Parents: The Connecticut Law on School Expulsions

Under Section 10-233d of the Connecticut General Statutes, expulsion is an exclusion from school for a period of ten or more days. As with suspension, a student can be expelled by the local or regional school board if his or her conduct (1) violates publicized policy; (2) seriously disrupts the educational process; or (3) endangers persons or property.

For actions that occurred off school grounds, the student’s conduct has to have both violated publicized policy and seriously disrupted the educational process. The local board can consider (1) whether the conduct happened close to the school; (2) whether other students or a gang were involved; (3) whether the conduct involved violence, threats, unlawful use of a weapon, and any injuries; and (4) whether the conduct involved the use of alcohol.

What conduct qualifies for “mandatory expulsion” on school grounds?

The Connecticut General Assembly enacted legislation mandating expulsion for students who have engaged in specific dangerous conduct. If a student possesses a firearm or another weapon while on school grounds or at a school-sponsored activity, the school must expel that student for no less than one calendar year under state and federal law. The federal law, the Guns-Free School Act, defines “firearm” as:

• Any weapon that will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive;
• The frame or receiver of such a weapon;
• Any firearm muffler or silencer;
• Any destructive device, including a bomb, grenade, rocket, missile, mine, or similar device.

Building on the federal law, the General Assembly requires mandatory expulsion for no less than one calendar year for a student in possession of a firearm, deadly weapon, dangerous instrument, or martial arts weapon while on school grounds, subject to exceptions on a case-by-case basis. Listed below are the definitions for each of the terms:

• Deadly weapon: Any weapon from which a shot may be discharged, or a switchblade knife, gravity knife, billy, blackjack, bludgeon, or metal knuckles.
• Dangerous instrument: Any instrument capable of causing death or serious injury.
• Martial Arts Weapon: A nunchaku, kama, kasari-fundo, octagon sai, tonfa, or Chinese star.

What conduct qualifies for “mandatory expulsion” off school grounds?

The requirements for mandatory expulsion differ if the conduct occurred off school grounds. In such cases, the school must recommend expulsion for the student only if that student carries a pistol without a permit or uses a firearm, instrument, or weapon in the commission of a crime.

Moreover, the board must expel a student for at least one calendar year if the student is engaged in the sale or distribution on or off school grounds of a controlled substance, irrespective of the amount. Drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogenic substances would fall under this definition. Parents should consult student handbooks for a more extensive list of prohibited controlled substances.

What are my child’s legal rights before expulsion?

The General Assembly has mandated that, unless there is an emergency, a student facing expulsion be entitled to a formal hearing in front of a hearing board within ten days after the proposed expulsion. As with suspension, an emergency exists if the student facing expulsion poses an unwarranted danger to a person or property or such a serious disruption to the educational process that the school has to delay the hearing until after the suspension.

Since school expulsion is a more serious form of discipline, only local or regional school boards can make the decision to expel a student. The following section will provide an overview of the procedures during expulsion proceedings, so parents can gain a better understanding of their child’s legal rights.

What are the school’s notice requirements? What can I do to prepare for the hearing?

When the administration recommends a student for expulsion, the local or regional school board must provide parents with written notice within twenty-four hours detailing the date, time, a plain statement of the matters at hand, and a list of local free or reduced-fee legal services. In addition, the board must provide all documentary evidence that the administration plans to use during the hearing.

To prepare for the hearing, parents should examine carefully the school record stating the facts of the matter, talk to school witnesses to see what they are going to say, and arrange for additional witnesses, especially ones that can testify favorably on your child’s character, to tell your child’s side of the story at the hearing.

What are my child’s legal rights at the hearing?

At the hearing, two issues will be decided: (1) whether the child should be expelled; and (2) if so, the length of the expulsion. Under Section 10-233d, at least three members of the local board of education have to preside over the expulsion proceedings. Alternatively, the school board can delegate the duty to an impartial hearing officer provided the officer is not a member of the appointing board.

In both cases, neither the board members nor the hearing officer can discuss the case outside the hearing. Should the administration elect to retain an attorney to represent it in proceedings, it cannot choose an attorney that represents both the local board of education and the administration.

Generally, the administration will begin the proceedings by laying out the underlying facts leading to expulsion. Then, both the administration and the student will have an opportunity to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses. Following the presentation of evidence, the members of the board can ask both sides questions concerning the expulsion. Before the board makes a final decision on whether the student should be expelled, both sides can present additional arguments opposing or supporting the expulsion.

Possible Recommended Results

The hearing officer can recommend one of the following three results. First, they can decide not to expel the student, thereby allowing the child to return to school immediately after the hearing.

Second, the board can recommend your child’s expulsion. If the board adopts this recommendation, the child, for the duration of the expulsion, will be ineligible to attend any other schools within the district or participate in any on or off campus school activities. The board can review the student’s disciplinary history to decide on the length of the expulsion, but cannot consider it for purposes of determining whether to move forward with the expulsion. For instance, if a student has been expelled only once, the board has discretion to shorten (or even waive) the expulsion.

Finally, the board can recommend “suspended expulsion.” In this case, the student is legally expelled, but is permitted to stay in school on a probationary status. The administration, however, can thereafter invoke the expulsion if the student engages in a further act of misconduct.

What are my child’s legal rights after the hearing?

Under the Connecticut statutes, parents are to receive a decision within twenty-four hours of the hearing Should the board proceed with the expulsion, parents cannot appeal the decision, but still have some options for their child.

First, if your child is under sixteen years old, then the local board must provide him or her with an alternative educational program during the course of the expulsion. If your child is between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, then the board must provide your child with an alternative educational opportunity if he or she wants to continue school and meets specified conditions set by the board.

But schools do not have to provide alternative educational opportunities if the student has been expelled previously, or was expelled for possession of a firearm or a controlled substance. While administrators have discretion in designing alternative educational programs, eligible students are entitled to at least two hours of tutoring per day and instruction in the core subjects of English, math, social studies, and science.

Second, parents can apply for their child to be enrolled in another school But the potential receiving school can reject your child’s application by adopting the decision of the previous school without a hearing on the matter. It can also hold an informal hearing to determine whether the prospective student would be expelled under that school’s rules and policies.

Third, the parent can apply on behalf of their child for early readmission to the school The laws do not prescribe criteria for a child’s early readmission. Instead, readmission decisions are at the discretion of the local board, or a superintendent, who may themselves prescribe specific criteria for readmission.

Expunging Misconduct from a Student’s Record

As a closing note, notice of the expulsion and the nature of the misconduct must be on the student’s educational record. If the student graduates from high school, then the administrator must expunge the expulsion from the student’s record unless the student was in possession of a firearm or a deadly weapon. Alternatively, if the board shortened or waived the expulsion, then it can choose to expunge the expulsion from the student’s record if he or she completes an administration-specified program.

What are my child’s legal rights when he or she is removed from class?

Removal is defined as exclusion from a classroom for all or part of a single class period given that such exclusion does not extend beyond ninety minutes. A teacher can remove a child from class if that student deliberately causes a serious disruption of the educational process within the classroom. If a teacher decides to proceed with this action, he or she has to send the student to a designated area and immediately inform the principal of the student’s name and the specifics of the incident.

Generally, the school is not obligated to provide the student with an informal hearing before removal. Students, however, are entitled to an informal hearing if the teacher removes the student more than six times during the school year or twice a week, whichever comes first.

Our education law firm in Westport Connecticut serves clients with expulsion, discrimination, and general education law issues from all over the state including the towns of: Bethel, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Danbury, Darien, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Monroe, New Canaan, New Fairfield, Newton, Norwalk, Redding, Ridgefield, Shelton, Sherman, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Weston, Westport, and Wilton. We have the best education law attorneys in CT on staff that can help with your Connecticut or New York education issues today.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to an education law attorney about a pressing matter, please don’t hesitate to call our office at (203) 221-3100. We offer free consultations to all new clients.