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
When a parent suddenly faces the terrible fact that their child is up for expulsion from school, the question always arises: why is the student being expelled for this offense when another student did much worse and is still at school? This is a valid question, but is it relevant or helpful? In most cases, no.
Student Confidentiality Prohibits Disclosure of Other Students Punishments
The fact is that schools are obligated by student confidentiality rules not to disclose other students’ confidential discipline information. As such, the fact another student is rumored to have “gotten away with” something (for which the student could have been expelled) usually plays no part in a current student’s expulsion proceeding.
IF the student who “got away with it” would be willing to come forward about their situation, it could help. However, the reality is that students who are rumored to have gotten away with something rarely come forward.
Different Students Have Different School Histories
Even if the student who got no expulsion did come forward, there is no guarantee as to just what would happen as a result of that information. This is because all students are different.
Most students have different situations when getting expelled, even if involved in the same matter. For example, if a student is up for expulsion for causing a severe injury and another student received merely a suspension for causing a similar severe injury, questions arise like:
What were the injuries caused by each student?
How severe was each injury?
What were the facts in each student’s situation?
What is the discipline history of each student?
Was one student in special education or on a 504 Plan (offers protections)?
What were both students academic histories and grade point averages?
What grade are the students in?
Schools Can Justify Different Punishments Based on Multiple Factors
If there were two students who committed similar acts, but one was expelled and one was not, and the unpunished student came forward, the school could still defend a recommendation for expulsion by pointing out differences between the two students.
Students inevitably have different backgrounds, grade point averages, discipline histories and have other factors that come into play. No two students are exactly the same, so there are always ways to distinguish them and perhaps to justify increased punishment in one student discipline scenario.
Where COULD the Other Student’s Lack of Punishment Help?
The only situation where another student’s past crimes could help would likely be if the student very clearly did far worse than the student now up for expulsion, had a worse record, has a bigger discipline history, got worse grades AND YOU CAN PROVE IT with evidence. This evidence would have to be in the form of written, video, or other information from some reliable witnesses or source.
I have not seen this situation come to fruition as ultimately student wrongs are different, unpunished parents and students won’t talk, the rumors of less punishment are often false and/or the family does not know how to get a hold of the student who “got away with it.”
Is Student Discrimination At Play?
If there were a pattern of targeting one race over another with harsher punishments, this would be a larger question to be addressed with the Office for Civil Rights and/or in other forums.
Expulsion Panels Decide
All in all, I sadly have to tell many parents that it is not relevant that the star football player allegedly sold drugs and got away with it, while their child just possessed controlled substances and is heading to expulsion. Ultimately, even if the rumor were true and we could get the star football player to come forward, problems would then develop around the differences in the two students. The admissibility of the football player’s testimony may also arise, as expulsions are to be based and determined on the student in front of the expulsion panel.
Ultimately, the fact that Zero Tolerance is not supposed to exist (e.g. a student can’t just be accused and kicked out without an expulsion hearing to decide their fate), gives expulsion panels discretion not to expel the football player while still expelling another student based on his or her unique factual situation.
Do Your Best With the Student’s Facts
All parents need to just do their best to try to defeat any school expulsion recommendation with the facts available.
If a parent can rally students who received less punishment for the same school offense to come forward, they can do so.
Ultimately, the school punishment will be based on what the current student is “proven” to have done. The “proof” used to expel, however, is many times flawed, insubstantial and weak, as hearsay comes in and student statements have the power of persuasion regardless of how false or ridiculous they may be.
Parents fighting expulsion fight against a stacked deck and need to gather persuasive evidence to show the school authorities and expulsion panel that the student did not commit the expellable act and/or deserves mercy.
[originally published December 3, 2014]
Student expulsion lawyer Michelle Ball defends students when they face school expulsion, suspension or unfair punishment. Michelle can assist families statewide, from Sacramento to Los Angeles to San Francisco, as an expulsion attorney licensed in California.