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School and Learning
School Discipline

When a school seeks to discipline a student, there are certain rules and procedures they must follow. Often, parents are not aware of these rules, or of the rights their child has in the process. This article will provide parents of school-age children with a basic understanding of the rules and procedures that schools, including charter schools, must follow. If your child is classified for special education and related services, he/she is entitled to additional protections. (See the Special Education section for more information.)

Student Codes of Conduct

All schools must have policies that explain to parents and students how they expect students to behave, the consequences of not following the school’s rules, and how to appeal a disciplinary action. These policies are called the code of student conduct. Schools must give the student code of conduct to students and their parents every year. Many schools also post their code of conduct on their websites.

School disciplinary actions range in severity. For example, a student might be given in-school suspension; after-school detention; suspension from extracurricular, sports, and other school activities; or out-of-school suspension. If your child is facing a disciplinary action, you should always review the student code of conduct to see if the school is following its own policies and rules.

Suspensions and Expulsion

Students may be suspended or expelled for a number of different types of conduct. Some of these reasons include:

  • Disobedience
  • Defiance of authority
  • Physical assault
  • Stealing
  • Damaging school property
  • Possessing, using, or being under the influence of drugs or alcohol at school or on school grounds
  • Harassment, intimidation, or bullying.

Schools can also discipline students for conduct that has occurred away from school grounds, but there must be a connection between the conduct and the school’s orderly functioning. The student’s conduct must materially and substantially interfere with the ability of the school to maintain discipline within the school. The disciplinary action must also be reasonably necessary for the student’s physical and/or emotional safety, security, and well-being or for the safety and security of another student, staff, or school grounds.

Types of Suspension

There are two types of suspension. A short-term suspension is when a student is suspended from school for 10 school days in a row or less. A long-term suspension is when a student is suspended for more than 10 school days in a row. If your child is being suspended from school, it is important that you understand the difference between these two types of suspension. Your child has different rights, depending on the type of suspension.

Short-term suspensions. When a school wants to impose a short-term suspension, it must give the student:

  • Verbal or written notice of the alleged conduct and an explanation of the underlying facts; and
  • An informal hearing before the suspension, which gives the student a chance to explain his or her version of events. Typically, this informal hearing will be a meeting between your child and a school administrator—for example the principal or vice-principal.

Schools must also give parents verbal or written notice of the proposed suspension before the end of the school day that the school wants to suspend your child. This notice must explain:

  • The specific allegations
  • The underlying facts
  • The section(s) of the code of student conduct that your child is accused of violating
  • The student’s due process rights
  • The terms and conditions of the suspension.

Long-term suspensions. When a school wants to impose a long-term suspension, the student has the same rights described above for short-term suspensions. Schools must also provide the parent with written notice of the suspension within two school days of the start of the suspension. This notice must include:

  • The specific charges
  • The underlying facts
  • The student’s due process rights
  • Notice that continued prohibited conduct by the student could lead to the school district seeking to expel the student. For more information about expulsion, see the section below.

Students who receive long-term suspensions are entitled to a hearing before the school district’s board of education. The school must inform you of your child’s right to have an attorney attend the hearing. At the hearing, the student has the right to cross-examine the school district’s witnesses and present his or her own defense, including testimony and evidence. The hearing is required to be held no more than 30 calendar days from the date of suspension. At least five days before the hearing, the school must give a list of its witnesses and statements. The school district is allowed to assign a group of school board members or other school district staff to conduct the hearing, but the full school board must determine the action that will be taken against your child. Within five days of the hearing’s completion, the school district must provide parents with a written decision that includes:

  • The charges considered
  • A summary of the evidence presented by the student and the school district
  • Factual findings and determinations for each charge
  • Student’s educational services
  • Terms and conditions of the suspension
  • Right to appeal the decision to the Commissioner of Education by filing an appeal with the New Jersey Department of Education’s Bureau of Controversies and Disputes within 90 days of the decision. For more information about how to file this appeal see Frequently Asked Questions: Controversies and Disputes from the New Jersey Department of Education.

Expulsion

An expulsion is different from a long-term suspension. Sometimes school districts incorrectly use the word expulsion when they want to impose a long-term suspension. When a student is expelled, a school district is no longer required to provide educational services to a general education student. (Note: School districts cannot stop providing educational services to special education students.) Before trying to expel a student, a school district must follow certain steps:

  • The student must have already engaged in conduct that violated the student code of conduct and been given written notice that additional violations could lead to expulsion.
  • The student must also have been given all the procedural due process rights he/she was entitled to and an appropriate educational program or services.

If a school district decides to expel a student and the decision is appealed, the school district must continue to provide the student with an appropriate educational program or educational services until a final decision on the appeal has been made.

Out-Of-School Suspensions and Preschool – 2nd Grade Students

Schools are not allowed to suspend or expel a student who is in preschool through 2nd grade. There are some limited exceptions where they can. These exceptions include an incident involving a firearm or conduct of a violent or sexual nature that endangers others.  Instead of using discipline that excludes or removes young learners from their school programs, schools must have policies and programs in place that identify students who are experiencing behavioral or disciplinary problems. School must provide behavioral supports. These supports could include positive behavioral interventions and reinforcements and referral to appropriate services.

Educational Services

Schools are required to provide students with educational services during a short- or long-term suspension. These services must be provided within five school days of the suspension. Typically, these services will be in the form of home instruction. Home instruction is when the school provides a teacher at the student’s home or other setting, such as the public library. The teacher must instruct the student no fewer than 10 hours per a week on at least three separate days. The school is also required to provide at least 10 hours per week of guided learning experiences. Guided learning experiences are structured tasks/assignments done without the presence of the teacher. Guided learning experiences can include the use of technology.

Sometimes students will be placed in an alternative education program run by the school district, another school district, or the county educational commission. Alternative education programs are non-traditional schools that are developed for students who have been removed from their school due to disciplinary reasons or other students at risk of failure in a traditional school setting. Alternative education programs are required for students who have engaged in certain types of conduct, such as gun possession and assault with a weapon. The school district board of education determines whether a student should be placed in an alternative education program based on a review of the student’s academic, health, and behavioral needs. The New Jersey Department of Education keeps a directory of alternative education programs throughout the state. See New Jersey Alternative Education Listing.

Find the Laws about School Discipline

If you are a parent of a student facing disciplinary action, you should review the relevant state laws located in the New Jersey Administrative Code at N.J.A.C. 6A:16. The sections related to student conduct are in Subchapter 7. The sections related to alternative education and home instruction is in Subchapters 9 and 10.

Please also note that there may be additional specific laws and rules that apply to your child’s situation. This includes when a student is suspected of drug or alcohol use or is removed for firearm offenses, assault with weapons, or assaults on school district employees. The rules for these types of conduct can be found within Subchapters 4 and 5.

If you have any questions about the information in this article, have other education-related questions, or think that your child’s rights have been violated, contact LSNJLAWSM, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline, at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529). You may also apply online, and we will call you back within two business days. If you are not eligible for assistance from Legal Services, the hotline will refer you to other possible resources.​​​

8/13/2021