Last Updated on January 13, 2023 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995
One problem many parents don’t think about when a student is up for expulsion or suspension is: what about the witnesses? What if the witnesses lied? What if a parent just suspects the student witnesses lied? Can a student talk negatively to the witness themselves about their statements?
Unfortunately this could be construed as “witness intimidation,” which is prohibited and could bring another discipline charge against a student.
Education Code Prohibits Witness Harassment or Intimidation
Per Education Code section 48900(o) witnesses in a school discipline matter cannot be threatened, harassed, or intimidated because they are, or were, witnesses.
Specifically, per this section, a student can be suspended or expelled if they:
Harassed, threatened, or intimidated a pupil who is a complaining witness or a witness in a school disciplinary proceeding for purposes of either preventing that pupil from being a witness or retaliating against that pupil for being a witness, or both.
So, students facing discipline should stay away from witnesses against them.
Students Contacting Students to Investigate
Section 48900(o) creates a tricky situation if a student is trying to gather evidence to defend themselves in a pending expulsion matter. What if the student calls or texts a friend who is a “witness” against them to ask about their testimony, or question the student on what the student saw?
Most students and parents don’t think about how such witness contact may be perceived by the student witness.
Chances are the student witness may feel pressured, upset, or even threatened merely by a phone call from a student they “told” on. As such, contacting witnesses is a dangerous activity for an accused student.
Names of Witnesses Usually Withheld So Intimidation May Be Unintentional
To complicate matters, often the names of the witnesses in student suspension or expulsion matters are not disclosed to the accused student or their family. So, when a student randomly calls a “friend” for help or otherwise, the student may actually be calling a witness in the matter against them without knowing it. The student may then, unintentionally be perceived as intimidating that witness while discussing the pending expulsion!
It is tricky.
If a student breaches §48900(o) or is even perceived as having breached it via contact with a witness, they may be accused of witness intimidation and disciplined.
Social Media Witness Intimidation
What if students go on social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), or just talk amongst themselves, about how “bad” another student who “told” is and/or make threats to beat the student witness up (knowing or not knowing the witnesses identity)?
This could land the students talking in hot water with the school, and they could be accused of bullying, threats, and witness intimidation, depending on the circumstances.
The police could even become involved, and the students may face arrest for threatening other students.
It is best not to degrade students who reported other students’ conduct, online or anywhere.
Parents Can Try to Politely Contact Witnesses Parents
Instead of a student texting a potential student witness, if appropriate, parents can try to gently reach out to other parents to ask them about the matter. They can then see if a student witness would be willing to speak with the parents or provide a statement. If the witnesses parents deny the interaction, the matter is over as far as contact.
No one who provides information about a discipline matter should be threatened or intimidated. Tread lightly!
[originally written March 19, 2013]
Student expulsion, suspension and discipline lawyer Michelle Ball assists parents across California, from Redding to Shasta, Elk Grove to Roseville, Los Angeles to Burbank, San Francisco to Santa Rosa, and all cities throughout the state.