What Is a Disciplinary Action in School?

The word “disciplinary” is often used in schools to describe various types of punishments for misbehaviors. Some examples of disciplinary actions that may be taken by a school are detention, suspension, expulsion, or sending a student to the principal’s office. The severity and duration of the disciplinary action will depend on the infraction committed by the student.  

What due process rights do students have when they are being disciplined at school?

The Due Process Clause is a part of the Fourteenth Amendment, and provides that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” This means that before the government can take away someone’s life, freedom, or property interests, they must have been given a fair hearing and all the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. 

The Supreme Court has long recognized that public school disciplinary proceedings don’t have to provide students with the same due process rights as are given in criminal trials. Still, schools must give students some opportunity to respond to allegations and provide exculpatory evidence.

In Goss v. Lopez, the Supreme Court concluded that “students facing temporary suspension have interests qualifying for protection of the Due Process Clause.” It also determined that, for a suspension of 10 days or less, due process required that a student receive at least the three following protections: 

  • Notice of the charges against them
  • An explanation of the evidence against them
  • An opportunity to present their side of the story

This same standard would apply to expulsions or suspensions that are longer than 10 days. However, a higher level of due process might be necessary for these situations since more was at stake. On the other hand, lower types of disciplinary action, such as detentions, do not require hearings, but some lesser form of due process may be required. 

When should I contact an education lawyer?

As part of their due process rights, students are legally entitled to be represented by an attorney at a school disciplinary hearing. You should contact an education lawyer as soon as you learn about the hearing. 

Additionally, if you believe your child has been disciplined unfairly at school and a hearing has not been held, you should discuss your situation with an experienced education lawyer. There may be legal action you can take to protect your child’s rights.

Read More

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Can You Sue a School for Emotional Distress?
How Do I Sue an Educational Institution?

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