Law Office of Michelle Ball school discipline Is School Expulsion Really That Bad?

Is School Expulsion Really That Bad?

Expulsions from school are bad for students

Last Updated on September 14, 2021 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

When parents of California schoolchildren are faced with a potential school expulsion, numerous thoughts run through their minds, such as:  “What will happen to Johnny if he is expelled?  Where will he go to school?  What will happen to his future plans?”  Ultimately, with a long process ahead of them, exclusion from the regular school during the wait and a scary expulsion hearing hanging over their heads, many just give up or give in without thinking through potential consequences.

During this process, parents may also ask “DOES SCHOOL EXPULSION REALLY MATTER?” 

Parents may believe that expulsion is only a “short break,” and that Johnny will soon return to school.  It is “no big deal” if he attends the local continuation school and goes back to his elementary, junior or high school next year.  However, return to school cannot be guaranteed (if the expulsion terms are not met, Johnny may never go back to his regular school), and long term impacts may occur.  

If you want the best for your child and his/her future, school expulsion does matter for the following reasons:

1)  PRIVATE COLLEGES APPLICATION AND ENTRANCE:  School expulsion comes up on undergraduate college applications.  For example, see the College Common Application (now completely electronic), for private universities, which asks specifically about any prior discipline, suspension and expulsion.  The last time I saw the application on paper, it had a form to be completed by school staff, which asked them about a student’s discipline history.

2)  PUBLIC COLLEGE APPLICATIONS AND ENTRANCE:  Public colleges may also ask about discipline infractions when a student applies and may take past expulsions, suspensions or other discipline into account.  For example, a University of South Carolina official commented that their college may take discipline into account if they are considering equally qualifying candidates and don’t know who to pick.  Community colleges will not likely care, while a University of California or CSU (California State University) campus might.  The higher the rank of the school, the more likely discipline will matter.  See comments from various college officials here on their view of school discipline in the college application and admission processes.

3)  POST-GRADUATE PROGRAMS:  Potential graduate or doctoral students may also be asked about past discipline, which may have an impact on being accepted.  It can be presumed that the impact of expulsion (or any discipline) will vary depending on the institution and program the student is attempting to enter.

4)  CAREERS/LICENSING:  Even career paths may be influenced by past discipline.  For example, when I applied to become a member of the State Bar of California, the licensing agency for attorneys, I was asked about past school discipline.  I have had clients inform me that they believed expulsion would influence the ability to enter certain branches of the military, join the FBI or become a police officer [note: I have not validated these reports].

5)  BAD PLACEMENT WHEN EXPELLED:  Where the student will be placed, unless negotiated pre-hearing, usually will be a less savory place, such as a school district and/or county-run continuation or community school.  

6)  CLASSES/OPPORTUNITIES LOST, GRADES & CREDITS:  If expelled, a student may no longer be able to take that “Japanese 3,” or “Advanced Placement History” class they were enrolled in.  There are also credit and grade issues which come along with the process, due to the student’s absence pending hearing and/or the school’s lack of provision of adequate work.  Resulting credit deficiencies may also impact the date the student can graduate.

7)  PRESUMED GUILT:  A student expelled may be looked upon negatively not only by his peers and community, but also by school personnel upon his or her return.  The worst impact of this is that the student may become a sort of “whipping boy” who is the first one blamed for wrongs.  This accompanied with presumed guilt (due to past expulsion) make for a dangerous position for the student at school.

8)  RETURN TO LOCAL SCHOOL?  If a student breaches the terms of an expulsion agreement, they will not likely be returned to the regular (comprehensive) school environment.  Even if they comply with all terms, there is no guarantee they will return to the former school or their local school.  I have seen a school refuse to accept a student back who was previously expelled.

As can be seen, parents should not just give in and sign proposed stipulated (agreed) expulsion agreements or show up at the expulsion hearing thinking the panel will feel merciful, as this is not often the case.  The potential harm to the student and their future is too great.