Note: This information is from our manual, Discipline in Public Schools.
Getting Back to School after Suspensions or Expulsions
Every expulsion or suspension must have an end date. That is the latest date the student should be going back to school.
Our state discipline rules now require schools to consider, for each individual student, whether it is possible and appropriate to reduce the number of days a student is out, and have them return to school earlier than initially planned.
In each case, school and district decision-makers should be ready to consider what their goals are with the suspension or expulsion. For example:
- What do they hope your child will learn from the discipline?
- What safety concerns do they have if your child were to return to school?
If a district can ensure safety and help a student learn and be ready to show appropriate behavior with less time out of school, then they should consider having students return early.
- What are the different options for challenging a suspension or expulsion, or returning to school early?
There are several possible routes for a student to get back to school before the original end date of a suspension or expulsion. These include:
- Informal Conferences with the Principal after a Short-term Suspension – the principal can decide to shorten a short-term suspension;
- Optional Conferences with the Principal after a Long-term Suspension or Expulsion – a principal could decide to shorten a long-term suspension or recommend shortening an expulsion;
- Discipline Appeal Hearing – a hearing officer could decide that a suspension or expulsion should be overturned or shortened;
- Manifestation Determination Meeting for Student with a Disability – if a student’s behavior that led to the discipline was caused by, or directly related to a disability, then they generally cannot be kept out of school for more than 10 school days for that behavior. Check out our page on Supports for Students with Disabilities, or OSPI’s Special Education page for more information about manifestation determinations and discipline for students eligible for special education services: https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/special-education/guidance-families-special-education-washington-state/behavior-and-discipline.
- Reengagement Planning after a Long-term Suspension or Expulsion – the school, district and family could agree to a plan that would allow a student to return early;
- Petition for Readmission—a district could grant a student’s petition to be readmitted early after any suspension or expulsion; or
- Behavior Agreement –a district could decide to reduce the length of a suspension or expulsion based on a student’s participation in counseling or treatment services, or completion of a drug or threat assessment.
A family can also request to transfer to another school within the same district, or submit a non-resident student transfer application to another district. Districts can consider a student’s discipline history in deciding whether to grant a transfer request, but that does not necessarily mean a transfer request would be denied.
- What are possible benefits of requesting an Informal Conference to discuss a suspension or expulsion?
For short-term and in-school suspensions, the first step in the appeal process is the informal conference with the principal.
For long-term suspensions or expulsions, families can request an optional Informal Conference with the principal.
These optional conferences provide an opportunity for the student to share their perspective, for the student and family to hear from the principal and the school staff involved in the incident, and for everyone to talk through other possible responses or consequences that might be appropriate and effective to deal with the situation.
These optional conferences also allow educators an opportunity to review their decisions – often made quickly, with limited information – and consider whether the proposed suspension or expulsion is truly necessary. This can be a time for educators to hear from families, and to reflect on whether bias might have influenced the decisions leading up to the suspension.
At an informal conference, you can try to reach understanding about:
- What happened;
- Why it happened;
- What the harm or impact was on the classroom, other students, staff and your child;
- What could be done to address any harm caused and/or clarify misunderstandings;
- What, if anything, should be changed to help prevent problems from happening again; and
- A plan for how your child will keep up while they are out of class, and catch up when they get back.
For long-term suspensions or expulsions, students and families can still go through the formal appeal process, whether or not they ask for the optional conference with the principal.
- What is a disciplinary appeal hearing like for long-term suspensions and expulsions?
When a student is given a long-term suspension, an expulsion or an emergency expulsion, the student and parent have the right to request a formal hearing.
The hearings are held in front of hearing officers. The school and family each get an opportunity to present evidence, including documents and witnesses. The hearing officer makes a decision based on the evidence at the hearing.
Check your school district’s policy and procedure, review the discipline notice, and look up the state rule on appeals for suspensions and expulsions to find more details about student and parents’ rights in discipline appeal hearings. You can find the state rules online at: https://apps.leg.wa.gov/wac/default.aspx?cite=392-400&full=true.
- Preparing for a Disciplinary Appeal Hearing
If you decide to request a disciplinary appeal hearing, be sure to also request copies of the evidence the school will use at the hearing, including a list of witnesses.
Students and parents have the right to inspect the district’s evidence before the hearing, and should receive a copy no later than the end of the school day before the hearing.
You can seek out legal advice or representation if you want to have an attorney help you prepare and represent you at the hearing.
While having an attorney for a discipline hearing can be helpful, it is not required. Many families go through discipline hearings on their own. As someone who knows your child, and cares about their education, you can be a strong advocate.
If you are going to be on your own at the discipline hearing, here are some steps to help you prepare:
- Think about your reason for challenging the discipline:
- Do you believe the school got the facts wrong about what happened, or what your child did or didn’t do?
- Do you believe that the proposed punishment is unfair or inappropriate?
- Make notes for yourself about the points you want to communicate to the hearing officer.
- Think about what evidence you can present to support your points.
- Evidence can include documents (like school records, emails, screen shots of social media), and testimony from witnesses.
- Review the district’s evidence and think about whether there are questions you want to ask about it, or ask of the witnesses.
Be sure to bring extra copies of any evidence you want to present at the hearing to give to the district and the hearing officer (at least 3 copies total so you can keep a copy for yourself).
You can also review general information and tips on how to prepare for a hearing in OEO’s guide on How to be an Education Advocate. You can find that guide on our website, www.oeo.wa.gov, on our publications page, here: https://www.oeo.wa.gov/en/about-us/publications-and-resources-families.
Taking time to prepare, writing out your main points and your main questions, can help keep you calm and focused during the hearing.
If you disagree with the hearing officer’s decision, you can appeal to the school board or disciplinary appeals council. The hearing officer’s decision should give you instructions about when and how to appeal.
The next step of appeal after a school board would be to superior court.
- Think about your reason for challenging the discipline:
- Are disciplinary appeal hearings different from Manifestation Determinations?
Yes. If a student with an IEP or Section 504 plan is removed from school for more than 10 school days for behavior, the school will have to schedule a “Manifestation Determination Meeting.” This meeting is to decide whether the behavior that led to the discipline was caused by, or directly related to, the student’s disability.
Students with an IEP or 504 plan, and their parents, also have the right to request a disciplinary appeal hearing to challenge whether the discipline was appropriate (regardless of whether it was a manifestation of a disability or not).
Check out our page on Supports for Students with Disabilities, or OSPI’s Special Education page for more information about manifestation determinations and discipline for students eligible for special education services: https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/special-education/guidance-families-special-education-washington-state/behavior-and-discipline.