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The First Things To Do When Your Child Is Suspended From School (And Even Before!)

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

Parents are not usually prepared for a school suspension, which can come as a shock, and completely disrupt the day, week, or month (if it is extended prior to an expulsion).  As such, this is an important article to read and pass on, as you never know when you may get "that call" from the elementary, junior high, or high school telling you to come pick up your child as they have been suspended.  What do you do when you get the call your child is being suspended?

1)  TAKE DOWN ALL RELEVANT INFORMATION IN WRITING:  In that initial call, during meetings, in talks with your child, or otherwise, write down all information and keep it handy.  Ensure you note down WHO you are talking to, WHAT is alleged to have happened, WHERE the event(s) allegedly took place, WHAT your child is alleged to have done, WHEN the activity supposedly happened, and HOW everything went down.  Yes, this is "Journalism 101" but I was on the newspaper staff in high school (it paid off!).  This information is critical to getting the whole story, and verifying you know everything.

2)  STAY ON THE OFFENSE:  In the school discipline process, often it can feel like "nothing can be done about it," and that a parent has no control.  This is not true.  Parents CAN do something about it and should always stay on the OFFENSE, going to bat for their child and attempting to SOLVE the problem at hand (suspension or otherwise) in the most positive way.  Taking the steps here can help you to stay positive and may garner beneficial results.

3)  MEET WITH SCHOOL STAFF AND WITNESSES:  Go down to the school immediately after the call, if possible, BEFORE your child leaves and meet with the staff to go over exactly what is alleged.  LISTEN a lot!  Gather the facts.  Try to set up a meeting with the alleged witnesses to the situation.  For example, if the PE (Physical Education) teacher saw an alleged exchange of knives, weapons, drugs, etc. see if they can come in to the office RIGHT THEN to discuss the matter.  Take copious notes as usual.

4)  DON'T SIGN ANYTHING:  Need I say more?  Don't sign the suspension form (be ready and willing for the school to note "parent refused to sign"on the form).  Don't have your child sign anything either.

5)  RESTRICT THE INFORMATION YOUR CHILD PROVIDES:  During the entire suspension and pre-suspension (e.g. investigation) process, it is not a good idea to have your child answer questions, write or sign a statement, or give any information.  Politely refusing to provide information may be very difficult, as it is tough to not give into pressure, taunts, threats of increased punishment, intimidating adults, a cop dangling potential juvenile detention, or otherwise.  A child may be scared, but parents, you must teach your child to politely decline to give, write, sign, etc. information or a statement.  You will have to work out how best to achieve this goal in a way in a way that does not look like the child is being difficult and/or is guilty.  Please note, this is MOST important with school expulsion, but as what is said during a suspension investigation could be used for expulsion, it is also important during the suspension process.  Make the school do the work and don't hand them an admission.  Admissions can lead to not only suspensions, but also expulsion, a ticket from the School Resource Officer (cop), and other bad things.

6)  DO NOT HAVE YOUR CHILD IN THE ROOM DURING YOUR MEETINGS:   Self-explanatory  considering number 5.  We don't want the school to be inspecting your child's reactions.

7) ASK FOR A LESSER AND/OR NO PUNISHMENT:  Remember "It can't hurt to ask?"  Well, that statement is as true here as everywhere in life.  Ask for no punishment, or an alternative punishment (e.g. detention?), and that is what you  may receive.

8)  FILE A SUSPENSION APPEAL:  Occasionally, districts actually have a suspension appeal process.  For example, in  Elk Grove Unified School District (Elk Grove, California), there is an actual written process and forms to complete.  Most districts do not have any formal suspension appeal process in place, BUT that does not mean you should not inquire about an appeal and go up the administrative line.  Ask the school and the district if there is a suspension appeal process, THE DAY OF THE SUSPENSION.  If there IS a process, follow it.  If there is not, simply go up the chain of command.  If you met with the Vice Principal initially, call the Principal next, then the District office, etc.  Make some polite noise and you may get the suspension overturned or shortened.

Parents, please keep this list handy and pass it on to anyone you know who has kids in school.  You may not think "this could happen to you," (or your friends) but it happens to thousands of parents weekly.  For the most part, parents simply don't know what to do, or how best to proceed when struck with a student suspension.  You can do something about it.

Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916-444-9064
Fax: 916-444-1209
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