It can be terrifying to receive written notice that the school wants to suspend your student for a semester or more. Making things even more stressful, school employees are pressuring you to schedule the tribunal hearing or sign a waiver as quickly as possible. In fairness, school employees act this way because the school district has only 10 days from the beginning of the suspension to hold the tribunal hearing unless the student's parents agree differently.
The rights that protect students depend on the length of punishment that the school district wants to impose. If the punishment is for 10 school days or less, the school district is generally allowed to impose punishment based on an administrator's investigation, including an opportunity for accused students to defend themselves. If someone like the vice principal asks witnesses what happened and gives the student a chance to explain, due process is satisfied. Parents need not be involved in the process at all.
If the punishment to be imposed exceeds 10 consecutive school days,2 the Constitution requires and Georgia law provides that the school district must hold a hearing, typically called a tribunal, to determine whether the student commit the accused violations of school rules, and what punishment, if any, should be imposed. Typically, school districts appoint retired school administrators or an employee from the school district legal department as hearing officers at the tribunal.
Before the tribunal, the district must provide written notice of (a) the time & place of the hearing, (b) a description of the specific discipline code(s) your student is accused of violating, (c) student's right to hire a lawyer, and (d) student's right to present evidence.3 Some school districts provide extra rights, including notice of maximum penalty the district is seeking or a list of witnesses - check your district's student handbook for more information.
The notice likely will not mention your right to obtain a copy of the documents that will be used in the hearing.4 Write a request to the person who signed the notice, seeking a copy of the evidence. Pay close attention to what those documents say, and which documents are included.
At the hearing, a school representative will present evidence for the hearing officer(s) to consider. If the representative offers a document or recording you did not receive in the evidence packet, tell the hearing officer that you did not receive it and ask them not to consider it. You will have the right to ask questions of the school's witnesses or call your own to testify.5 The hearing officer(s) must make their decisions based only on the evidence at the hearing. You are legally entitled to a written decision within 10 calendar days of the end of the hearing.6
The school district will make a transcript or recording of the hearing.7 The district must make you a copy if you request, but they may be able to charge a reasonable fee. You will need the transcript to appeal because you must explain the specific errors that you think led to the result you are challenging. Appeals are decided by the local board of education, whose decision can be appealed to the Georgia Department of Education. The timelines for appeals are extremely short.
Studies show that each day a student is not in school dramatically increases the chances that the student will drop out without graduating from high school. Potential long-term suspension is a serious issue with a substantial impact on your student's future. If your student is facing a tribunal hearing, contact a lawyer as soon as possible.
Free Education Rights Seminar
Rescheduled: January 22, 2018 - 10 AM
Art It Out Therapy Center (255 Village Parkway, Suite 580, Marietta GA 30067)
has invited me to present an overview of student education rights January 22, 2018, at 10 am.
Check the flyer below for additional information. Feel free to pass along to any interested folks.
Fn 1 O.C.G.A. 20-2-754(b)(2)
Fn 2 If a student is being suspended for a significant number of days without ever exceeding 11 consecutive school days, Georgia law is not literally being violated, but it is extremely likely that there is some significant legal issue that would justify consulting an attorney.
Fn 3 O.C.G.A. 20-2-754(b)(1)
Fn 4 O.C.G.A. 20-2-754(e)
Fn 5 O.C.G.A. 20-2-754(b)(3)
Fn 6 O.C.G.A. 20-2-754(c)
Fn 7 O.C.G.A. 20-2-754(b)(5)