Student Conduct and Discipline Policies
A section of Iowa Code section 279.66 requires school boards of districts to review their existing policies related to student discipline and conduct. Following are excerpts from the new law:
- The policy is to promote responsible behavior of students, teachers and other school personnel, and visitors on school property and at school functions.
- The policy is to provide opportunities for students to exercise self-discipline and practice cooperative classroom behavior; and encourage students and practitioners to model fairness, equity, and respect.
- The policy shall specify the responsibilities of students, parents and guardians, and practitioners in creating an atmosphere where all individuals feel a sense of respect, safety, and belonging, and shall set forth the consequences for unacceptable behavior.
- The policy shall be published in the student handbook.
The Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB) is working on a revised sample policy.
Student Disciplinary Records
As part of NCLB, all states are required to assure the federal government that they have a state law to mandate that a student's disciplinary record follows the student to any new school. In Iowa the assurance is via Iowa Code section 279.9A. This law requires that "an accurate record of any suspension or expulsion actions taken, and the basis for those actions taken," be reported to a school to which the student transfers or seeks to transfer. This section applies to both nonpublic schools and districts.
The Iowa Department of Education's (DE) interpretation of 279.9A is that all expulsions and out-of-school suspensions must be reported. It is left to the discretion of the school or school district that imposes an in-school suspension whether to include such disciplinary records in what it sends to the student's next school.
Transfer of Disciplinary Records
As part of DE's compliance with No Child Left Behind [specifically 20 U.S.C. section 7165(b)], this agency has provided an assurance to the U.S. Department of Education that Iowa "has a procedure in place to facilitate the transfer of disciplinary records, with respect to a suspension or expulsion, by local educational agencies to any private or public elementary school or secondary school for any student who is enrolled or seeks, intends, or is instructed to enroll, on a full- or part-time basis, in the school." Iowa's assurance is based on Iowa Code section 279.9A, which required districts to provide to "school officials of a school to which [a] student seeks to transfer or has transferred ... an accurate record of any suspension or expulsion actions taken, and the basis for those actions taken, against the student ... ." The following points are emphasized:
- This is a mandate to transfer records regarding out-of-school suspensions or expulsions to the next school. A district retains discretion regarding records of in-school suspensions and lesser disciplinary measures. (In exercising such discretion a good rule-of-thumb is to ask oneself "what would I like to know about this student?")
- The Department does not interpret section 279.9A to mean that a district may wait for a request specifically for disciplinary records from the next school before it sends such records. Upon a request for "student records" or any generally-phrased request, the district must include copies of records of out-of-school suspensions/expulsions.
- Retain originals and only send copies!
- While an attitude of "let the student start with a clean slate at the next school" is understandable, there is truly no discretion about sending copies of records of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. The goal behind the mandate is to assist the next school in best serving all of the needs of the student.
Student Discipline and Due process
As a general rule, school districts are given much latitude and discretion by the courts regarding punishment of students who misbehave IF the district follows appropriate due process requirements. There are two sets of due process requirements, one for the short-term (10 days or less) suspension of students and one for long-term suspensions and expulsions of students.
A. Short-term Suspensions - Ten Days or Less
Iowa Code section 282.4(1) states that the local school "board may confer upon any teacher, principal, or superintendent the power temporarily to suspend a student, notice of the suspension being at once given in writing to the president of the board." A short-term suspension is defined by the United States Supreme Court in the Goss case as 10 days or less. [Be aware that a cumulative number of days of out-of-school suspension in excess of ten may trigger more due process.]
The absolute due process requirements for a short-term suspension are as follows:
- Oral or written notice to the student of the allegation(s) against him/her; and
- If the student denies the alleged conduct, the student is entitled to an explanation of the evidence in the school’s possession, as well as an opportunity to present the student’s side. If the student does not deny the charges but does not admit guilt, an opportunity still should be given to the student to present an explanation or his/her side of the story. NOTE: The student’s opportunity to present his/her side need not be before the school board; it is sufficient if the student is given an opportunity to be heard by the building administrator or district superintendent.
The above notice and rudimentary hearing must precede the removal of the student from school unless the student poses a danger to persons or property or is an ongoing threat of disruption to the academic process.
The process due to students facing short-term suspensions does not include the following:
- The right of parents to tell their child’s (or their own) side of the story.
- Pre-suspension notification to parents.
- Providing the student with time between the notice and informal hearing (i.e., time to prepare).
- The right to secure counsel.
- The right to remain silent.
- The right to confront and cross-examine witnesses nor to call his/her own witnesses.
B. Expulsions or Other Long-Term Suspensions
The stakes being much higher for a student who faces expulsion or long-term suspension, naturally more process is due to that student. The requirements can be broken down into three primary areas, as follows:
- Must be in writing
- Must be directed to the parents or guardians if the student is a minor.
- Must specify the date, time and place of the expulsion hearing.
- Must be given to the student (or parent/guardian) sufficiently in advance of the hearing to enable student to prepare a defense (the State Board of Education has suggested that this be no less than three working days).
- Must include a summary of the allegation(s) against the student sufficiently specific to enable to student to prepare a defense and must include a copy of any documents to be relied upon by the district in presenting its case to the local school board.
- Must include an enunciation of the student’s rights, which are:
- o The right to be represented by parent, guardian, friend, or attorney (there is no right to an attorney paid for by the district).
- The right to present witnesses and evidence.
- The right to cross-examine adverse witnesses.
- The right to examine documents to be presented to the board.
- The right to a closed hearing before the board unless the student asks that the hearing remain open (this is the choice of the student, not the district).
- Hearing Conduct Student must be given a “full and fair opportunity to be heard,” which includes:
- Opening and closing statements, if student so wishes.
- Cross-examination of adverse witnesses.
- Presentation of own witnesses and evidence.
- School board must be impartial.
- No member can have prior involvement in the matter, any stake in the outcome, or any personal bias.
- Remind all board members to have no contact with any parties to the hearing (if a parent calls a board member, the board member must refrain from discussing the case with the parent and must refrain from “hearing out” the parent).
- Board’s decision must be based on an adequate factual basis, which is the “preponderance of the evidence” standard.
- Hearsay (not first-hand) evidence is admissible at an expulsion hearing, but the board decides how credible it is and how much weight to give to such evidence.
- No new charges or information can be raised in the hearing that was not included in the notice to the student.
- No one who advocated a position at the hearing may be present during the deliberations of the board unless all parties are permitted to remain.
- The vote on the punishment itself must occur in open session.
- Student is entitled to a written decision that includes a statement of the facts, charge(s), and penalty sufficient enough that the student will know what conduct the board found to violate what policy and what punishment was handed down as a consequence.