Last Updated on October 12, 2022 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995
School expulsion hearings are scary. They can be incredibly overwhelming and confusing, with families finding themselves in very new territory. So, let’s talk about something simple that is easily confrontable for parents: what do parents SAY at an expulsion hearing to help the student’s matter come out better?
Tell the Student’s Story
The first thing parents need to communicate at a school expulsion hearing is THE STUDENT’S STORY. The story of the student as a person, as a child, as someone loved, and as someone who made a mistake.
The expulsion panel or school board (whomever is hearing the expulsion), needs to get some understanding of who the student is so they can have some empathy for them and their situation; so they can have as much compassion as possible for the student; so the student is not viewed as a bug to be squashed.
Parents need to bring the panel members into understanding who the student IS so they begin to feel something a little positive about the student. This is very important. A panel who despises a student, certainly won’t have mercy.
What Tells the Student’s Story?
Often there is not a lot of time to really give details about the student’s life, so telling the student’s story starts before the hearing. If possible, parents should provide the expulsion panel with character letters from community members, such as church or religious leaders, boy scout leaders, coaches, teachers, neighbors, Godparents, or others who know this student much more than the expulsion panel members. Good things should be said about the student, their character, and their general conduct as a human being.
The student’s positive grades, teacher comments that are positive, or other positive notations in school records can also speak to the student’s great character.
Parents may also tell the student’s story by providing a page with a picture collage showing happy moments and the student doing positive things- being happy at an amusement park, petting an animal and smiling, being at a community event and helping, hugging their family, being in a parade, camping, etc.
It cannot hurt anyone to see this student (who the panel may be considering terrible as they sold drugs to someone or carried an airsoft gun and shot it, etc.) as a REAL person, who is good and valuable, but who may have just made a dumb mistake.
These letters and pictures speak for the student and their family without having to say a word.
More Telling of the Student’s Story
The student’s story can also be told verbally in the hearing itself. The parent should give an opening statement where they discuss the student, what the student did or did not do and what outcome the parent is seeking for the student.
Parent testimony can also tell the student’s story. Parents can speak as character witnesses, discussing more about who the student is.
If the student is admitting guilt, they can speak their truth about themselves, their regret, what led up to the situation, how they are responsible for their mistakes, how they have learned from their mistakes and the expellable offense will never happen again.
What the student says, and if they will testify at all, is a strategic decision.
Parent Witnesses May Help
Other witnesses can also tell the student’s story: good or bad. As the school will bring negative witnesses and statements, the parents can bring a character witness to brag about the student and praise their character.
If there are actual witnesses to the alleged event, that support the student and their version of the facts, they also can come and explain what they saw, to counteract the school’s negative portrayal. If they won’t come voluntarily, they can be subpoenaed.
Parents Should Speak About Outcome
Often expulsion panels are very narrow-minded. What I mean is that they see their options on the expulsion outcome as very limited. They may not think outside the box. The expulsion panel members may think their only option is to expel and that they can’t suggest alternative punishments.
Parents need to dissuade them of this viewpoint.
Parents should ask the expulsion panel to give the student the outcome the parent suggests as this would benefit the school and the student.
Does the parent want a transfer to another regular school instead of expulsion? Say that. Does the parent think, in a very serious case such as knife brandishing, that a suspended expulsion would be appropriate rather than a full regular expulsion? Ask for it. Name a good outcome that is acceptable. It might just influence the expulsion panel.
If parents don’t make these requests, the student is fully at the mercy of the expulsion panel and their limited knowledge and understanding of the punishments they may issue to students.
Ask for Mercy and Understanding
Parents need to express to expulsion panels that the student is young, immature, and made a mistake. They need to ask for the expulsion panel to be merciful to the student, as the student, regardless of culpability, did not grasp what they were doing fully.
Yes, the student was responsible (if they were), but they were impulsive. They have an immature mind. They are not dangerous or evil. They are a kid and kids can make silly mistakes.
Innocence Needs to Be Shared
If a student is truly innocent of the expulsion “crime” then this needs to be the singular message throughout the hearing. Most expulsion hearings involve students who already confessed, or somehow there is enough evidence to find them guilty.
If the student is not guilty, the parents need to communicate the student’s innocence and show why this is so. Show the student is not guilty. Use the school’s evidence against them. Explain that the student cannot be punished by the expulsion panel as they are innocent.
Convince the expulsion panel that the student has been wrongfully excluded and must be found innocent. Tell them this. Parents don’t have to be shy about their viewpoint or be intimidated.
Yes, the burden of proof is on the school to show guilt, but expulsion hearings are sort of like the wild west- all bets are off, so the very best case of innocence should be made if possible.
Different Situations Cause Different Persuasive Communications
Ultimately, what parents say needs to be persuasive, but what that means will vary by the situation, the student, and the school’s evidence.
Getting an expulsion panel to side with a student or to be merciful in their punishment can be difficult. Parents can do the job if they believe in the student and communicate a story that defeats the need for an expulsion.
Things will vary depending on if the student confessed, the evidence, AND may depend on if the student actually did the expellable act or not. But in all cases, good communication and persuasion are key to a better expulsion outcome.
Expulsion defense attorney Michelle Ball has helped in education matters since 1995. As a student lawyer with an office in Sacramento, her reach can extend statewide to Tahoe, Daly City, Chula Vista, Fresno, Foresthill, Vacaville and beyond.