Note: This information is from our manual, Discipline in Public Schools.
- What limits does state law put on the use of suspensions and expulsions?
School districts cannot discipline students by denying them access to educational services. That means, even if a student is suspended or expelled, their school district still has to provide access to services so the student can keep moving forward with their education.
No suspensions for truancy.
Students may face other consequences, but they cannot be suspended from school as a punishment for not going to school. Unexcused absences and tardies cannot be the basis for a suspension or expulsion.
No denials of meals.
Schools also cannot impose discipline in a way that would deny or delay a student’s access to a nutritionally adequate meal.
Limits on suspensions for students in kindergarten through 4th grade:
In general, schools must limit suspensions for students in kindergarten through 4th grade to less than 10 school days.
More specifically, the state rules say no long-term suspensions or expulsions for k-4th grade, unless the student brings a gun, or has a gun at school, on the bus or at a school activity.
Also, the rules say that no student in k-4th grade should be given multiple short term suspensions or in-school suspensions that add up to more than a total of 10 school days in a single academic term (a semester or trimester).
Schools can use emergency expulsions for students in kindergarten through 4th grade, but all emergency expulsions must end within 10 school days.
Limits on suspensions for students in 5th – 12th grade:
For students in 5th through 12th grade, short term and in-school suspensions should be limited to a total of 15 school days in a semester, or 10 school days in a trimester.
- Long-term suspensions only for certain kinds of serious misbehavior.
Under state law, there are four categories of behavior that can be a basis for long-term suspension or expulsion (removals of more than 10 school days). They are:
- A violation of RCW 28A.600.420 (which says a student who brings or has a firearm at school, on school transportation or at facilities while they are being used by the school, shall be expelled)
- An offense in RCW 13.04.155 (which includes certain violent offenses, sex offenses, inhaling toxic fumes, controlled substances offenses, liquor offenses, or certain crimes related to firearms, assault, kidnapping, harassment, and arson; this could include drugs or alcohol offenses, assault or harassment);
- Two or more violations of certain laws within a three-year period, including: criminal gang intimidation or other gang activity on school grounds, possessing dangerous weapons on school facilities, willfully disobeying school administrators or refusing to leave public property, or defacing or injuring school property; or
- Behavior that adversely impacts the health or safety of other students or educational staff.
For any other kinds of behavior, school districts may use other consequences, but not a long-term suspension or expulsion.
- Limits on Emergency Expulsions
An emergency expulsion is allowed only if a district has a good reason to believe that a student poses an immediate and continuing danger to other students or staff, or of material and substantial disruption to the school.
Emergency expulsions can last no more than 10 school days.
If the school decides the student should stay out of school longer than the 10 school days, it can convert the discipline to a long-term suspension or expulsion. In that case, the district has to be sure it follows the requirements for a long-term suspension or expulsion, and has to give notice to the family and the opportunity for a hearing on the new discipline.
- Time limits on long-term suspensions and expulsions
Every long-term suspension and expulsion must have a specific end date.
The maximum number of days for a long-term suspension or expulsion depends on how long the “academic terms” are in your district. If your district uses semesters, and a semester is 90 days, then the maximum number of days for a long-term suspension is 90 days. If your district uses trimesters, and a trimester is 60 days, then the maximum number of days for a long-term suspension is 60 days.
A long-term suspension given in the spring cannot continue into the next school year. An expulsion might continue from one school year into the next, but must have a specific end-date.
The state rules allow schools to petition to extend a student’s expulsion if there would be a risk to public health or safety if the student were to return to school at the initial end date of the expulsion.
One situation where an expulsion might be longer than the length of a semester or trimester is if a student brings or has a gun at school, on the bus or at a school activity. In those cases, federal law requires an expulsion of not less than one year, although it does allow a superintendent to modify the expulsion on a case- by-case basis.
- How will schools involve parents in decisions about suspensions or expulsions?
Short-term Suspensions: Students have the Chance to Call Parents.
If a school is considering a short-term suspension (less than 10 days), first, the school has to give the student notice and a chance to be heard.
This generally happens through an informal conversation between the principal or their designee (often an assistant principal) and the student.
State rules now require schools to give the student a chance to call their parents during these conversations about short-term suspensions.
At that informal conference, the principal should explain to the student:
- What the student did and why that violates the schools rules;
- What evidence the school has that the student violated a rule; and
- An explanation of what consequences they are facing.
The principal must give the student a chance to explain their perspective.
If, after that conference, the principal decides to go ahead with the suspension, then the school must give written notice to the student and parent.
Students and parents then have the right to request an informal conference with the principal, with an opportunity to appeal to the superintendent’s office and then the school board.
Schools can decide to shorten a suspension based on conversations with you and your child at the informal conference, so making time to meet with the school can be valuable. A three, five or ten day suspension could be reduced to one or two days.
Long-term Suspensions and Expulsions: Schools Must Try to Call Parents.
If a school is considering a long-term suspension or expulsion, first, the school has to give the student notice and a chance to be heard. This generally happens through an informal conversation between the principal or their designee (often an assistant principal) and the student.
Under the new state rules, schools must also now make a reasonable attempt to contact the student's parents to provide an opportunity for the parents to participate in the initial hearing in person or by telephone. You can find a reference to this requirement in the state rules at WAC 392-400-450, in the section explaining requirements for initial hearings with students.
- What kind of information should be in written notices of suspension or expulsion?
Whenever a school decides to suspend or expel a student, the school must give written notice to the student and parent. This includes in-school suspensions, short-term suspensions, long-term suspensions, expulsions and emergency expulsions.
Written notices of suspensions or expulsions should explain:
- What the student did, and how that violated a school rule;
- How long the suspension or expulsion will last, including specific start and end dates;
- Other kinds of discipline the school considered, and tried, and why they decided to give a suspension or expulsion; and
- Information about how the student can continue to keep up with school during the removal;
For short-term and in-school suspensions, the notices should explain the right to ask for an informal conference with the principal.
For long-term suspensions and expulsions, the notices should explain the right to both an informal conference with the principal and the right to have an appeal hearing. The notice should explain where to request the hearing.
For any suspension or expulsion over 10 school days, the notice should include information about the right to have a re-engagement meeting to develop a plan for the student’s return to school.