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Facing School Discipline

Student Rights in School Discipline

You have the right to remain silent.
  • You can answer a few questions to clear something up, but if a teacher, principal or community resource officer suspects you of committing a crime, anything you say can be used against you.
  • You can ask to have a trusted adult, like a parent, present for those kinds of questions or to help you write a statement.
  • When facing an out-of-school suspension, you can ask how they made their decision. Schools must consider 7 factors before any out-of-school suspension, including alternatives to suspension. If they plan to suspend for more than 10 days, they should show you in writing how they considered those 7 factors. View the 7 factors in Spanish here.

You have some privacy rights in schools.

Courts have said that school officials can search students in public schools if there is a reasonable suspicion to search. They do not need probable cause. Searches could include backpacks, purses, lockers, school grounds, parking lots and student cars in a school parking lot. It could also include a cell phone and perhaps a student’s Facebook account, but the school does NOT have an unlimited right to search any content. There are two types of reasonable suspicion:

  • Individualized suspicion is when a school official has a reasonable belief that you personally might be doing something illegal.
  • Generalized suspicion is when school officials are concerned that there might be illegal activity somewhere in the school. This means that student drug tests or metal detectors are allowed when there is a general concern about students using drugs or carrying weapons. However, some courts have ruled that without any evidence of illegal activity, such a search would be unconstitutional.

You have the right to free speech in schools but there are some limits.

Students can be disciplined if their expression would lead to either (a) a substantial disruption of the school environment, or (b) an invasion of the rights of others. Speech that involves incitement, false statements of fact, obscenity, child pornography, threats, and speech owned by others are all completely exempt from First Amendment protections. Out-of-school postings on Facebook, or other internet sites, are protected unless they are true threats or are reasonably calculated to reach the school environment and are so egregious as to pose a serious safety risk or other substantial disruption in that environment.

You have the right to due process protections.

For out-of-school suspension of less than 10 days, sufficient due process is afforded if the hearing is conducted spontaneously and informally. Rudimentary due process requirements include: Oral or written notice of the charges (i.e., advising the student of the reasons for the proposed suspension); an explanation of the evidence supporting the charges against the student; and an opportunity to explain, deny, or admit the charges or evidence. Out-of-school suspensions of more than 10 days may require more formal protections, including but not limited to the following:

  • Prior notice of hearing, including a description of the procedures to be followed at the hearing. The notice should contain the time, date, and location of the hearing and should permit enough time between the notice and hearing to allow the student to prepare a defense.
  • Notice of charges, including a summary of the evidence that will be presented against the student.
  • Right to view and inspect adverse evidence prior to hearing.
  • Right to legal counsel at all appropriate stages.
  • Hearing before an impartial party.
  • Right to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses (there may be situations when student witnesses can remain anonymous to the student charged if there is a substantial likelihood of retaliation or harm to the student witnesses).
  • Right of the student to testify on his or her own behalf.
  • The student must not be punished except on the basis of substantial evidence.

Enforcement of due process is very case-specific. For more information, you may contact an attorney or your local legal aid office.

You do not have a constitutional right to an education.

In fact, Michigan law requires a school district to permanently expel a student who intentionally possesses a firearm with an intent to use it. This means you are expelled from ALL public schools in the state for 180 days and no public school is ever obligated to reinstate you.

NOTE: School boards do not have to expel for possession of a firearm if the student establishes one of the following exceptions:

(a) The object or instrument possessed by the pupil was not possessed by the pupil for use as a weapon, or for direct or indirect delivery to another person for use as a weapon.

(b) The weapon was not knowingly possessed by the pupil.

(c) The pupil did not know or have reason to know that the object or instrument possessed by the pupil constituted a dangerous weapon.

(d) The weapon was possessed by the pupil at the suggestion, request, or direction of, or with the express permission of, school or police authorities.


Zero Tolerance

Michigan used to have one of the harshest school discipline laws in the country and REQUIRED permanent expulsion for all sorts of things. Zero tolerance ended Aug. 1, 2017. The new laws say that expulsion and removals over 10 days are NOT justified unless districts can prove they considered 7 factors, including alternatives to suspension.

Tips for Prepping for a Hearing

Please consult this Disciplinary Prep Form for ideas on how to prepare for a disciplinary hearing. This resource is available in Spanish here.


Michigan Compiled Laws

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