Note: This information is from our manual, Discipline in Public Schools.
If a student or parent wants to challenge a long-term suspension, an expulsion or an emergency expulsion, they have the right to request a discipline hearing. Discipline hearings are more formal than the “grievance procedures” for short-term suspensions and other discipline, but less formal than going to court. They are a time for a family and a school to present evidence to a hearing officer, who is required to decide if the long-term suspension or expulsion was appropriate, based on information presented at the hearing. They are scheduled quickly after a student or parent requests one, though a family can ask a district for more time if they need it to prepare or look for an attorney.
Changes to Discipline Hearings Starting in 2019-20
Some of the changes in the state discipline rules that will start with the 2019-20 school year are changes relating to the hearing process for long term suspensions, expulsions and emergency expulsions. Families will have a little bit longer to request a hearing – at least 5 days. Also, families will have the right to request an informal conference with the principal to try to resolve the issue. Read discipline notices carefully, and don't hesitate to reach out for help if you have questions. You can reach us at 1-866-297-2597, online at www.oeo.wa.gov, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Will my child or I have a right to a discipline hearing if we don't request one?
Not likely. The state discipline rules say that districts can consider the right to a hearing waived if neither the student nor parent requests one within the 3 school business day deadline after getting notice of a long-term suspension, expulsion or emergency expulsion.
How much time do I have to request a hearing?
Not very much time; just 3 school business days. If you want a hearing, the school district must receive your request on or before the end of the 3rd school business day after you got the notice. So, for example, if you get notice on a Monday, and it is a regular school week, you would only have until that Thursday afternoon to give the district your request for a hearing. Because it is such a short time period, some families decide to request the hearing, even if they are not sure yet whether they want to challenge the discipline. By requesting the hearing, they preserve their right to have it.
What happens if we don't request a discipline hearing?
If you decide not to request a discipline hearing, or if you miss the deadline for requesting one, there are still options to work on getting your child back into school as soon as possible. You can ask the school to meet with you as soon as possible to start developing a Re-engagement Plan, and you can also submit a Petition for Readmission (see the section on Getting Back to School, starting at p. 36). If your child was first given an emergency expulsion, and you did not appeal that, you will have the right to request a hearing to appeal any further discipline if the school converts an emergency expulsion to a long-term suspension or an expulsion. Students and families also have a right to appeal if a school district superintendent grants a petition to extend an expulsion. (see the section on Long-term Suspensions and Expulsions, at p. 29 for more information.)
When will the discipline hearing be scheduled?
Once a hearing is requested, the school district must schedule the hearing to take place within the next 3 school business days. If you need more time to prepare, or to try to find an attorney, you can ask the school district for more time.
Who will make decisions at the discipline hearing?
The school district is responsible for determining who will serve as the hearing officer. The person can be an employee of the school district. However, they cannot be someone who is a witness in the case; that means it can't be the person who made the decision to suspend or expel the student. The hearing officer is required to make a decision based only on the evidence presented at the hearing.
What can I expect at the hearing?
The hearing can be formal or informal depending on how the hearing officer wants to handle it. Hearings must either be tape-recorded or have someone making a verbatim record (like a court reporter). Usually, the district will go first and present documents, witnesses, and reasons why your child should be suspended long-term or expelled. You and your child will also get an opportunity to present documents, witnesses, and reasons why the long-term suspension or expulsion proposed by the school is not appropriate. The hearing officer might give you a decision at the end of the hearing, or send it later in writing. If the hearing officer tells you their decision at the end of the hearing, they also have to send you a written decision. If the hearing was for an emergency expulsion, you should get the written decision within 1 school business day after the hearing.
What can I do to prepare for a discipline hearing?
Think about what you are challenging:
- Do you believe the school got the facts wrong about what happened, or what your child did or didn't do?
- Do you believe that the proposed punishment is unfair or inappropriate?
- Are you concerned that the educational services the school is offering are not sufficient?
As you think about these questions, make some notes for yourself about the reasons you are challenging the discipline. Next, you can think about what evidence there might be that would help the hearing officer understand why you are challenging the facts, or the punishment. Think about the Evidence: Remember, the hearing officer is required to base their decision on the evidence presented at the hearing. So, think about what evidence you might want to bring, and make sure you have time to review the evidence the district will use. Evidence can include paper records, electronic records (like emails or screen shots), physical evidence and witness testimony. Be sure to request copies of any evidence the district plans to use at the hearing, and a list of any witnesses the district will have present at the hearing. Students and parents have the right to inspect the district's evidence before the hearing. You can request copies of the district's evidence at the same time you request the hearing. Be sure to follow up if you do not get a response. As you look at the district's evidence, you can think about whether there might be additional information that would help the hearing officer understand the background or context of the situation. Think about what evidence you might want to present to the hearing officer. That can include documents and witness testimony. If you disagree about what happened, think about what information you have that makes you believe the school did not get the facts right about what happened. If you disagree with the punishment the school is proposing, think about what makes you believe it is unfair or inappropriate. If you think some consequence is appropriate, what would that be? How would it account for the school's concerns about safety and respect for the school's rules? If you are concerned that the school is not offering appropriate educational services, what do you think is missing? Be sure to bring extra copies of any evidence you want to present at the hearing to give to the district and the hearing officer (at least 3 copies total so you can keep a copy for yourself). You can also review general information and tips on how to prepare for a hearing in OEO's guide on How to be an Education Advocate. You can find that guide on our website, www.oeo.wa.gov, on our publications page, here: http://oeo.wa.gov/publications-reports/publications/.
Do I need to have a lawyer for a discipline hearing?
Students and their families have a right to be represented by an attorney at a discipline hearing, (though there is not a right to have a lawyer appointed if you can't afford one). Because the stakes are high with student discipline, if you can get legal advice and representation, it is a good idea. While having an attorney for a discipline hearing can be helpful, it is not required. Many families go through discipline hearings on their own. As someone who knows your child, and cares about their education, you can be a strong advocate. Taking time to prepare, writing out your main points and your main questions, can help keep you calm and focused during the hearing.
What if the hearing officer decides against us? Is there another step of appeal?
After the discipline hearing, you should receive a written decision that explains the hearing officer's decision. It should include findings of fact, conclusions and a decision on the nature and length of the discipline, if any, that will be imposed. If you had an attorney at the hearing, the written decision will be sent to your attorney. If you went on your own, you will get the written decision directly. If you disagree with the decision, unless the initial hearing was heard and decided by the school board or school district disciplinary appeal council, you have the option to appeal it to the school board or disciplinary appeal council. Both parents and students have a right to appeal a hearing officer's decision. The appeal must be requested within 3 school business days of receiving the hearing officer's decision. The hearing decision should give you instructions about when and how to appeal. When a student or parent appeals the decision of the initial hearing, the district can go forward with the suspension or expulsion for up to 10 school days or until the appeal is decided. Appeals are heard by the School Board, or a disciplinary appeal council, designated by the School Board. A meeting will be set up within 10 school business days of the request for an appeal. You and your child should be given the opportunity to present your case. The School Board or an Appeals Council will decide whether to study the record and make its own decision, hear further argument, or hear the case de novo (basically start all over again).
What if we disagree with the School Board's decision? Is there another level of appeal?
The next step after the school board would be to the Superior Court.