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Back-to-School Checklist:

Knowing Your School's Discipline Code

Article by Debbie Rose, Education Advocate, Whitbeck Bennett

Originally published in Leesburg Lifestyle

As the school year progresses, parents and students alike are settling in. It's a good time to double-check the things that may have slipped your mind in the press of typical back-to-school to-do lists. For example, have you read your child's school discipline policy? 

While all parents hope to never have to deal with a student discipline situation, it happens. And being prepared by understanding how the school will apply the policies and procedures can help you achieve a better outcome in a disciplinary situation.

School districts generally publish a “Student Rights and Responsibilities” document that outlines the expected student behavior when in school and while participating in school-sponsored activities. The expectations cover a range of student obligations such as to be respectful to their peers and staff, to use technology responsibly, and to abide by student codes of conduct.

It is recommended that parents read this document and review it with their students at the beginning of the school year. For example, students should understand what they can and cannot do with the laptops issued to them. And, both students and parents should know that schools use software to always monitor students’ online activity. 

Student codes of conduct are part of the policies adopted by the School Board. Commonly found on a school division’s website, the student codes of conduct list the prohibited behaviors, the possible consequences, how an alleged violation may be investigated, and the due process rights of students involved. Unfortunately, most parents first introduction to the discipline process is after an alleged violation by their student. It is generally an emotional and stressful time, making it difficult to understand exactly how to navigate the system to a just result.

What do you do if you get a call from a school administrator informing you of allegations that your child has violated school policy? Here is some important information to help you through the process:

1.    Understand exactly what your child is being accused of and the proposed consequences. Ask to review any video of the incident(s). Schools generally have cameras throughout the interior and exterior of every building. Collect relevant evidence.

2.    Understand the types of discipline measures: office referrals; in-school restriction; short or long-term suspension; and expulsion, and the appeal rights for each of them. School policies usually dictate the order and timeline of the appeal process.

3.    During a disciplinary proceeding, students have a right to due process. This means they have the right to deny the allegations, make a statement, present evidence, and appeal a discipline decision. 

4.    Students with disabilities have additional protections when accused of behavior that violates school policies. School staff must consider whether the behavior was a manifestation of the disability as part of determining disciplinary measures.

5.    Students and their belongings may be searched by school staff if there is a reasonable suspicion that evidence of a policy violation will be found.

6.    Certain behaviors may result in additional investigations with more serious consequences. When the school suspects criminal behavior, it can contact law enforcement. A Title IX complaint may be filed when there is an allegation of sexual harassment or assault.

Schools have an obligation to provide students and staff with a safe and inclusive learning environment. Student discipline is a necessary part of maintaining orderly operation of a school so that students have an opportunity to learn. Still, discipline is subjective, and the process can be flawed. Parents can, and should, engage with school staff throughout the process to protect their child’s interests. At any point in the process, it may become necessary to retain legal counsel. A discipline record could impact future learning opportunities, awards, and college admissions. 

At Whitbeck Bennett (https://wblaws.com), we understand the importance of protecting your child’s educational career. We have the experience and expertise in student discipline cases to assist you if needed, but we hope that by taking the time to read and understand the school discipline policies now, your child will avoid school discipline and have a fun and successful school year!

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