Parents' Guide to Suspensions and Expulsions: Procedures for Non-Disabled Students

Parents' Guide to Suspensions and Expulsions: Procedures for Non-Disabled Students
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Last updated: October 2012

(Part One of the Parents’ Guide to Suspensions and Expulsions in Illinois Public Schools)

Suspensions of non-disabled students
Expulsions of non-disabled students
If you might your child might need special education 

Suspensions of non-disabled students

What is a suspension?

A suspension is the removal of a student from school for ten days in a row or less.  The day the suspension starts counts as one full day, even if the student is suspended in the afternoon or for half a day. Schools may suspend non-disabled students for up to ten days for each serious act of misconduct. If a school intends to expel a student, it will usually suspend a student for ten days before holding an expulsion hearing.

A student may also be suspended from riding the school bus for misconduct on the bus.  A school bus suspension may be for more than ten days for safety reasons, and may affect the student’s ability to get to school.

For what reasons may a school suspend a student?

A student can be suspended for misconduct, such as:

  • Disobeying school staff
  • Leaving the school without permission
  • Being caught with cigarettes or lighters
  • Damaging school property
  • Using pagers or cell phones without permission
  • Gambling
  • Fighting
  • Forgery
  • Cheating or copying the work of another student or other source
  • Bullying, or using threats, intimidation or violence
  • Turning on the fire alarm when there is no fire
  • Stealing or bringing stolen goods to school
  • Using or bringing fireworks to school
  • Inappropriate sexual conduct

This is not a complete list of reasons for which a student may be suspended.  A student does not have to be suspended for all of these reasons.  On the other hand, many of the acts of misconduct listed above could result in both suspension and expulsion.  School personnel decide when and for how many days to suspend a student, but must follow the student’s disciplinary handbook.  In some cases, the school may also call the police.  For details, see your school district’s disciplinary handbook, which you and your child should have received and reviewed carefully together at the beginning of the school year.  If you do not have a copy of your district’s disciplinary handbook, you should request one as soon as possible.

What must the school do when suspending your child?

The school must immediately give you notice in writing when your child is suspended. This written notice must include:

  • The reasons your child is being suspended
  • The number of days your child will be suspended
  • Notice of your right to appeal the school’s decision to suspend your child

What are your rights when your child is suspended?

You have the right to appeal the school’s decision to suspend your child.  You may appeal by requesting a meeting.  This meeting is often called a “review,” and is not as formal as an expulsion hearing.  Asking for an appeal of a suspension does not delay the suspension.

What should you do if your child is suspended?

  • If your child comes home and tells you that they have been suspended, call the school principal or assistant principal to make sure this is true.  If you have not received immediate notice in writing, request a written report that states the reasons for the suspension and the number of days your child will be suspended.
  • You may ask for a meeting to appeal the suspension.  At the meeting, you may talk about the suspension and give reasons why you think your child should not be suspended.  The meeting may not take place before the suspension ends. At the meeting, you can ask the school to remove the suspension from your child’s school record.  A successful appeal should prevent an expulsion hearing for the same reason as the suspension.  In addition, removal of a suspension from the student’s record may reduce the chance that the student will be expelled for subsequent alleged misconduct later on, and may increase the chances of getting an alternative to expulsion (e.g., the SMART program in Chicago) for future acts of misconduct.
  • You should ask for schoolwork for your child during the suspension.  This makes it easier for your child to keep up in school.  In Chicago, the disciplinary rules state that “principals must ensure “that students receive schoolwork during the suspension and are given the opportunity to take any missed tests or quizzes.

Expulsions of non-disabled students

What is an expulsion?

An expulsion is the removal of a student from school for more than 10 days in a row.  When a student is expelled, he/she will usually first be suspended for up to 10 days.

For how long may a school expel a student?

A student may be expelled for a definite period of time from 11 days to 2 years for each incident. 

For what reasons may a school expel a student?

State law requires a one-year expulsion of a student who brings a gun, knife, brass knuckles, billy clubs or other weapon to school or to a school event.  Also, state law requires a one-year expulsion of a student who uses or attempts to use an object to cause bodily harm, including but not limited to, knives, brass knuckles, or billy clubs, or ‘look alikes’ of any of these weapons.  However, on a case-by-case basis, the superintendent or the school board may decide to expel the student for more or less time. 

A student may also be expelled for other misconduct, such as:

  • Bullying, or using threats, intimidation or violence
  • Gang activity
  • Using violence, threats or intimidation
  • Stealing
  • Making bomb threats
  • Arson
  • Sex crimes
  • Fighting
  • Kidnapping

This is not all of the reasons why a student may be expelled.  Nor will a student definitely be expelled for all of these reasons.  The school board has broad discretion to decide when and for how long to expel a student. An expulsion cannot be longer than two years in Illinois.  In some cases, the school may also call the police.  For details, see your school district’s disciplinary handbook, which you and your child should have received at the beginning of the school year.  Although given broad discretion in disciplinary matters, school districts can abuse that discretion according to Illinois case law if they do not consider a range of mitigating factors or comply with certain basic procedural due process requirements. (See What should you do if the school wants to expel your child?)     

What must the school do before expelling your child?

  • Before expelling your child, a school must give you and your child an opportunity to have a hearing, which is more formal than the meeting to appeal a suspension.
  • If your child attends a non-charter public school, the school must send you notice of the expulsion hearing in writing and by certified or registered mail.  The notice must state the time, place, and reason for the hearing.  If your child attends a charter school, you should review the school’s disciplinary handbook regarding the school’s expulsion procedures.
  • At the hearing, the school must give you reasons for your child’s expulsion and the date when the expulsion will start.

What are your rights at the expulsion hearing?

You have the right to bring an attorney or advocate, call witnesses, present evidence, and cross-examine the school’s witnesses.  You should let the school know if you intend to bring a lawyer and/or call witnesses at the hearing.  If the school tape records the hearing, you may request a copy of the tapes after the hearing. 

Although Chicago and some school districts use tape recorders or court reporters at expulsion hearings, they do not have to do so. If you want to tape record an expulsion hearing, you should notify the parties present at the hearing ahead of time.  There may be consequences under the Illinois Eavesdropping Act for taping parties without their consent.

Who actually makes the final decision to expel your child?

In Chicago and many suburban school districts, the hearing is conducted by a hearing officer (appointed by the board of education) who makes findings of fact and recommendations to either the school board or the chief educational officer, who then makes the final decision.  In other districts, the board of education conducts the expulsion hearing and at the end of the hearing makes the final decision whether or not to expel your child.

What happens when a student is expelled?

After expelling your child for a specific period of time (but no longer than two years), the school district may give you the choice to send your child to an alternative school. Illinois law does not require a school district to place an expelled non-disabled student in an alternative school while the student is expelled.  In Chicago, you will have the choice to enroll your child in “an alternative SAFE school,” which has smaller classes and few, if any, extra-curricular activities.  However, sometimes the SAFE schools have waiting lists.  

Beginning January 1, 2012, there is a new law that seems to encourage school districts to place expelled students in an alternative school if the student is not a threat to students and staff at the alternative school.  But the law does not seem to require school districts to send non-disabled students to alternative schools while they are expelled.

In some cases, the school may transfer your child right away to an alternative school. This could even happen before or instead of holding an expulsion hearing.  As soon as possible after the transfer, your child’s school and the new school must develop an alternative education plan for your child.  You must be invited to the meeting. Your child may be invited as well.  The plan must include the date when your child may return to their old school, educational and behavioral plans, and a time frame and method to review your child’s progress at the alternative school.

Generally, a student expelled in one Illinois school district will be considered “not in good standing” by any other public school district in the state. The student may either be kept out of school while expelled or allowed to attend an alternative school, if there is one.

In Chicago, students who commit serious acts of misconduct, such as possession of firearms, other dangerous weapons, or large amounts of drugs, or students who inflict serious injuries, may be referred for immediate “emergency placement” at an alternative school even before the expulsion hearing.

What should you do if the school wants to expel your child?

Remember, the school cannot expel your child without first giving you the opportunity to attend a hearing to tell your child’s “side of the story.”  

When you receive written notice that the school district has scheduled an expulsion hearing, it is important to go to the expulsion hearing.  Even if your child did something wrong, at the hearing you can give reasons why you believe your child should not be expelled.  Illinois courts have held that before expelling a student, a school district must at least consider a number of factors, set forth below.  For example, you can:

  • Have your child tell his/her side of the story
  • Argue that your child’s conduct was not bad enough to warrant expulsion
  • Argue that your child should not be expelled because your child has had no history of misconduct at school
  • Argue that your child’s misconduct did not disrupt the education of other students
  • Argue that expulsion is too severe a punishment
  • Argue that expulsion is not in the best interest of your child

You can argue that your child would not cause a threat to the safety of students or staff in an alternative program and should be allowed to attend an alternative program, if expelled.3. If possible, bring a lawyer or an advocate who knows education law with you to the expulsion hearing. To find a lawyer or advocate, see the resources listed at the end of this booklet.

Find out how the school board makes the final decision about expelling your child. If they decide after reviewing the hearing officer’s recommendations, and holding the hearing you may have the chance to make one last argument to the board to stop the expulsion of your child.  You should find out what the expulsion procedures are in your district, and ask to meet with the board after the expulsion hearing if this is an option in your school district.

If the school district decides to expel your child after the expulsion hearing, you should check your school district’s disciplinary handbook to determine if there is a way to appeal an expulsion decision.  You can also appeal the decision by going to state court.  Please consult a lawyer about how to file an appeal in state court.

There is a special program in Chicago that is an alternative for expulsion, called the SMART program. 

SMART stands for “Saturday Morning Alternative Reach-Out and Teach.” Students in the SMART program attend eight consecutive Saturday morning classes. They learn how to resolve problems and receive help for alcohol or drug problems. Students in this program must also do 20 hours of community service for a non-profit organization. If your child attends a public school in Chicago, at the expulsion hearing, you can ask that they go to the SMART program instead of being expelled. If your child is admitted to the SMART program, it is important to make sure they attend each class. If your child misses any classes, he/she will be expelled from school, usually for one semester.

What if your child should have been, but was not, in special education, when the alleged misconduct occurred?

If you think your child might have a disability, but is not in special education and is being expelled because of problems in school that stem from a disability, your child may have the same rights as a child with a disability (see Part 2) if the school knew or should have known your child had a disability before his/her misconduct.

The school had knowledge that your child has a disability if any one of the following was true before your child’s misconduct:

  • You wrote to the school, or to your child’s teacher, that your child may need special education services;
  • You have asked the school to evaluate your child to see if they need special education;
  • The teacher or other school staff expressed specific concerns about your child’s pattern of behavior to the director of special education or other supervisory personnel;
  • For example, maybe your child’s teachers have written several misconduct reports that were signed by the school, then You could argue that your child’s school district had knowledge that your child has a disability and  your child should have the same rights as a child with a disability;
  • For more information or assistance, call Equip for Equality’s Special Education Helpline at (312) 341-0022 or (800) 537-2632.   

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