Last Updated on March 25, 2021 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
The phone rings- and it’s your kid’s school. First thoughts: “Oh no, is something wrong? Is my child hurt?” When you answer, you hear: “Come to the school as Johnny has done wrong and has to go home.” He was suspended. The facts of why are abbreviated and you are seriously confused. The drive to school is strained and when you arrive, you immediately believe what the school administrator says Johnny did is true as he is a “respectable school official.” [mistake number one] Meanwhile Johnny sits with his head down in the corner, silent [silence here may actually be positive]. You sign the suspension form [mistake number two] and take Johnny home and maybe punish him. Eventually you review the suspension form and find that it says Johnny did something that he did NOT DO, or find he was NOT involved in the matter alleged. Horror sets in as you realize Johnny’s college chances are now potentially lessened and he is labelled a troublemaker. What can you do? APPEAL!
There is no code section mandating a suspension appeal in California. For this reason, parents who call the school or show up asking to “appeal” a suspension are met with statements such as “You can’t appeal,” or “There is no appeal process.” Yet, we all know that even when there is no “formal” appeal, there is always a way to try to get something overturned if you talk to the right people.
In some school districts, there are actual suspension appeal policies and even a form sometimes to complete, but this is not the norm. If there is a policy and form, these should be completed fully and WRITTEN evidence attached proving all points. If there is no form (most likely situation), that does not mean parents are out of luck. In that case, parents can still file a suspension appeal whether authorized or not. This would be done by submitting written arguments with written proof to the Principal, and then moving up the line to the Superintendent’s office personnel and to the Superintendent if possible.
Pursuing a suspension appeal could involve the following steps :
1) Obtain the relevant Education Codes/Board policies (usually found online) that are cited in the suspension form as being breached and read them to see how they apply or don’t apply. Review other education codes relevant to suspension (such as Education Codes §§ 48900-48929) to understand how these things work generally.
2) Obtain a copy of any/all evidence the school has, such as witness statements, and your own child’s statements. Sometimes schools don’t turn these over to parents and legal intervention may be needed to clarify that these documents ARE student records and need to be coughed up. Unfortunately, California Education Code (Ed §49069) allows them 5 business days to provide them, but you can plead for these sooner due to the situation.
3) Develop written documentation on the matter proving your arguments. This can be in the form of sworn declarations of the student or their friends who witnessed the situation (you would need to contact those students directly). Even email from a teacher on the matter can be evidence.
4) Draft a very well written, truthful, professional document with an outline of the facts from your viewpoint, the laws/policies that apply, and with actual arguments why these don’t or should not apply to your child. State what you want- the student to be returned to school and the matter to be rescinded and/or expunged. Note: it is inadvisable in the document to include personal attacks or name calling.
5) Some Districts actually allow a student to return to school while a suspension appeal is pending and this also could be explored if available (this is not the norm).
Everything should be in writing and submitted to the relevant school officials, asking for a prompt meeting. It is usually a good idea to provide the letter in advance of the meeting so the personnel can review it and understand the issues before you arrive.
If this fails, you can pursue other alternatives to attempt to correct the record, such as inserting your statement about the matter into the student’s records or pursuing a formal records correction request.
Who knows, if you try, maybe your child’s suspension will be reversed. The truth is that administrators assume kids are guilty just because someone says they are, and parents must challenge them when they are wrong. It will take a lot of intensive work to do it…. but little Johnny and his future are worth it!
Education Attorney for Students
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
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Please see my disclaimer. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting. This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.