Last Updated on March 17, 2021 by Michelle Ball
There are a multitude of bases for student discipline. One of those bases involves fighting (aka “mutual combat”), threats, and/or physical violence to another. Such conduct may or may not get a student suspended or placed up for expulsion.
Per California Education Code 48900(a)(1) for a student to be suspended or expelled for this type of conduct, they must have:
– Caused, attempted to cause, or threatened to cause physical injury to another person, or- Willfully used force or violence upon the person of another, except in self-defense.
But, what does this mean in “real life?” It means student fighting, threats to hurt someone (even vague ones), and responding in a physical way when attacked by another student, can get a student punished.
Fighting in schools, unfortunately may not be what you think, as the schools deem anyone responding physically to an attack as being involved in that fight.
Although self defense is listed as an excuse which should prevent discipline, self defense is rarely accepted as a reason to NOT punish, unless a student who is assaulted runs away to the office, to an adult, or curls up in a fetal position to take the beating… I am not being sarcastic.
For example, if a student is hit by another student, and hits back, the schools usually deems this “mutual combat,” and suspend both kids, regardless of who started it. The insertion of the words “except in
self-defense,” is very confusing as schools usually ignore this phrase, and suspend students if they engage in any form of physical altercation, and even if the student has no other choice (e.g. they are attacked).
There are times when schools may allow the self defense “excuse,” for example, when it is glaringly obvious, such as with a gang beating, but for the most part in a two student battle, both will be punished regardless of who started it.
Additionally, the mere “threat” of physical harm can get a student punished. A “hit list” against students or teachers, threats to students or school personnel on social media, in threatening or violent essays, and even drawings of guns and destruction can land a student in the discipline hot seat. First
Amendment free speech issues may arise, but schools usually ignore such rights if they exist at all, claiming an immediate and disruptive threat.
Whether a student actually will be punished for such conduct each time is up to the school.
Usually in the student handbook will be a grid with a list of crimes and the possible punishment for each. With fighting, or other physical harm, the schools will usually allow suspension OR expulsion even on a first offense.
In the “old days,” students could probably defend themselves for real and not be suspended, but in our “zero tolerance” world, this is not the case. Students are expected to take a beating or run away so they won’t be in trouble.
Alas, no one ever said that school discipline was logical or reasonable, and I would certainly never make that claim.
[Originally published 5/5/11, updated 1/16/18, 8/21/20]
Education Attorney for Students
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Sacramento, CA 95814
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.