SCHOOL DISCIPLINE IN PENNSYLVANIA

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1 Making sure that all of Pennsylvania s children have access to quality public schools SCHOOL DISCIPLINE IN PENNSYLVANIA IMPORTANT: ELC's publications are intended to give you a general idea of the law. However, each situation is different. If, after reading our publications, you have questions about how the law applies to your particular situation, contact us for a referral, or contact an attorney of your choice. This fact sheet applies to all public schools, including charter schools, in Pennsylvania except for schools operated by the School District of Philadelphia. A separate fact sheet, entitled School Discipline in the Philadelphia School District, is available from the Education Law Center at Contents Some General Tips 1 School Rules.2 Suspension: In-School and Out-of-School 3 Transfer to an Alternative Program..3 Expulsion 4 Students with Disabilities 5 Families Whose Native Language is not English..6 SOME GENERAL TIPS Read all papers that the school sends you. Make sure you know about any meetings or hearings that are scheduled concerning your child. Don t agree to anything you don t understand. 1

2 Talk with your child, and anyone else who might know about what happened. Learn what the law says about school discipline (that s what this fact sheet is about). If school staff don t seem to be following legal requirements, point that out. Show school officials this fact sheet, if necessary. Consider contacting a lawyer, especially if the school wants to expel your child. Your local bar association may be able to refer you to an attorney. The Education Law Center (see our number at the end of this fact sheet) may also be able to offer suggestions or advice. Attend all meetings and hearings. Make sure that school officials hear your child s side of the story. If you think that the school is not following the law, point that out. Take notes. Take a friend or someone else with you if you can. Talk with a lawyer about the possibility of an appeal if you disagree with the school s decision. SCHOOL RULES Each school district and charter school must publish a code of student conduct, and give copies to students and their families. The rules must be reasonably clear, so that students know what is expected of them. Schools can punish students if they break rules listed in the code of conduct. School rules can cover student behavior at school and on the way to and from school. The law is not clear about how far schools can go in punishing students for behavior off school grounds and/or outside of school hours. (If your case is of this type, you may wish to seek further advice from a private attorney or the Education Law Center.) Students have certain rights to express themselves and practice their religion, as long as they do so without disrupting school activities. If you think that school officials are trying to punish your child for exercising these rights, you should seek further legal advice. 2

3 SUSPENSION: IN-SCHOOL AND OUT-OF-SCHOOL In-school suspension. Before any in-school suspension, the student must be informed of the reasons and given a chance to tell his or her side of the story. Parents must also be notified. The student s education must continue during the in-school suspension. If the in-school suspension lasts for more than ten (10) days in a row, the student must be offered an informal hearing (see below for information on informal hearings). Out-of-school suspension. Before any out-of-school suspension, the student must be informed of the reasons and given a chance to respond. Parents must be notified in writing. An out-of-school suspension can only last up to ten (10) school days in a row. Only the principal or person in charge of the school (like an assistant principal) can suspend the student. If the suspension is for more than three (3) school days, the family must be offered an informal hearing within the first five (5) days of the suspension. The family can question anyone present at the hearing, and can also bring people to speak on the student s behalf. Note that school staff cannot simply send the child home without following these rules. The suspension rules apply whenever a child is kept out of school for any period of time (up to 10 days). Regardless of whether the parent attends the informal hearing, the student has the right to return to school once the suspension is over, and to complete assignments missed. TRANSFER TO AN ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION PROGRAM Transfer to an alternative program generally means that the student is assigned to a special program for disruptive students. School officials must hold an informal hearing before placing a student in an alternative education program (if the program has been approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education). The school must notify the family in writing of the time and place of the hearing. The procedures at the hearing are the same as for an out-of-school suspension (see above). 3

4 Districts must review each student transferred to an alternative program at the end of each semester to see if the student is ready to return to regular school. Ask your district what your child must do to be ready to return to regular school. School districts have considerable freedom in deciding what criteria a student must meet in order to return to regular school. However, if you believe that the criteria chosen by your district are unreasonable, you may wish to discuss the matter with the Education Law Center. EXPULSION Any removal from school for more than ten (10) school days in a row is called an expulsion. Expulsions can be for a fixed period (such as a semester or a year) or may be permanent. See our fact sheet on Expulsions in Pennsylvania: Information for Parents and Guardians at for more detailed information about expulsions. The school must hold a formal hearing before any expulsion. The hearing must be held before the school board or (at a charter school) the board of trustees; or the hearing can be held before a committee or hearing officer appointed by the board. If a committee or hearing officer hears the case, the entire board must vote on the committee s or hearing officer s recommendation. A majority of the full board must vote to expel the student. A principal or other person in charge of a school (like a CEO) has no authority to expel a student. The family has the right to get, before the hearing, the names of any witnesses against the student and copies of their statements, and the right to request that any of these witnesses and any school officials involved in the incident be present at the hearing. The family also has the right to bring a lawyer to the hearing; present witnesses and evidence; and question the school witnesses. The hearing must be recorded, and the family has a right to get a copy of the written record (which will be needed if the family appeals to court) at the family s expense. A copy can be provided for free to poor students. Once an expulsion decision is approved by the school board, it can be appealed to the local Court of Common Pleas. It s best to consult a lawyer about filing an appeal and to do so quickly, since the appeal must be filed within 30 4

5 calendar days. There may also be other legal options; consult a lawyer about these as well. An expelled student under age 17 must continue to receive an education. The parents must make arrangements for this, either by finding another school or by arranging a program of home schooling. However, if the parents are unable to do so, they should contact the school district or charter school within 30 days of the student s expulsion. The school district or charter school must then make some arrangements for the child s education. STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES All the rules described above apply to students with disabilities. However, there are some additional disciplinary protections for students with disabilities who receive special education services. See our fact sheet on School Discipline for Children with Disabilities and our Discipline Flowchart: Children with IEPs in Public Schools at for more complete information. Students with disabilities who receive special education services can be suspended and expelled from school. However, special rules apply if a school wants to suspend a student with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for more than 15 total days in a school year or wants to expel such a child. In both situations, a team of people knowledgeable about the child including the parent - must decide whether the misbehavior was a manifestation of the disability before the discipline can take place. If it was, the child cannot be suspended for more than 15 total days or expelled. If the team decides it was not a manifestation and the parent disagrees with the team s decision, the parent has the right to a special education hearing. Even if a special education student is expelled, the school district or charter school must still arrange for him or her to receive an appropriate educational program. A child with mental retardation cannot be suspended for any length of time without the parent s agreement, the agreement of the state Department of Education, or an order from a hearing officer or judge. A special education student can be transferred to an alternative education program for up to 45 school days, if the student brings a gun, a 5

6 pocket knife with a blade longer than 2-1/2, or another weapon to school; uses, buys, or sells illegal drugs at school; or causes serious bodily injury at school. Any decision to transfer the child must be made by the child s Individualized Education Program ( IEP ) Team. The parent can ask for a special education hearing if he or she believes the placement is inappropriate, but the transfer can be made in the meantime. In cases not involving a weapon or drugs, the student s IEP Team can recommend a transfer to an alternative education program. If the parent disagrees and requests a hearing, the transfer cannot be made unless a hearing is held and the hearing officer or a judge decides that the student is dangerous or that the alternative program is an appropriate placement for the student. Students with disabilities who do not need special education (sometimes called protected handicapped students, Section 504 students, or Chapter 15 students) may also have certain rights in the disciplinary process. Seek further advice if this is your situation. If you have questions about the discipline rights of children with disabilities, you can contact the Disability Rights Network at for more information. FAMILIES WHOSE NATIVE LANGUAGE IS NOT ENGLISH Non-English-speaking parents and students have the right to information concerning disciplinary matters in their native language. This includes the code of student conduct, and notices concerning disciplinary hearings and decisions. Also, a translator must be made available at meetings and hearings if the family so requests. Funding for this brochure was provide by the Pennsylvania Interest on Lawyers Trust Account Board (PA IOLTA) Prepared by: Education Law Center (11/09) (215) (Philadelphia) (412) (Pittsburgh) 6

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