What infractions can lead to expulsion from a Florida school?
Florida schools often have ambiguous disciplinary plans. The various listed infractions in any given policy rarely include a specific punishment, and even when they do, the language from other provisions of a discipline plan or code of student conduct are carefully crafted to allow plenty of wiggle room and discretion so that virtually any punishment could be applied to any type of infraction. The often noted philosophy of “progressive punishment,” in which more bad behavior leads to harsher punishment, is just that: a philosophy, not a mandate. A few aggressive curse words or pretending that harmless substances are drugs on campus can result in expulsion, even if the student has straight A’s and has never been in trouble. So for what offenses can your child be expelled? Pretty much anything. However, some infractions almost always guarantee expulsion, including for students with disabilities: weapons, drugs, and significant threats of violence.
Florida Statutes 1006.07 governs student discipline. The law delegates the control of students to the local level, with only a few specific rules they must follow. For example, an expulsion hearing must be conducted in compliance with the Administrative Procedures Act. Another example of state control over expulsions is that the statute requires schools to have consistent practices in handing down punishments. But given the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, how would you know if another student has been punished in the same way as your child?
The process starts with the accusations of a teacher, passes on to administration, and if the Principal thinks expulsion is warranted, he or she makes a recommendation to the Superintendent to expel the student. A Disciplinary Committee, perhaps under a different name or a third-party, considers the matter, the precise rules of which are usually very ambiguous, and if the committee finds that expulsion is warranted, they recommend such to the Superintendent. If the Superintendent agrees with the recommendation, it goes to the school board for a vote. From there, the path of further appeals will depend on the circumstances. This process could be interrupted by a behavioral manifestation hearing (to determine whether the behavior was caused by a disability), if the child is covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The expulsion could be either with continued educational services (alternative school) or without.
Here’s the problem. In some Florida counties, the Disciplinary Committee, which should be impartial, is made-up of various school district employees. That’s right. The Disciplinary Committee is paid by the school district trying to expel the student. As you can imagine, those adjudicators likely have known or have worked with the administrators that recommend the expulsion, and they answer to the Superintendent who rules their jobs. Almost always, it’s one rubber stamp of approval after another, adjudicators paid by the prosecutor. Such “impartiality” hardly provides the procedural due process rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution.
There are ways you can prevent a suspension or expulsion from ever being suggested. First, be a great parent and have daily, meaningful interaction with your child. It is the only way to develop their moral judgment and decision making to prevent behavior disruptions at school. Second, know your school district’s Code of Student Conduct better than the school administrators, and make sure your child is aware of every possible infraction and the consequences for breaking the rules. And if your child gets himself into a bad situation, something even “good kids” sometimes do, call me immediately. The process moves fast. You may have only ten-days or less until the Disciplinary Committee hearing, and you may not be given all the evidence until that hearing. There are many steps we can take to gather records and investigation documents before the hearing, talk with potential witnesses, prepare affidavits, and plan an argument.
Though I have strong feelings against zero tolerance policies and the overuse of suspension and expulsion as a punishment, I recognize that expulsions are sometimes necessary. I do not take on a case for every expulsion call that I receive. No attorney can guarantee an outcome in a case, but I won’t take a case, if I believe the facts support the punishment. The most common example of cases that I turn away are of kids caught red handed on campus with drugs or weapons; there’s not much any lawyer can do if your child is literally holding the bag.