Facing School Discipline
Is Your Student Experiencing Repeated
or Long-Term Suspensions?
Are they being sent home or expelled? Forced into a virtual or alternative program?
Every day, too many students are suspended and expelled from Michigan schools. At Student Advocacy Center, we know how damaging it is to be removed from school.
There is a better way. We stand with families working to find safe ways to keep their student in school, learning and growing.
Students, parents/guardians, community members and others are welcome to call the Student Rights Helpline to better understand their rights and options.
Schools Must Consider Alternatives
School discipline is tricky. On one hand, school districts can suspend or expel for just about anything. On the other hand, school districts must consider alternatives to suspension. State law requires that they slow down and consider these seven factors before removing a student for even one day:
- The student’s age.
- The student’s disciplinary history.
- Whether the pupil is a student with a disability.
- The seriousness of the violation or behavior.
- Whether the violation or behavior committed threatens the safety of another student or staff member.
- Whether restorative practices could be used.
- Whether a “lesser intervention” would properly address the violation or behavior.
You can ask the principal or teacher to “walk you through their seven factor consideration” or to tell you what alternatives they considered. They don’t have to have it in writing if the suspension is less than 10 days; for school removals longer than 10 days, they really should. Many districts have a worksheet (although we believe our worksheet is better!).
Look at your school district’s code of conduct. Is your district following its own policies and procedures?
Finding Alternative Solutions
As mentioned above, school districts are required to think about alternatives to suspension. This is our area of expertise, and we can work with you to develop ideas. We know what works!
We encourage families to come to the table with their own ideas. We also love to share this lesser intervention checklist tool with schools.
Here are some of our guidelines for coming up with alternatives to suspension:
- Ask the student what they think!
- Bring in a mediator or someone who can do a restorative circle to get ideas.
- Think about what will get to the root of the problem. Punishment doesn’t work.
- Think about how harm may be repaired.
- Consider the resources of the student, school and family. You don’t want to volunteer for 30 hours of community service without transportation or a place to do it, for instance.
- Look to your community for resources. Call 2-1-1 or our Student’s Rights Helpline at (734) 482-0489.
Your Right to Restorative Practices
School districts have to consider restorative practices before they suspend, but what does that mean? To us, it’s a way of life. It’s a powerful way to solve problems and build relationships. It can be done at home, at school, at work, in the community. But that’s a longer conversation.
Michigan law says restorative practices are practices that emphasize repairing the harm to the victim and the school community caused by a student’s misconduct.
One example is a formal meeting — usually done when people are sitting in a circle — where the student who’s in trouble can talk to the person or people who were harmed by their actions. This must be voluntary: both parties must be willing to work together.
Here are more examples of restorative practices.
Restorative practices should be the first consideration to address issues like bullying, verbal and physical conflicts, theft, damage to property, class disruption, and harassment and cyberbullying.
Your Right to Ask for a Written Justification
Is your student facing long-term suspension (10-59 school days out of school) or expulsion (60 or more school days out)? If so, there is a special protection for them written into state law.
The law says that removals over 10 days are not justified unless school districts can demonstrate that the seven factors were considered. This is called a “rebuttable presumption.”
You have the right to ask the school to show, in writing, that the seven factors were considered.
In these situations, try saying something like: “Wait, I’m confused. I thought there was a rebuttable presumption in state law that removals over 10 days are not justified. Have you considered the seven factors? Why don’t you think an alternative will work?”
The End of Zero Tolerance in Michigan
Michigan used to have a zero tolerance policy and to require that students get kicked out of school for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes those old attitudes are still there, so it’s good to know what the law used to say.
Before the Student Advocacy Center and our partners helped to overturn zero tolerance in 2017, school districts were required to expel students in the following situations:
- Possession of a dangerous weapon unless exceptions were met (firearm, dagger, dirk, stiletto, knife with a blade over 3 inches, pocket knife opened by a mechanical device, iron bar, brass knuckles)
- Arson in a school building
- Criminal sexual conduct in a school building or on school grounds
- Assault of a staff member (sixth grade or older)
They also had to suspend or expel in the following situations:
- Assault of another student (sixth grade or older)
- Verbal assault of staff (sixth grade or older)
- Bomb threat against school property (sixth grade or older)
Your Right to a Fair Process
School districts are not allowed to just kick a student out of school without a fair process. Enforcement of due process is very case-specific, but we want to share what you should generally expect and what is fairly standard procedure in most districts.
Less than 10 days:
- An informal conversation
- Oral or written notice of the charges (i.e., advising the student of the reasons for the proposed suspension)
- An explanation of the evidence supporting the charges against the student
- An opportunity to explain, deny, or admit the charges or evidence
More than 10 days:
- Notice of hearing before the hearing, including a description of the procedures to be followed at the hearing
- Notice containing the time, date and location of the hearing and permitting enough time between the notice and hearing to allow the student to prepare a defense
- Notice of charges, including a summary of the evidence that will be presented against the student
- Impartial decision-maker
- Right of the student to share their side of the story
- Right of the student to avoid punishment except on the basis of substantial evidence
How to Prepare for a School Disciplinary Hearing
We don’t believe any family should attend a long-term suspension or expulsion hearing alone. Please bring a trusted friend or family member or an advocate if you can!
What else should you know?
Be careful what you say.
- Students being questioned by school administrators or police don’t have to say anything until they feel safe. You can wait until a trusted adult (parent, caregiver) is present before you answer questions. You can wait until you’re calm. You can wait until you’ve had time to think. You might choose to say nothing, although in most cases, we wouldn’t recommend that.
- Please note that anything you say can be used against you.
You have the right to free speech in schools, but there are some limits.
- Students can be disciplined if their expression would lead to either (a) a substantial disruption of the school environment or (b) an invasion of the rights of others.
- Speech that involves incitement, false statements of fact, obscenity, child pornography, threats and speech owned by others are all completely exempt from First Amendment protections.
- Out-of-school postings on social media, or other internet sites, are protected unless they are true threats or are reasonably calculated to reach the school environment and are so egregious as to pose a serious safety risk or other substantial disruption in that environment.
You have some privacy rights in schools.
- Courts have said that school officials can search students in public schools if there is a reasonable suspicion to search. They do not need probable cause.
- Searches could include backpacks, purses, lockers, school grounds, parking lots and student cars in a school parking lot.
- A search could also include a cell phone and perhaps a student’s social media account, but the school does not have an unlimited right to search any content.
There are two types of reasonable suspicion:
- Individualized suspicion is when a school official has a reasonable belief that you personally might be doing something illegal.
- Generalized suspicion is when school officials are concerned that there might be illegal activity somewhere in the school. This means that student drug tests or metal detectors are allowed when there is a general concern about students using drugs or carrying weapons. However, some courts have ruled that without any evidence of illegal activity, such a search would be unconstitutional.