Suspension is a serious punishment, that can have important consequences for your education and your future. There are certain rules your school must follow in order to suspend you. This guide will explain those rules and help you protect your rights.
This information is available in Spanish:
Conozca Sus Derechos y Responsabilidades Cuando se Enfrente Una Suspension
If you are a student in New York City, the NYCLU may be able to help you find free representation for your suspension hearing. Please contact Jalise Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local Rules and Protections
Be sure to get a copy of your Code of Conduct or Discipline Code each year—it contains important information about suspension. Most schools post their discipline codes online. The links below will take you to discipline codes for the following New York school districts:
Brentwood Union Free School District
Buffalo City School District
New York City School District
Rochester City School District
Syracuse City School District
Yonkers City School District
If you are facing a suspension, be sure to contact your school district for an explanation of local rules or extra protections that might not be covered in this guide.
If You Have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
You have additional protections. Visit this website to find the Special Education Regional Supervisor for your area, who can assist you. In addition, there should be a section in your Code of Conduct that explains suspension procedures for students with disabilities.
Click here for information about Principal's or Short-Term Suspensions
Click here for information about Superintendent's or Long-Term Suspensions (more than 5 days)
Short-Term Suspensions (5 school days or shorter)
This section will help you defend yourself against a suspension of 5 days or less that is imposed by your principal. It's important that you understand your rights and are able to protect yourself. The first important right is your right to “Notice.”
YOUR RIGHT TO NOTICE The school must provide you with “notice” before your suspension begins or shortly thereafter. Notice is a letter that informs you and your parents that the school wants to suspend you and why. It will also inform you of important dates, people to contact for information, and maybe an explanation of your rights. There are rules about WHEN you get the notice, WHAT it has to say, and HOW it has to say it. If the school does not follow all of the rules listed here, your suspension can be overturned WHEN: The school has to notify you and your parent(s) of a suspension before it begins. If the principal determines that you are a danger or a disruption, a short-term suspension can begin before you are given notice, but notice must be given within 24 hours. HOW: The notice must be in writing and either hand-delivered by the school or sent by express mail to your parent or guardian. WHAT: The notice must contain 3 things.
YOUR RIGHT TO REQUEST A CONFERENCE WITH THE PRINCIPAL For a short-term suspension, this informal conference is the only way you can defend yourself. You must request the conference—it is not automatic. You should bring a parent or guardian to the conference. You may also be permitted to bring a lawyer or representative. The law does not guarantee the right to counsel for the conference so ask your principal if you want to bring anyone besides your parent/guardian. At the conference, you have the right to question the person who accused you of misbehavior, if it was a teacher, school employee, school resource officer, or administrator. If it was another student, you usually have the right to question him or her as well, although your principal can decide not to allow it if there is reason to believe that it would be dangerous. YOUR RIGHT TO ALTERNATIVE INSTRUCTION If you are 16 years old or younger, you have the right to continue with your schoolwork while you are suspended. The work you do while suspended has to be “equivalent” to the work you were doing in school. It cannot be busy work or work that is below your level. This right is interpreted differently in different districts. It may mean that you can come into school for a few hours of the day. It may mean that your parent or another student can bring work to you. Or it could mean you will receive instruction at a suspension center. If you are older than 16, the school district does not have to provide you with alternative education, but it sometimes will. Be sure to discuss the possibility of alternative education with the superintendent if you are suspended. APPEALING A SUSPENSION For information on appealing a suspension decision, click here.
- A description of the event and the date that it took place. The description must have enough detail for you to understand what event they’re talking about.
- An explanation of your right to request a conference with the principal.
- An explanation of your right to question “complaining witnesses” at the conference. A complaining witness is the person who reported your alleged conduct.
Long Term Suspensions (6 school days or longer)Only the Superintendent of your School District can suspend you for more than 5 days. And before you can be suspended for that long, you have the right to “Notice” and a formal suspension hearing.
YOUR RIGHT TO NOTICE The school must provide you with “notice” before your suspension begins or soon after. Notice is a letter that informs you and your parents that the school wants to suspend you and why. It will also inform you of important dates, people to contact for information, and maybe an explanation of your rights. There are rules about WHEN you get the notice, WHAT the notice has to say, and HOW it has to say it. If the school does not follow all of the rules, your suspension can be overturned by the Commissioner of Education. (See Appealing a Suspension) WHEN: The school has to notify you and your parent(s) of the long-term suspension before it begins. You must receive the notice with enough time to prepare for your hearing (you are not required to hire a lawyer, but you must be given enough time to do so if you wish). HOW: The notice must be in writing and either hand-delivered by the school or sent by express mail to your parent or guardian. Regular mail or a phone call is not acceptable. WHAT: The notice must contain two things:
BEFORE THE HEARING You might be assigned a short-term suspension while you are waiting your hearing, up to 5 days. If you are suspended for 6 days or more without a hearing, contact your local NYCLU office or an attorney right away. You may be eligible to go back to school pending your hearing. YOUR RIGHT TO A FAIR HEARING You are guaranteed a fair hearing before you can be suspended for more than 5 school days. You do not have to request this hearing. The hearing will be conducted by an employee of the school district. If you believe that the officer cannot make a fair assessment, for instance if he or she is related to someone involved with your case, you should contact an attorney or your local NYCLU chapter. At the hearing you have the following four rights. Be familiar with them so you can protect yourself.
- A description of the event and the date that it took place. The event must be described with enough detail to allow you a fair opportunity to explain your side of the story (in other words, you have to be able to understand what they’re talking about).
- An explanation of your right to a formal suspension hearing.
If you are facing criminal charges from the same event as your suspension, you may want to request an adjournment until after the criminal matter has been resolved. Be sure to discuss this with your attorney. NO CONTEST PLEAS AND WAIVERS You can waive your right to a hearing by entering a no contest plea or by signing a waiver. This means that you are accepting the charges and the suspension goes on your record. By signing a waiver or entering a no contest plea, you are giving up certain rights. The school district must provide you and your parents with a written document explaining this. YOUR RIGHT TO ALTERNATIVE INSTRUCTION If you are 16 years old or younger, you have the right to continue with your schoolwork while suspended. The work you do while suspended has to be “equivalent” to the work you were doing in school. It cannot be busy work or work that is below your level. This right is different in different districts. It may mean that you can come into school for a few hours of the day. It may mean that your parent or another student can bring work to you. Or it could mean you will receive instruction at a suspension center. If you are older than 16, the school district does not have to provide you with alternative education, but it sometimes will, especially for long suspensions. Be sure to discuss the possibility of alternative education with the superintendent if you are suspended. More information on appealing a suspension decision below.
- The Right to Counsel: You have the right to be represented at the hearing, by a lawyer, a parent or relative, or another person you trust. There may be organizations in your area that will provide free representation. Check with local law schools to see if they offer representation.
- The Right to Present Evidence and Question Witnesses: You have the right to present your side of the story by testifying and/or by calling witnesses on your behalf. You also have the right, in most cases, to question the school’s witnesses, or have your attorney or parent do so. In addition, friends, neighbors, coaches, employers and others may write letters to the hearing officer, to demonstrate that you are a good member of your community.
- The Right to Remain Silent: You have the right to remain silent—the school cannot force you to testify or answer questions. If the incident that lead to your suspension hearing also lead to criminal charges, you should discuss this with your defense attorney. Remember: anything you say in your hearing can be used against you later in the criminal matter.
- Adjournments: If you know you cannot attend the hearing on the proposed date, you should ask for an adjournment right away. This means that a later date will be chosen. If the school has suspended you before your hearing and you request an adjournment, you do not have the right to go back to school while awaiting your hearing.
Appealing a SuspensionAppealing means you are taking your case to a higher level to ask them to reconsider the decision. Don’t be afraid to appeal, especially if there was a problem with the notice or hearing or if your rights were violated. You cannot be punished for appealing your suspension! The record from your hearing is the only evidence you can present for an appeal. This is why its very important to attend your hearing, and to have a representative question witnesses on your behalf. Usually you must appeal first to the Board of Education in your district. In most districts you will do this by writing them a letter that explains how your rights were violated and why they should reconsider the decision. You should contact the Board first to find out the rules of appealing. If you lose your appeal, you can appeal again to the State Commissioner of Education, and sometimes to a court. You should consult a lawyer if you want to appeal to a court.