What do you do if you are facing discipline or dismissal from a private or public school?

Students have certain rights depending on whether they are attending a private or public school or university. A student's rights also depend on whether the discipline or dismissal is related to their academic performance or whether it is based on the student's misconduct or violation of school rules.

This article discusses the minimum rights of a student which the courts have found. Schools also generally publish student handbooks which detail that schools implementation of those rights, and those publications often provide rights to the student in addition to those discussed here.

Public Schools – Discipline Based on Alleged Misconduct
Students have a property and liberty interest in their education from a public school under the U.S. Constitution and they are entitled to due process of law before those rights are taken away. This means that they can not be either disciplined or terminated from a public school without notice of the alleged misconduct and an opportunity to be heard relative to those allegations. The only exception is where the student presents an immediate danger and in such cases the notice and opportunity to be heard should be given as soon as possible after the expulsion.

If a public school does not give proper notice and opportunity to be heard prior to the school taking the disciplinary action against the student, the student can file a lawsuit against the school to re-instate the student, expunge the disciplinary action from their school records, or to prevent further imposition of the punishment.

Courts do not require the same due process of law formalities as a court of law, and as long as the student receives notice of the alleged misconduct and there is some type of hearing before an impartial school official, due process of law is satisfied. A brief suspension requires less formalities than a lengthy suspension. For short suspensions from school, the hearing can take place immediately after the student receives notice of their misconduct

Longer suspensions require greater due process of law procedural safeguards. For example, if a student is suspended for more than 10 days, then they should be afforded the opportunity to obtain assistance of an attorney, a chance to confront accusers and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf.

Private Schools – Discipline Based on Alleged Misconduct
Students who attend private schools do not have have a property or liberty interest in their education under the U.S. Constitution and the rights of a students attending a private school are generally based on a contract with the school. The contract with the school can be informal, and generally the school publications and handbooks are considered part of that contract. Most school publish detailed student handbooks that state the procedures that are to be followed prior to a student being suspended or punished for misconduct. In some states, the courts require under the common law that a private school give a student notice and a hearing prior disciplining them for misconduct whether or not the school's handbook requires it.

Academic Discipline – Public and Private Schools
Courts recognize the unique nature and important role which an educational institution plays in society. Courts give great deference to a school's decisions surrounding a student's academic performance. Courts generally do want to get involved in deciding the fairness of a student's grades where those decisions are best made by an instructor who has expertise in the subject matter. Academic dismissals from either a private or public college or university do not require either notice or opportunity to be heard or a formal hearing. However, where a student can show that a decision to discipline a student based on academic performance is arbitrary or capricious, or exceeds accepted academic standards, a student can seek a remedy in a court or law. Typically a student should work with the school and exhaust all remedies with the school administration prior to filing a lawsuit.

Academic Discipline and the Americans With Disabilities Act
While schools can discipline or terminate a student for academic reasons, school are also required to make reasonable efforts to accommodate and help students with learning disabilities. If a student is diagnosed with a learning disability, they should contact the school administration office and work with the school to assist the student with their educational needs. If a student is not satisfied with the schools efforts to accommodate that student's disability, a complaint can be filed with the Office of Civil Rights within 180 days of the discrimination. A student can also initiate court action to require the school to accommodate the students needs.

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