Appealing a school suspension or expulsion in Ohio: What parents should know about the laws on K-12 school discipline
There are a few certainties in life. Death and taxes, of course. But equally as certain is the fact that our children will make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are made in school, where the consequences might include removal from school in the form of a suspension or expulsion. (For now, we will ignore the sad irony of a school removing a student from the educational environment precisely at the moment when a learning opportunity presents itself.) It is important for students and parents to understand what rights exist for students facing suspension and expulsion in Ohio.
To begin, prohibited conduct is typically outlined in the student handbook. Sometimes these handbooks outline a range of sanctions for prohibited conduct, but not always. Schools should punish within the range of sanctions, but often apply mitigating or aggravating factors to modify the punishment. School administrators have some discretion (or leeway) when they issue sanctions, but there are limits and procedural requirements that must be followed for every suspension or expulsion.
First, as suggested above, the sanction should fall within the range outlined in the student handbook and be applied equally among all students. Especially when other students are involved in the same incident and/or accused of similar violations, one student should not be punished more harshly than another, all things being equal. Second, and more importantly, suspension and expulsion laws provide an accused student a right to timely notice and an opportunity for a hearing.
For school suspensions (which in Ohio can be issued for anywhere between 1-10 days), a student/parent is entitled to written notice from the school of the intended suspension. This notice must contain the purported code of conduct violation resulting in the suspension. The suspension notice may be issued directly to the student without parental involvement. However, students/parents have a right to appeal any suspension issued. Students/parents must appeal within the time period provided on the written notice. The suspension appeal period can be very short, sometimes within 2-3 days of the notice.
Appealing the suspension gives the student/parent a right to a hearing before the board of education (or before the board’s designated hearing officer). The student/parent may be represented by an attorney in this hearing, can present evidence and witnesses, and can provide a written or oral statement refuting any evidence provided by the school in support of suspension. If the outcome of this appeal is not favorable, the suspension may be appealed to the local court of common pleas.
For school expulsions (which in Ohio can be issued for anywhere between 1-80 days, or longer for drug and weapons-related violations), a student and parent are entitled to written notice from the school of the intended expulsion and a right to a hearing before the expulsion is issued. The notice must contain the purported code of conduct violation resulting in the potential expulsion. Before any expulsion is issued, a hearing must be held with the school superintendent (or a designee), and the hearing must be held 3-5 days from the date the notice of intended expulsion is issued.
A student/parent may be represented in the expulsion hearing and present evidence and witnesses, similar to the suspension appeal explained above. If the school decides to expel the student following the hearing, the superintendent or principal must notify the student and parent of the expulsion within one school day of making the decision. This notice of expulsion must include the reasons for the expulsion and notify the student/parent of the right to appeal the expulsion.
Appealing the expulsion similarly gives the student/parent a right to a hearing before the board of education (or before the board’s designated hearing officer). The student/parent may also be represented by an attorney in this expulsion appeal hearing and present evidence and witnesses. If the outcome of this expulsion appeal is not favorable, the expulsion may be appealed to the local court of common pleas.
It is very helpful to consult with an education attorney as soon as a notice of suspension or expulsion is issued, so that all options may be considered to avoid the suspension and/or expulsion.
Written by Mark Weiker, Esq. with Albeit Weiker, LLP
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