Last Updated on July 26, 2022 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
Parents can be shocked when they receive a call stating a student is being suspended for five days for saying a bad word at school. I have seen a lot of student discipline matters centered around language, including swear words. However, unless the profanity is habitual, a student suspension or expulsion may not be legal.
Habitual Profanity May be Suspendable
Per California Education Code section 48900(i) a student may be suspended or expelled for engaging in “habitual profanity.” Note the code does not say a child may be suspended for “profanity,” but rather HABITUAL profanity. This wording is important, and not always understood by the school imposing the discipline.
Habitual is defined in “thefreedictionary.com” as follows (adjective form):
1. done or experienced regularly or repeatedly
2. by habit
3. customary, usual
One Student Swear Word May Not Be Enough
In other words, habitual profanity must involve swearing as a regular activity of the student. One slip up of saying the “F” word or the “S” word is NOT grounds for student suspension or expulsion per the California Education Code. However, easy as it seems to read the legal code, I have seen discipline imposed for simply saying a bad word on a single occasion. Technically, this is not a legal basis for school suspension.
Education Code 48900.5 Means Double-No Suspension for First Offenses
There is another code section which would also prevent student suspensions for profanity: Education Code section 48900.5. This section prohibits suspension for a first offense so may also help prevent student profanity suspensions.
Discussions with Students to Prevent Suspension
As it is often harder to remove a student suspension record, or reverse a suspension (suspension appeal), than to prevent a suspension in the first place, all parents should discuss language and other behavior at school with their children.
Profane speech may result in a student having a permanent black mark in their school records, which may haunt them beyond high school. Suspensions (and expulsions) must be revealed when inquired about by colleges, or even when seeking to enter various professions (even becoming an attorney).
Expulsion and suspension student lawyer Michelle Ball helps parents take on the student discipline process and records created. As a Sacramento education attorney Michelle assists students throughout California, in Elk Grove, Roseville, Natomas, Marysville, Yuba City, Woodland, Auburn, Stockton, Modesto, the Bay Area and throughout the state.
Originally published Nov 28, 2011