Education Law

School Expulsion is the Last Resort

When it comes to disciplining students, school expulsion is the ultimate punishment: Your child is barred from attending the school for a certain period of time, sometimes for up to a year. Because an expulsion can have a big impact on your child's education and future, you both should know some things about:

  • The reasons for being expelled
  • How the expulsion process works
  • How you can challenge a school's decision to expel your child

First Things First

The expulsion process is different from school to school and state to state. It's important that you get specific information from your child's school. Check with school officials or your local school district's web site.

Also, as with many things in education, there's a difference between public and private schools. Public schools have to follow all sorts of state laws and rules because they're part of the free public education system. Private schools don't have to follow many of those laws, so their expulsion procedures may be completely different than public schools in the same city or town. As a practical matter, though, they usually follow some of the same rules to make sure a student isn't expelled improperly.

Public schools are the main focus here. Again, no matter where your child goes to school, make sure you have an up-to-date copy of your school's expulsion policy.

Reasons for Expulsion

There are many reasons why a student may be expelled from school. Again, they may vary by school and state, but Michigan gives a good example. Many schools expel students for:

  • Possessing dangerous or deadly weapons on school grounds or at a school-sponsored activity
  • Having, selling, or using illegal drugs or alcohol on school grounds or at a school activity
  • Threatening a teacher, staff member, or fellow student with physical harm, or actually using force against them
  • Stealing or intentionally damaging school property or property belonging to another student, teacher,¬†or staff member

The policy or handbook at your school will explain more about the kinds of behavior and conduct that may lead to expulsion.

The Process

Public schools typically have a detailed and written expulsion process. That's because as a public school student your child has the legal right to a free public education, and by expulsion that right may be taken away. So, it has to be done fairly. It's called due process.

The typical process, such as the one used in some California schools, includes:

  • Written notice, like a letter, telling you and your child the date and time of the expulsion hearing and the reasons why your child may be expelled
  • A closed-door hearing - meaning the hearing isn't open to the general public or to students, teachers, and staff not connected with the case. Officials from the district or school board hold the hearing
  • Giving the student the opportunity to present evidence in his defense, including witnesses, as well as the chance to see the evidence against him and question witnesses who testify for the school. Generally, students are allowed to hire attorneys to represent them at the hearing
  • Making a recording or transcript of what happened during the hearing

At the end of the hearing, the school officials will make a decision. If they decide not to expel the student, the case is over and the student is allowed to return to school. If they decide to expel the student, the case is sent to the state board or department of education. If it agrees with the results of the hearing the student is expelled immediately. If not, the student may go back to school.

A student may be expelled before a hearing in emergency situations, such as an immediate threat to lives or safety of other students or teachers or staff. In these cases, though, there must be a formal hearing as soon as possible to make sure the expulsion was proper.

Usually, an expulsion can't be longer than one year. The more serious the offense the longer the expulsion. However, in some states, like Michigan, a student may be barred permanently from all public schools in the state for serious offenses, such as carrying a firearm or dangerous weapon.

After Expulsion

If a student is expelled, several things usually happen:

  • The student must be given the opportunity to continue his education in some other setting. This usually is called alternative education
  • Depending on the seriousness of the student's conduct, he may be permitted to re-enroll in school at the end of the expulsion period
  • Expelled students generally can't simply enroll in another public school in the same school district. In fact, in states like Connecticut, a school in another district may adopt the expulsion finding of a student's school and bar the student from attending that school, too
  • The expulsion is made a part of the student's permanent school record
  • If the expulsion involved serious misconduct, such as carrying a firearm, the school must notify local law enforcement authorities


In most states, a student may appeal or challenge the decision to expel him. Your and your child should get information about the appeals process from the school board or district after the hearing is over. Usually, members from the school district or board who weren't involved in the expulsion hearing will handle the appeal.

The purpose of the appeal is not to figure out if the decision to expel was right or wrong. The question on appeal is whether the school officials followed the rules and gave your child a fair hearing. For example, you may have the expulsion decision reversed or thrown out if you can prove that your child wasn't permitted to testify at the hearing or wasn't allowed to show some evidence. You can't, however, reargue the whole case to convince the appeal panel your child didn't deserve to be expelled.

As you can see, an expulsion can have serious and long-lasting effects on your child's education and future. It's a matter that shouldn't be taken lightly. Learn as much as you can about the process and the case well before the hearing, and if you need help, contact an experienced attorney immediately.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can an expulsion be removed from my child's school records?
  • If my child withdraws from school before the expulsion¬†hearing, can she enroll in another public school?
  • Who has access to transcripts of expulsion hearings? Can school staff look at them anytime they want to, or do they need permission from me or my child?

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