Decisions on discipline can have long-lasting consequences for Connecticut high school, boarding school and college students. Trusting parents can be caught off guard by the tenor of the public or private school’s procedure. Education lawyers for students advise them that administrators may suspend, and Connecticut school boards may expel, when such punishment is not truly warranted. Human nature at the high school or college level can lead to arbitrary or capricious punishments.
Families have more options than they think.
DISCIPLINE IN CONNECTICUT’S PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Your child’s Connecticut public school can lawfully discipline them for one of three reasons. First, their behavior must have violated one of the Board of Education’s rules. Second, it must have endangered persons or property. Or third, it must have seriously disrupted the educational process. Suspension for one of these reasons keeps a student away from classes and activities for ten days. To keep the student out longer, the school must expel them. If your middle or high school suspended your child and is considering expulsion, experienced education lawyers for students can help immediately.
Before looking at the reason why officials suspended your child, Greg Smith will first examine how they suspended them. He knows that officials had to have followed two procedures. First, they must have given your child a chance to tell their side of the story. That does not mean they had to believe the story. It does not even mean they had to listen to it. But it does mean they had to give them a chance to speak.
Second, school officials must have gathered reliable and credible evidence of misconduct. Education lawyers for students know this is critical. Without reliable and credible evidence, suspension violates your child’s constitutional right to due process.
Credible evidence is believable evidence. Investigating what happened, officials had to talk to people with knowledge of the alleged misconduct. If what they heard made sense, they had credible evidence. What this means in practical terms is that most anything believable will be enough to support suspension and probably expulsion.
But reliable evidence is a different matter. Reliable evidence is trustworthy evidence. The word of a witness that is biased against your child, or on drugs, should not be reliable enough to support discipline. Neither should hearsay evidence, if officials are relying on it alone to proceed against your child. Education lawyers for students will demonstrate to a judge that a school’s decision to suspend or expel a student by means of unreliable testimony is unlawful.
Even with credible and reliable evidence, school officials may still have acted unconstitutionally. In their investigation they may have discriminated against your child. This is an error that only an experienced student rights lawyer will recognize. School officials may not have lawfully treated your child more harshly than other students in the same situation. This means that for the same misconduct they may not discipline one person and let others go. Such treatment violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
By the same law officials cannot have disciplined your child for unknowingly violating a rule. They cannot, for example, suspend or expel a student for a weapon they didn’t know they had in their backpack or car. Proceeding in such a manner would violate the student’s civil rights, and should be challenged by every skilled education lawyers for students in Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, Wilton, Ridgefield, Fairfield County and Connecticut.
After examining the ways in which officials suspended your child, Greg will weigh the reasons why. Especially if they suspended them for behavior that seriously disrupted the educational process, he will know to look very carefully at the facts of the matter.
Your child may have done something that offended officials. Perhaps they made fun of them online. Your child may have annoyed other students. Mean pictures and words about other people get posted by unwise students on social media every night.
Such behavior alone does not give a school the right to discipline the student in question. Education lawyers for students know that to be disciplined, conduct off campus must directly affect life back at school. By one law school officials may take certain factors into account in deciding whether conduct disrupted routines back at school. They must consider whether it took place in close proximity to school or featured violence, threats, weapons or the participation of other students.
To challenge disruptiveness Greg will know from case law to dig deeper into the actual facts of the situation. Did your child’s conduct cause the parents of other students to keep them out of school the next day? Did it cause principals, assistant principals, secretaries and guidance counselors to answer phone calls and emails much more often than normal? Did it cause the police to publicly reassure parents? Did it cause fear among students and teachers and make the normal teaching of classes difficult? These are all questions education lawyers for students know to ask. The answers will determine whether the law gave officials the right to discipline your child.
Once a school has suspended your child and told you it intends to recommend that the Board expel them, Greg will explain to you how the Board must proceed. It will hear evidence and argument from lawyers from both sides in executive session and announce its decision in open session.
This means two things. First, it means that the Board’s decision takes place in public, where anyone can attend. Second, and more importantly, it means that your lawyer has the opportunity to persuade the Board that its officials are wrong. They may have been wrong in not following lawful procedures. They may have been wrong in not having lawful reasons for the discipline they imposed. Most critically, they may be wrong in recommending a period of expulsion that is inappropriate for your child.
This is when having an experienced lawyer makes all the difference. Greg will work to impress the members of the Board that your child is no different from theirs. He will coach your child to answer candidly and personably when he asks them questions before the Board. He will have your friends and family write letters about your son or daughter’s good character. He will put your student’s academic record in the best possible light, to show that discipline should not jeopardize your child’s prospects for admission to the college of their choice. He will know what consequences this and other boards have imposed in similar cases. He will focus all these efforts on one goal, persuading the members of the committee to let your child come back to school earlier than officials recommend.
Experience also makes a difference if the school offers to settle with you before the hearing. If that happens, you will need expert advice on whether to accept the school’s offer. You will need your attorney to advise you whether to accept the conditions the school is offering for your child’s return. Only an attorney that has seen dozens of expulsions, like Greg Smith has, will know if you are likely to gain better terms from a full hearing.
Making a school respect a student’s civil rights is one key to an attorney’s effectiveness. Convincing the members of the Board is another. As a school discipline lawyer for students in Norwalk, Westport, Stamford, Ridgefield, Wilton, Fairfield County and Connecticut, Gregory Smith has the skills families need to protect their child’s future.
DISCIPLINE IN CONNECTICUT’S PRIVATE SCHOOLS
When the family signs a contract for their child to attend a private school, in exchange for their tuition dollars the school promises to treat the student fairly. In threatening to suspend, dismiss or otherwise discipline the student, schools may abuse the child’s right to due process and the family’s right to their contract.
The school’s officials can fail the family in three ways. First, they can fail to fulfill specific contractual promises. The manner in which they conduct the disciplinary process may violate the procedures set forth in the school’s student handbook.
Second, their decision to discipline a student may substantially depart from accepted academic norms. School officials have the right to exercise professional judgment, but they do not have license to act arbitrarily or capriciously. For dismissal schools must have procedural mechanisms in place to respect rights and insure fairness. If, instead, officials make arbitrary and biased decisions, such violations implicate due process. For that the family may seek redress in federal court, which may award attorney’s fees and costs.
Third, every contract carries an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. It requires that neither party do anything to injure the right of the other to receive the benefits of the agreement. Wrongfully dismissing a student and failing to observe the terms and conditions of the handbook are evidence of bad faith. This behavior breaches the family’s contract and injures the student’s right to its benefits.
If you believe your child’s school has in any of these ways abused your rights, contact private school discipline attorney Gregory Smith, representing families in Greenwich, Stamford, Norwalk, Westport, Wilton, Ridgefield, Danbury and every other town in Connecticut.