Education Law

School Discipline: Frequently Asked Questions

By E.A. Gjelten, Author and Editor
Are school officials threatening your child with discipline? Or is your child a victim of another student’s behavior? To learn more about how school discipline works and what you can do to protect your child, look below for answers to common questions.

School discipline is a hot topic, especially with controversies fueled by viral videos of police officers body-slamming kids in school, allegedly for misbehavior as minor as texting in class and not putting away the phone. As a parent, what can you do to protect your child from unfair school disciplinary proceedings?

First of all, it’s important to understand the rules, the discipline process, and your child’s rights. It’s also good to remember that school discipline—triggered in an appropriate situation and handled properly—can be a good opportunity for your child to learn how to resolve problems with teachers and classmates effectively and peacefully.

Read on for general information about school discipline. And look here for answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about punishment in the education setting.

What’s Behind Harsher Discipline in Schools?

When school discipline is triggered in an appropriate situation and handled properly, it can be a good opportunity for your child to learn how to resolve problems with teachers and classmates effectively and peacefully. But many advocates complain that discipline policies and practices have created a school-to-prison pipeline.

What’s behind this criticism? In the wake of campus shootings and other violent incidents, schools across the country adopted zero tolerance policies, which impose strict, mandatory punishments for violence, drugs, and other misconduct. To enforce these and other prohibitions, more schools rely on School Resource Officers (local police assigned full time to patrol campuses) to handle discipline problems—including not-so-serious misconduct that used to be the responsibility of teachers or principals.

At least one study has shown that kids are more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses like disorderly conduct in schools with cops on campus than in other schools. An arrest itself can have long-lasting repercussions. And even if criminal charges don’t follow, school disciplinary measures can stay on students’ school records, hurt their academic progress, and affect their chances of getting into college.

When Should You Talk to a Lawyer?

If your child has been accused of misconduct that could lead to a suspension or other serious discipline, you’ll want to know how to approach the discipline proceedings and protect your child’s rights. An attorney who specializes in education law should be able to help. Some states allow students to have attorneys represent them at school hearings.

If there’s any chance that your child could be subject to criminal charges as well as school discipline, you should talk to a lawyer immediately, before your child speaks to anyone else about the incident (including school officials or law enforcement officers working on campus).

Depending on the specifics of your situation, lawyers with experience in education law and school discipline, juvenile criminal matters, or discrimination claims in an educational setting might be best suited to help you.

Questions for Your Lawyer

  • If I’ve received notice that my child is being suspended or expelled from school, how and when can I request a hearing? If I disagree with the hearing examiner’s decision, how can I appeal?
  • What kind of evidence is allowed at school disciplinary hearings?
  • How do I find out if criminal charges might be filed against my child?

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