated fairly.

This means the school has to tell you which rule they think your child broke. Your child must have a chance to tell his or her story.

  • If the school disciplines your child for breaking a rule, he/she must be disciplined according to school guidelines.

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

  • 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.



If your child breaks a rule, he must be treated fairly. See your school handbook.



Attendance

  • It is important for every child to attend school.

Regular school attendance is very important to your child’s success. Children who miss school fall behind in reading and other skills they need.

Most children start school when they are 5 years old and continue until they graduate from high school. Children have the right to be in school until they are 21 if they have not gotten a diploma.

The law says that you are responsible for making sure that your child attends school from age 7 up to age 18 (or until graduation). The law also says that you may give your 17-year-old child written permission to withdraw from school before graduation.

EXCUSED ABSENCES

Your child may be excused from school for a good reason, such as an illness. You should write a note to the school asking them to excuse your child's absence. If you can, you should give the school a written note from a doctor if your child is sick.

UNEXCUSED ABSENCES

If your child is absent from school without a good reason, the absence is “unexcused.” Unexcused absences can cause problems -- even for as few as 4 unexcused absences. (See the next section on truancy.)

TRUANCY

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

A “habitual truant” is a child who has more than 20 unexcused absences in one school year.

• Truancy is a very serious problem. If your child is truant,

  • your child could lose course credit
  • your child could be sent to Juvenile Court and
    • be ordered to meet with a Probation Officer or Judge
    • be ordered to get counseling or other services
    • be ordered by the Court to go back to school
  • 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
Unexcused Absences = Truancy

4 unexcused absences in one month or 10 unexcused absences in one school year means your child is truant.
  • The school must ask to meet with you to talk about how to solve the problems that are causing your child to miss school so often.

Sometimes, children miss a lot of school because they have learning disabilities or 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.

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 ed services. Do this in writing. See our article: Special Education.

It is very important for you to go to the meetings with the school so you can talk with the people at the school who can help your child.




Be sure to go to the meetings to talk with school staff about how to help your child.

Residency

Residency means where you live and where your child can go to school.

  • The law says that your child must go to school in the district you live in.

There are some exceptions to this rule:

  • If your child lives with a guardian or caretaker in a different school district than the one you live in, he/she has the right to go to school in that district. (This is only true if your child did not move to another district just so he/she could go to school there.)
  • If your child goes to a magnet school, charter school, or other special school program, he/she can go to school outside of your district.
  • If another student physically assaults your child on school property and you report the assault to the police, the law says you can change your child’s school.
  • Homeless Person
    The law says ... a homeless person is someone who does not have a permanent place to live and is staying in a shelter, motel, car, or with friends.
    If you are homeless:
    • You can choose to have your child keep going to school in the district you were living in before or go to school in the district you are staying in while you are homeless.
    • The school must give your child transportation back to your original district if you choose.
    • Every school has a person called a “homeless liaison.” You should talk to this person to get all the information you need.

Discipline

Schools will discipline students for breaking school rules. If the school thinks that your child makes it hard for other students in the class to learn, or if they think that your child’s behavior makes the school unsafe, the school will discipline your child.

  • Usually, school discipline means that your child will be removed from the classroom or school building.
  • The more your child’s behavior interferes with learning or safety, the more serious the discipline will be.

Discipline means that your child can be:

  • removed from the classroom
  • given an in-school suspension
  • given an out-of-school suspension
  • expelled from school (expulsion).

Check your school handbook for more information on school discipline and your right to meet with school administrators.

TIP:
A school cannot make you pick up your child because he/she misbehaved or is having a bad day, unless the school is suspending your child.

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


If your child is expelled, try to get legal help right away.
  • 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.

  • The school may try to expel your child if he/she:
    • breaks important behavior or safety rules (check your school’s handbook for a list of these rules)
    • repeatedly breaks rules and is suspended.
  • The school must refer your child for expulsion if he/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.

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

  • If your child is expelled, sometimes he/she may have a right to be educated in another place.

This is called an “alternative education opportunity.” Alternative education opportunities are usually not as good as being in the regular classroom. Not every expelled child has a right to this alternative education.

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

Discipline for special education students

Usually, a special education student can be disciplined in the same way as all other students.

There are some different rules that protect special education students.

  • A special education student cannot be suspended for more than 10 days in a school year without a Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meeting.

This PPT meeting is held to try to improve the student’s education and behavior.

  • A special education student cannot be expelled if:
  • the student’s disability was the reason that he/she broke the rules, or
  • part of the student’s IEP (Individual Education Plan) was not provided and this caused him/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 he/she is sent to another program.

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

School records

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

Ask for your child’s records in writing. The school may charge a fee for the records. But, if you cannot afford to pay, you have a right to a free copy. If you ask in writing, you have these rights:

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

Special Education Student
Look at record.......within 10 school days (within 3 days if a PPT meeting is scheduled)
Get a copy............within 5 school days

  • School records can be shared with certain people.

The school can share your child’s records with other teachers or school staff in the school system.

The school cannot share your child’s records with anyone else without your written permission unless there is a health or safety emergency.



You have the right to get a copy of your child's records. Ask for it in writing.

Bullying

Bullying is when a student makes fun of, threatens or embarrasses another student (more than one time) on purpose

  • at school,
  • on the school bus,
  • at a school activity,
  • online, or
  • in a text message.

Sometimes, bullying can even be a crime.

  • The law says the school must investigate reports of bullying.

Schools must meet with

  • the students who are bullied and
  • the students who are doing the bullying.
  • All schools must work to teach students why bullying is bad.

Read your school handbook to find out more about the policy on bullying.

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 8/2011. 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).

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.