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Are You Facing a Suspension or Expulsion?

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SUSPENSIONS

A suspension means a student is temporarily prohibited from going to his or her regular classes and/or school.  There is no difference in Maine law between an in-school and out-of-school suspension.  Both are considered suspensions. In Maine, a student can be suspended for:

  • Being deliberately disobedient or disorderly
  • Being violent
  • Having a gun or dangerous weapon
  • Hurting or threatening to hurt someone with a dangerous weapon, or
  • Having drugs (either for possession, selling or giving away)

This has to happen at school, at a school function or on school grounds.  As you can see, this is very broad.   For more specific information, you should review your school's student code of conduct and suspension policies.

Before you are suspended, you have a right:

  1. to know what you are being accused of (the notice does not have to be in writing)
  2. to know what evidence the school has, and
  3. a right to be heard.

A suspension for 10 school days or less is not a formal process.  The principal or another administrator chosen by the school board has the authority to suspend you. A suspension can happen immediately. The administrator decides how long the suspension will be. Example: The principal tells you that another student saw you with a beer. You deny that to the principal. The principal believes the other student and suspends you for 3 days, starting that day. Your rights have been protected.

There is a time limit to how long you can be suspended. The administrator can only suspend you for a maximum of 10 school days.  Maine law does not say if the principal can suspend you for 10 school days in a row or for 10 total school days in a school year.  If you have been suspended for more than 10 school days because of many shorter suspensions in a school year, call KIDS LEGAL or another lawyer.

If your suspension is longer than 10 school days, you have a right to a formal hearing before the school board.  This hearing has to happen before the 10 school days are up.  Only the school board can suspend you for more than 10 school days.  If a principal wants to suspend you for more than 10 school days, you can go back to school on the 11th day, unless:

  1. a school board hearing happens before the 11th school day, or
  2. there is an agreement between you, your parents and the school administration that you will stay out of school until the school board hearing happens.

You DO NOT have to agree to stay out of school longer than the 10 school days of suspension.

Sometimes the school will not let you come back until a meeting or a “risk assessment” happens. In that case, the meeting or "risk assessment" must happen during the 10 school day suspension.  If it does not, you can go back to school on the 11th school day.  If the school won't let that happen, you should call KIDS LEGAL or another lawyer.

What is a "risk assessment?"

Maine law does not talk about "risk assessments."  Most schools say a "risk assessment" is an evaluation by a mental-health professional.  The purpose is to see if you are a danger to yourself or others. Because the school has concerns about your behavior or mental health, it can be treated as a referral by the school for a special education assessment. In that case, the “risk assessment” is one evaluation under the special education process. Evaluations under special education are at no cost to you or your parents. This means a parent should not have to pay for the "risk assessment."  Your parent should make a referral for special education evaluations if the school asks you to do a "risk assessment."

Read more about the additional rights of students receiving special education protections and services.

EXPULSIONS

An expulsion in Maine is very serious.  It means you cannot go to school or to a school function or be on school property during your expulsion.  If you are expelled from one public school in Maine, you are expelled from every public school in Maine.  Expulsions can last:

  • from 11 school days up to the number of school days in a school year, or
  • for an indefinite period of time.

Only the school board can expel a student, which in Maine means being removed from school for more than 10 school days.    During your expulsion, you do not have a right to any educational services from the school, unless you have an IEP.  The school may decide to give you educational services during your expulsion, but it is up to the school board or administration.  There is one big exception: students who are protected by special education laws.

Read more about the additional rights of students receiving special education protections and services.

Students can be expelled for:

  • Being deliberately disobedient or disorderly
  • Being violent
  • Having a gun or dangerous weapon on school grounds
  • Hurting or threatening to hurt someone with a dangerous weapon, or
  • Having drugs (either for possession, selling or giving away)

These behaviors must have happened at school, on school grounds, or at a school event (like a sports game or dance).  Your removal must be necessary for the "peace and usefulness" of the school.   For more specific information about your school, you should review your school's student code of conduct and expulsion policies.  You want to see every policy that relates to the reason you are being recommended for expulsion.

You cannot be kept from school for more than 10 school days without a formal due process hearing before the school board.  This is because you have a constitutional right to "due process."  If the school board is not scheduled to meet before you have been out of school for 10 school days, it must hold an emergency meeting for your expulsion hearing.  If it does not, you can legally go back to school on the 11th school day.

Under Maine law, your due process rights are:

  • Both you and your parents must get a written notice that has:
    • the date, time and place of the hearing
    • a description of your behavior
    • your right to review your school records before the hearing
    • a description of the hearing procedure, and
    • an explanation of what an expulsion means

The superintendent must also invite you and your parents to a meeting to talk about how the hearing will work.  This meeting is about the hearing and NOT your behavior or the incident.  You do not have to go if you do not want to, but it may be a good way to know what to expect.

At the expulsion hearing, you have the right to:

  • cross-examine school witnesses,
  • bring your own witnesses, and
  • have a lawyer or other person represent you (you have to find your own lawyer.  The school does not have to give one to you).

You may want to talk to a lawyer before the expulsion hearing because it is so serious. At the expulsion hearing, the school board may have a lawyer there even if you do not have one. 

School board hearings are usually at night.  Your hearing will be closed to the public.  This means it will be held in "executive session."  The school board acts as the hearing officer and will make the decision by a majority vote.  The school administration will present its case first. There will be witnesses for the school. They will introduce evidence, including your entire discipline record.  You can make objections.  You have a right to put your defense on after the administration finishes its case.  You can bring your own witnesses.  All witnesses will be sworn in.

Prepare for an expulsion hearing

  • Think about what you will say. Don't blame others for your actions. Be willing to apologize. Explain why you will not behave that way again. If the expulsion action is based upon any kind of criminal activity, be sure to talk to a juvenile defense attorney before you testify at the hearing. This is because what you say at the expulsion hearing can be used against you in the Court case if you are charged. 
  • If you are getting help like counseling or AA, tell the board. Be prepared to say why being in school is important to you. Give the board members a reason to keep you in school. 
  • Be prepared to answer questions from school board members.
  • Bring witnesses or written statements from your counselor, employer, probation officer, teacher, a community member, etc. that will speak to your good character.
  • Bring school records that show you are invested in the school (your attendance, grades, participation in sports, etc.)
  • Be polite and respectful. Don't swear, yell or be argumentative.
  • Dress appropriately. Wear clean clothes without holes, no hats, no short skirts. If you wear a T-shirt, make sure it doesn't have swear words or references to alcohol, drugs or cigarettes.

The Decision

The school board acts as the hearing officer and will make the decision by a majority vote.  The school board can only expel you based on "substantial evidence." It must also be impartial.  When deciding if you should be expelled, the board must find

  • you engaged in 1 of the 5 behaviors for suspension/expulsion at school, on school grounds or at a school function, and
  • your expulsion is necessary for the "peace and usefulness of the school."

The school board has a lot of discretion when answering this question. The school board will also decide how long your expulsion will last.  It will be either:

  • for a set number of days up to one school year, or
  • an open-ended time wtih a re-entry plan for you to follow.

If you have a re-entry Plan, it  must be made with you, your parents and school staff.  If you are invited to a meeting to make this reentry plan, and you do not go, the school will write one for you.  Some things that may be included in a re-entry plan are counseling, substance abuse treatment, community service, and/or you engaging in a learning program of some kind.  You will get a written copy of the plan.  The point of the plan is to help you prove that your behavior that caused you to get expelled will not happen again.  Someone from the school needs to review your progress on the plan one month after you are expelled, 3 months after that, and 3 months after that.  Unless you have an IEP, the school does not have to give you or pay for any of the services that are in the re-entry plan.  The school does not have to give you any educational services during the expulsion.  Once you finish the re-entry plan, you need to ask to go before the school board.  You will need to show that your behavior will not be repeated.  You can ask for the re-entry meeting before the school board when you think you are ready.  You can have this meeting even if the principal or superintendent do not think you are ready.  The school board gets to make that decision.  If the principal or superintendent will not contact the school board to put you the agenda for the meeting, contact the chair of the school board.  Board members are usually named on the school district's website.  You can also call the administrative office of your school to find out who is on the school board.

If you lose an expulsion hearing, you can appeal to Superior Court. These cases are very difficult to win. You should talk to a lawyer first.  You have 30 days to appeal. 

Last update: March 2013

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