Fighting Illegal School Suspensions For First Offenses

school suspensions need to be fought

Last Updated on July 28, 2022 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995

If a student receives a school suspension, fighting it may seem tough. However, if legally the student’s suspension should never have happened, winning arguments may be easier for parents to make.  Many first offenses must have ALTERNATIVE punishments to suspension issued. 

Knowing the law regarding suspensions is important in case a parent ever receives the dreaded “your child is being suspended…” phone call.    

Many First Offenses Are NOT Suspendable

In 2013, the California legislature amended Education Code §48900.5, clearly specifying when a student cannot be suspended for a first discipline offense.  This section applies to elementary, junior high, and high school suspensions.   

The legislature also explained that “other means of correction” should be attempted in many cases instead of school suspension.   

Yet, to this day, this code remains ignored and improperly applied.  This means thousands of students across California are being illegally suspended in breach of §48900.5.  Most parents often don’t even know their kids are being illegally suspended!  

Section 48900.5 Supports Alternative Punishments

Education Code §48900.5 says:  

(a) Suspension…shall be imposed only when other means of correction fail to bring about proper conduct… a pupil, including an individual with exceptional needs… may be suspended... upon a first offense, if …the pupil violated subdivision (a), (b), (c), (d), or (e) of Section 48900 or that the pupil’s presence causes a danger to persons.

high school suspensions can be fought
Many students receive suspensions for first time offenses when legally they should not

Wrongs for Which a Student May Be Suspended for a First Offense

Education Code sections (a)-(e) of §48900 lists the following offenses (which per the above may bring about suspension for a first time offense):

(a) (1) Caused, attempted to cause, or threatened to cause physical injury…

(2) Willfully used force or violence upon the person of another, except in self-defense.

(b) Possessed, sold, or otherwise furnished a firearm, knife, explosive, or other dangerous object…

(c) Unlawfully possessed, used, sold, or otherwise furnished, or been under the influence of, a controlled substance,…  an alcoholic beverage, or an intoxicant...

(d) Unlawfully offered, arranged, or negotiated to sell a controlled substance,… an alcoholic beverage, or an intoxicant of any kind, and either sold, delivered, or otherwise furnished to a person another liquid, substance, or material and represented the liquid, substance, or material as a controlled substance, alcoholic beverage, or intoxicant.

(e) Committed or attempted to commit robbery or extortion.

These are more violent and dangerous school offenses and a student may receive a suspension for first time offenses in these categories or for another offense if their presence on a school campus presents a danger. 

Alternatives Should Apply For All Other First Offenses

If a student is has not committed one of the above offenses and their school rule breach is not “dangerous,” they should NOT be suspended (at home or in school) on their first offense.  Rather, they should receive an alternative to school suspension. 

Examples of alternatives could be to complete a task at school, receive a detention, receive counseling, etc.  There is a long list in §48900.5(b).

high school suspension occur at PE class
Suspensions may occur during any class and may not be legal for some first offenses

School Officials Remain Unaware They Should Not Suspend for Many First Offenses

What I have found is either the school officials are unaware of the requirement that alternatives to suspension must be applied prior to suspension, or they don’t care.  It seems that many vice principals just keep imposing suspensions for non-violent offenses.   

Once Imposed, Wrongful Suspension Must Be Fought

If a student suspension which should not have been imposed IS issued by an elementary, junior high or high school, parents need to fight the suspension promptly.  

To get an illegal school suspension out of a student’s records, strong arguments based on California legal codes need to be made to the school or district.   Unfortunately, parents may be faced with a blank stare or school staff who don’t believe what parents say.  Luckily, a parent can print out and carry §48900.5 with them as proof.   

If properly challenged, with clear anti-suspension arguments, school officials may remove and expunge a wrongful suspension from the student’s records.    

students need to be fought for by their parents
Parents should fight improper spensions

Parents Should Assert The Students Right Upon Initial Notification of Suspension If Possible

It would be much easier and fairer if schools would just not suspend for first offenses as described in §48900.5, so if possible, parents should avoid any fight by simply asserting the student’s right to suspension alternatives when first meeting with the school or disusing the suspension over the phone.

Schools May Change Their Wrongful Practices If Confronted With the Law 

The only way schools will change is if they are challenged.   

If elementary, junior high and high school suspensions are properly attacked by parents, schools may just start following the law and stop kicking students out of school for minor offenses.   

The legislature meant what it said when it mandated alternatives to suspensions.  Schools need to follow this clear mandate regarding first offenses.  Make sure that they do.

Michelle is a student suspension attorney, helping families fight wrongful suspensions and expulsions. She helps in cities such as Stockton, Lodi, Marysville, Yuba City, Roseville, Citrus Heights, Carmichael, Folsom, Orangevale, Fair Oaks, Davis, Woodland, the Bay Area and all areas of California and is a student lawyer located in Sacramento, California.