By Attorney Winona W. Zimberlin

Connecticut law allows public schools to expel students, up to a maximum period of one calendar year. Unless an emergency exists, a hearing is required.

On school grounds:

A student may be expelled whose conduct on school grounds or at a school sponsored activity is violative of a publicized policy of the board, is seriously disruptive of the educational process or endangers persons or property.

Off school grounds:

A student can be expelled for conduct that occurs off school grounds if the conduct is violative of a publicized policy and is seriously disruptive of the educational process.  In making a determination as to whether conduct is seriously disruptive of the educational process, the board may consider, but such consideration shall not be limited to: whether the incident occurred within close proximity of a school; whether other students from the school were involved or whether there was any gang involvement; whether the conduct involved violence, threats of violence or the unlawful use of a weapon and whether any injuries occurred and whether the conduct involved the use of alcohol.

Mandatory expulsions:

Expulsion proceedings shall be required whenever there is reason to believe that any pupil on school ground or at a school sponsored activity, was in possession of a firearm or deadly weapon, dangerous instrument or martial arts weapon, or off school grounds, did possess such a firearm or did possess and use such a firearm, instrument or weapon in the commission of a crime or on or off school grounds, offered for sale or distribution a controlled substance. Such a pupil shall be expelled for one calendar year; provided the board may modify the period of expulsion on a case by case basis.

Alternative education while expelled:

A pupil under age 16 shall be offered an alternative educational opportunity. A pupil between 16 and 18, who is expelled for the first time, shall be offered an alternative education if he or she complied with conditions established by the board. An alternative education need not be provided for a student if conduct endangers persons and it involved possession of a firearm, deadly weapon, dangerous instrument or martial arts weapon, on school property, or at a school sponsored activity or if the student offered for sale or distribution on school property or at a school sponsored activity a controlled substance.

Students in need of special education:

Students with disabilities may be entitled to special education. A federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, protects students with disabilities and gives students important rights to an appropriate education.  A manifestation PPT must be held prior to conducting an expulsion for a student requiring special education. Students in special education have some protections from expulsions. If the behavior in question was a manifestation of the student’s disability, the student cannot be expelled. If a parent disagrees with the decision of the PPT, the parent can file for a due process hearing. The parent has the right to have a lawyer at the hearing.

Early readmission to school:

An expelled pupil may apply for early readmission to school. Readmission shall be at the discretion of the board, or as delegated to the superintendent.

Ten Things A Student Can Do To Defend an Expulsion Request:

A school will only give you a few days notice of an expulsion hearing. Whenever a student has been suspended for 10 days (the maximum suspension), an expulsion is possible. The student will need to act quickly to prepare for an expulsion hearing. Do not delay!

  1. Attend the hearing
  2. Get a lawyer
  3. Ask witnesses to testify for you
  4. Cross examine the school’s witnesses
  5. Introduce exhibits at the hearing
  6. Get a copy of all your education records before the hearing
  7. If the student is in special education, or should be in special education, have a PPT before the expulsion hearing
  8. Prepare a statement for the hearing; however, if criminal charges are possible, you may not want to say anything; because you may not want to incriminate yourself
  9. Consider the effect of an expulsion hearing on any possible criminal charges
  10. Be prepared at the hearing!

Citizens in Court

The following event happened in Connecticut a few years ago. How might you have decided the case?

Kyle, a high school student, was arrested for having marijuana in the trunk of his car. This conduct occurred off campus.  The school held an expulsion hearing where Kyle was expelled.  At the hearing the principal testified that the incident has disrupted the educational process because students in Kyle’s brother’s class were aware of the incident; a former student of the high school who had been involved with distributing drugs in the past, was present when Kyle was arrested; and teachers approached the principal expressing concern over the arrest, and asked what action would be taken in response to the incident. The principal testified that, at the beginning of the year, students were informed that they would be held accountable for out of school conduct that had some impact on what happens in school. The board of education expelled the student on the ground that the conduct violated school policy against possession of illegal drugs and because his conduct seriously had disrupted the educational process.  Kyle then brought a lawsuit seeking an order to stop the school from expelling him and seeking money damages.

The Connecticut Supreme Court found that the statute authorizing expulsions for off campus behavior was void for vagueness. The void for vagueness doctrine is a procedural due process concept that originally was derived from the guarantees of due process contained in the fifth and fourteenth amendments to the United States constitution.  The Connecticut constitution also requires that people be given notice of what conduct is prohibited. The vagueness doctrine requires fair warning of what the law intends to do if a certain line is passed.  Second, the vagueness doctrine requires that statutes establish minimum guidelines to govern their enforcement. If arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement is to be prevented, laws must provide explicit standards for those who apply them.

The Court found that the student had a constitutionally protected property interest in his continued participation in school. The school, consequently, may not expel the student for the incident unless the constitutional requirements of due process, including the principles of the void for vagueness doctrine, have been satisfied. The Court found that the student could not be expelled because the phrase “seriously disruptive of the educational process” did not provide any meaningful indication that having marijuana in the trunk of a car off school grounds after school hours subjects a student to expulsion, absent some tangible nexus to school operation. The statute did not vest school boards with discretion to characterize conduct that occurs off school grounds as “seriously disruptive of the educational process” solely because the conduct is violative of school policy. The school’s opinion of the meaning of the phrase “seriously disruptive of the educational process” was irrelevant to the question of whether the statute provided the student with constitutionally adequate notice. The Court concluded that the expulsion statute was unconstitutional as applied to the particular facts of this case. The legislature intended that the phrase “seriously disruptive of the educational process” to mean conduct that markedly interrupts or severely impedes the day to day operation of a school.

The expulsion statute was amended after this case, and now provides more guidance as to when a student can be expelled for conduct that occurs off school grounds.

For Discussion

Do you think a school should be able to expel a student for conduct that occurs off campus?

Do you think that a school should have to provide tutoring for a student who has been expelled?

How much time should a school give a student to prepare for an expulsion hearing?

Do you think a student should be expelled if the student posts threatening, obscene, or insulting language on a My Space or Facebook page?

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