Public School Expulsion Defense
Public education is a right, not a privilege, under Florida law. Therefore, your child is entitled to due process of the law before they can be expelled from school for an alleged discipline violation. School administrators frequently downplay the significance of the process in an attempt to dissuade parents from hiring an attorney to represent their child. Having an experienced attorney by your side during all stages of the process will help you ensure that your child’s rights are not violated, and that you get the best possible results. Every school district implements its own codes of conducts and determines its own levels of offenses. Our student expulsion lawyers stand ready to defend your child in any Central Florida school district public or private school.
Florida law gives the individual school boards immense leeway in determining their own disciplinary procedures. Every county is responsible for developing a code of conduct and disciplinary procedure. It is important to hire an attorney who knows how to navigate the various codes of conduct throughout all the counties in Central Florida. At Lindsey, Ferry & Parker, P.A., our experienced school discipline lawyers are ready to be at your side to fight to keep your child from facing expulsion.
Public school discipline cases often begin with a faculty or staff member of a school filling out a disciplinary referral alleging a violation of the Student Code of Conduct, or contacting an administrator or dean to conduct an investigation into an alleged violation of the Student Code of Conduct. Most of the time, the violating conduct occurred on school grounds, but sometimes schools attempt to discipline students for activities that occurred off school property. In order for the school to discipline a student for conduct that occurred off of school property, the school must show that there is a connection between the conduct and the school. Often times they attempt to establish such a connection by showing that the conduct which occurred outside of school caused a disruption later on in the school. It is common for the school to argue that something as simple as students talking about the off-school conduct while at school is enough of a connection to impose discipline on a student.
Public schools usually perform an investigation into alleged misconduct prior to attempting to impose discipline upon a student. However, these investigations are often times cursory and superficial. The investigations are rarely conducted in an objective manner that ensures a fair process. Most school investigations will strive to elicit forced confessions and witness statements to fit a narrative that has already been predetermined. It is vital that parents and students know the rights that every student has during the discipline process. The most critically important of these rights is the right for the student to remain silent and not participate in the investigation. Administrators commonly apply immense pressure on children to make statements against their will. The coercive tactics employed by school officials are extremely effective against children, and often times result in students making false or unreliable statements. If your child is being investigated for a violation of the Code of Student Conduct, please instruct your child to refrain from making any statements to any school faculty or law enforcement officers.
Once an investigation into the alleged student misconduct has been completed, the school administration will make a determination as to whether they believe a violation of the Code of Conduct has been established. The Orange County public school system is the largest school district in Central Florida, and therefore produces the majority of student expulsion cases. There are four levels of violations under the Orange County Public Schools Code of Conduct. Level one offenses are minor acts of misconduct. Level one offenses do not subject students to out of school suspension or expulsion. Typical forms of punishment for level one offenses include: counseling, verbal reprimands, special work assignments, withdrawal of privileges, detention, or the enactment of a behavioral plan. Examples of level one offenses include: cheating, classroom disruption, dress code violations, insubordination, profane language, tardiness, use of cell phones in class, or harassment.
Level two offenses are ones that are slightly more serious than level one offenses, or repeated acts of level one offenses. Level two offenses also do not subject students to out of school suspension or expulsion. Typical forms of punishment for level two offenses include: detention, suspension from the bus, referrals to intervention programs, or assignment to an alternative classroom. Additionally, forms of punishment available for level one offenses are also available for level two offenses. Examples of level two offenses include: destruction of property, minor physical fighting, forgery, gambling, intimidation, stealing items with a value less than $50, bullying, or sexual harassment.
Level three offenses are major acts of misconduct that include repeated disruptions of school order and threats to the health, safety and property of others. Level three offenses subject students to out of school suspension, but not expulsion. Typical forms of punishment for level three offenses include: suspension from school for up to ten days, suspension from the bus, Saturday school, or removal from extracurricular activities. Additionally, forms of punishment available for level two offenses are also available for level three offenses. Examples of level three offenses include: physical attacks, breaking and entering, extortion, fighting, possession of fireworks, gross insubordination, possessing contraband, possessing tobacco, stealing items with a value over $50 but less than $299, serious bullying, physical aggression against employees, sexual harassment, promotion of gang activities, and hazing.
Level four offenses are serious acts of misconduct. Level four violations are grounds for expulsion, and almost always result in an immediate ten-day suspension while the school administration determines whether to seek expulsion of the student. Examples of level four offenses include: alcohol use or possession, arson, battery, threats to the school, drug use or possession, false fire alarms, possession or use of firearms, theft of items with a value greater than $300, possession of weapons, robbery, sexual battery, sexual harassment, motor vehicle theft, destruction of property with a value greater than $1,000, drug dealing or delivering, sexual assaults, serious hazing, and serious physical assaults.
If a level four offense is alleged, then the school must contact the parents of the student to inform them of the immediate ten-day suspension. If the school decides to pursue an expulsion, then they must schedule a Discipline Team Meeting at the school by the tenth day of the suspension. The Discipline Team Meeting is presided over by an area administrator and will be attended by various faculty members of the school, usually including deans, administrators, guidance counselors, teachers, and a principal or vice principal. The parents and student attend the Discipline Team Meeting, and have a right to be represented by a lawyer of their choice. The Discipline Team Meeting is a critical stage of the disciplinary process, and it is extremely important to have a knowledgeable lawyer present with you to help protect your child’s rights at the meeting.
At the conclusion of the Discipline Team Meeting the area administrator will decide whether there are sufficient grounds to verify the level four offense. The area administrator will then decide whether to seek a full expulsion of the student from all Orange County Public Schools, or to waive the full expulsion and refer the student to an alternative school. If the student is referred to an alternative school, he or she is usually sent there for the remainder of that school year, plus the entirety of the following school year. After that time the student would be allowed back to his or her normal school. If the area administrator decides to pursue a full expulsion then the student is completely unenrolled from school.
If you are not satisfied with the results of the Discipline Team Meeting then you have a right to request an Administrative Review Hearing to appeal the ruling. The purpose of an Administrative Review Hearing is not to reweigh all of the facts that were presented at the Discipline Team Meeting, but rather to determine whether the student received due process (a fair process), or if there was additional evidence that was not presented which shows that the student did not commit the alleged offense. In the Orange County school system, Administrative Review Hearings are always held at the Orange County Public Schools headquarters, otherwise known as the Educational Leadership Center (ELC). The hearing is presided over by a hearing officer that Orange County Public Schools hires on a contract basis. The hearing officer can decide to uphold the recommended punishment, overturn the punishment, or reduce the punishment.
If a student is facing full expulsion from Orange County Public Schools then they are entitled to one last review of their case by the School Board. The School Board is the final authority on expulsions, and is the only authority that can actually order an expulsion. If the student and parents decide to appeal to the School Board, then their case will be added to the agenda of the next available School Board meeting. When the item is called up on the agenda, an area superintendent will typically read a summary of the allegations of misconduct to the School Board. Then the parent and/or student will be allotted three minutes to make their case to the School Board members. The School Board will then make a final determination whether to fully expel the student or not.
There are numerous defenses available to a student accused of a violation of the Student Code of Conduct. If your child is facing school discipline, it is critical to your child’s education that you immediately contact an experienced attorney to represent you throughout every stage of the disciplinary process. At Lindsey, Ferry & Parker, P.A., our experienced attorneys are ready to be at your side to fight to keep your child in school. Please call us immediately, even prior to meeting with school officials, if your child has been accused of misconduct at school.