Hot off the press: “A new state law has significantly reduced the number of students being suspended from school…” This is in large part due to the passage of Public Act No. 08-160, “An Act Concerning School Learning Environment,” which modified the circumstances which schools under State law could suspend its students, instead showing a preference for in-school suspensions. Thus, during the 2010-2011 academic school year, “when the law went into effect… the number of out-of-school suspensions dropped statewide by 19 percent, or 9,835 incidents.”
While “some incidents will still warrant suspensions,” [Waterbury Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Ouellette explained that] she’s deployed several initiatives to ensure that students are not being sent home for minor infractions like dress code violations, talking back to their teachers or skipping class. “We are trying to reach them and intervene before it escalates to that point.”
The Connecticut legislature has enumerated the circumstances under which a student may be suspended: if on school grounds or at a school-sponsored activity, the conduct violates an established, publicized school board policy, seriously disrupts the educational process, or endangers persons or property. If the conduct took place off school grounds, the school board may only entertain a suspension if both the first two circumstances are met.
What does the school board consider when a student is facing a suspension?
Say your child has committed an act off school grounds, and the school is contemplating a suspension. What must it consider? Under Connecticut law, to determine if the conduct will seriously disrupt the educational process, your local school board must consider at least the following, though they are not limited to these four factors: Whether…
- The incident occurred within close proximity of a school
- Other students from the school were involved or whether there was any gang involvement
- The conduct involved violence, threats of violence or the unlawful use of a weapon… and whether any injuries occurred
- The conduct involved the use of alcohol
As a parent, it is vital to realize that your child cannot be automatically suspended without an informal administrative hearing. This is because in Goss v. Lopez, the U.S. Supreme Court explained the import of due process in a suspension scenario:
Among other things, the State is constrained to recognize a student’s legitimate entitlement to a public education as a property interest which is protected by the Due Process Clause and which may not be taken away for misconduct without adherence to the minimum procedures required by [the Due Process] Clause. 
Thus, barring emergency circumstances, students facing a suspension (thus temporarily losing their property interest) “must be given some kind of notice and afforded some kind of hearing” so they know why they are being suspended and given the chance to tell their side of the story. The hearing is the best place for a student to convince school officials that an out-of-school suspension is not warranted for any given number of reasons, such as the behavior not qualifying as prohibited conduct, the lack of disciplinary history, or the use of an in-school suspension as a viable and reasonable alternative.
Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.
The intricacies involved regarding in- and out-of-school suspensions can be difficult to comprehend, and could potentially result in the deprivation of a student’s protected rights. As such, if your child faces a suspension, it is imperative that you know all of these rights and consult with an experienced school law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding school discipline or other education law matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.
 “School suspension rates drop, but minority students still over-represented,” by Jacqueline Rabe Thomas. October 2, 2012: http://www.ctmirror.org/story/17615/school-suspension-rates-plummet-minority-students-still-overrepresented