Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Prerequisites to School Suspension- Are Alternatives To Suspension Required?

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

School suspensions are issued for almost anything nowadays.  Wearing a costume, talking back, getting a drink of water when not authorized- all items for which I have seen suspensions issued.  Are there ANY prerequisites to issuing a school suspension in California?  Are any alternatives to suspension authorized or mandated?  Yes and no.

Per California Education Code 48900.5, suspension "shall be imposed ONLY when other means of correction fail to bring about proper conduct."  This strong language requires "other means of correction" first right?  Right???  Yes, BUT it will depend on the offense.

First, what does "other means of correction" mean?   A good talking to, detention, Saturday School, sitting in the office, or other punishment which will teach the kid a lesson.

The words "shall be imposed only when..." seem obvious enough, but are they?  Unfortunately, 48900.5 also excludes various offenses including but not limited to fighting, threats, knives, drugs, robbery, and even merely disruptive students  This severely limits the requirement of alternatives to suspension.

Parents CAN still use this section to argue for alternatives to suspension, particularly with a minor offense and a kid with a limited discipline history.  It also can't hurt to have an education attorney make the arguments for the parents.

Now, I am not a school administrator, but I am a student attorney, and have seen many rules and laws ignored by schools until contacted by my office.  Regardless of how good a parent makes an argument, schools tend to ignore any "legal interpretation" until that interpretation comes from an attorney.

When parents are faced with suspension for a minor infraction with no big discipline history, they may want to use Education Code 48900.5 to try to obtain an alternative punishment so their kid does not have to sit home, missing out on his or her education.

Best,
Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916-444-9064
Fax: 916-444-1209
Website: http://www.edlaw4students.com/
                                                     
Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page [http://edlaw4students.blogspot.com/]. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting, etc. etc.!  This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship..

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Private School Contracts: Do You Have To Keep Paying If Your Child Leaves or is Kicked Out?

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

When a student leaves a private school midyear, due to moving, a change of heart, or a discipline exclusion, parents may be surprised to know that depending on their private school contract, they may still be obligated to pay tuition to the school after the student is gone.

Whether the family is obligated or not depends on the contract with the individual private school.  Was it written to obligate the family to cover a whole school year or to cover each month of attendance?  The answer is important.

Some private schools write contracts to cover a whole year of attendance.  In other words, a parent agrees to pay a set amount and it covers that entire school year.  The parent may opt to pay in advance, or monthly, but regardless, the amount is intended to cover a whole year.  Often the private school will win if this is the type of contract in place.  The "logic" applied in these scenarios is that if parents could just leave willy nilly, it would mess up the school planning.  For example, if the school has 500 students attending at a total promised amount of $10,000 each, the school counts on $500,000 to cover their salaries, rent, and other expenses.  If parents can just leave and not pay, the school may see itself in a tight spot, unable to pay their staff or maintain the school.  

Other schools may have parents simply pay monthly to cover the month.  In other words, they know they will owe X amount per month and the contract is not for a whole school year.  Parents may also pay in advance, but the funds would still simply cover each month individually.  These schools may even have in their contract the fact that if a student leaves, any advance would be refunded and/or no amount would be owed.  This is a MUCH better arrangement for families, as if something unexpected happens and a student departs, the private school parent involved should not owe past the month they last attended.

The whole thing is very confusing, but I have seen contracts in both camps.  So, if possible, it may be a good idea to obtain and compare various private school contracts in advance of enrollment to try to figure out which one is most favorable contractually.  For, once a contract is entered, it is not that easy to escape.

Best,
Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916-444-9064
Fax: 916-444-1209
Website: http://www.edlaw4students.com/

Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page [http://edlaw4students.blogspot.com/]. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting, etc. etc.!  This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

School Expulsion/Discipline For Knife Offenses: What IS a Knife Under the California Education Code?

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

Many students are suspended or placed up for expulsion for possession of a "knife," pursuant to California Education Code 48900(b).  Although what a "knife" is, seems somewhat obvious, it is specifically defined in  the Education Code and the definition is important.

A sister section, 48915(g) contains the definition of a knife as it relates to suspension or expulsion.  Per 48915(g) a "knife" is:

[A]ny dirk, dagger, or other weapon with a fixed, sharpened blade fitted primarily for stabbing, a weapon with a blade longer than 3 1/2 inches, a folding knife with a blade that locks into place, or a razor with an unguarded blade.

Okay- you may feel like you are somewhere back in time when trying to figure out what a "dirk" or "dagger" is, but click the links to find out.  For our purposes, the two most important definitions are:

1)  Weapon with a blade longer than 3 1/2 inches, and
2)  Folding knife with a blade that locks into place.

This is because in my experience these are two most helpful definitions for parents.

The reason is this: if a kid goes fishing over the weekend, leaves his multi-tool, key chain, or swiss army knife with a blade that locks into place in his pants pocket, and throws those same pants on in the rush to get to school on Monday, he has a knife for expulsion purposes.  It does not matter if he did not intend to bring the item to school, nor that he used it for fishing- he could be in trouble if this item is discovered.  Of course, many kids, finding such an item in their pants pocket while at school, take it out, fiddle with it in class, show it to friends, or simply use it.  That is a very very bad idea.  In fact, even if the blade is minuscule, dull, and looks like it could not hurt a bug, if it locks, the school may choose to apply their "zero tolerance" viewpoint and put the kid up for expulsion.

If the same tool does NOT have a locking blade, that is when the 3.5 inch blade issue arises.  If a blade is 3 inches long, attached to a multi-tool, and not "primarily for stabbing," this may open a door for attack.  Please note: the student still may be put up for school expulsion for other reasons such as possession of a "dangerous object," but that is a story for another day.

Now, don't count on the schools understanding this nuance- it may be a matter to be raised in the child's defense by legal counsel.  In my experience, it is rare for schools to listen to parents without attorneys when it comes to legal interpretations.

There is a lot more to say, but basically if a child is up for expulsion for possession of a knife, check the definition above to be sure what they have really IS a "knife."  If it isn't then any discipline for a "knife" may be open to attack.

P.S.  If you like my blogs, please "like" me on Facebook, and  subscribe to my email updates and Youtube channel (see links up and to the right).

Best,

Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916-444-9064
Fax: 916-444-1209
Website: http://www.edlaw4students.com/

Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page [http://edlaw4students.blogspot.com/]. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting, etc. etc.!  This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Parents Rights in Public Schools- Sixteen Rights (And Counting) Which Parents May Not Know They Have

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

California Education Code 51101 has a handy list of public school parents' rights neatly packaged for use when push comes to shove in California schools.  Some of these rights may come as a surprise to parents who are being denied a simple parent-teacher conference, can't get their child's records, are denied volunteer opportunities, were never given the school policies, or are having other difficulties in the public school environment.

Section 51101 affords the following rights to California public school parents (be advised this is an abbreviated list and is paraphrased):

1)  To be "mutually supportive and respectful partners" with the school.
2)  Within a reasonable time to observe their child's current classroom(s) and/or future classrooms if transferring.
3)  To meet with the teacher(s) or principal within a reasonable time of their request.
4)  To volunteer in the school or classroom, under supervision of school employees and with approval of the teacher (if volunteering in the classroom).
5)  To be notified if their child is absent on a timely basis.
6)  To receive the results of standardized and statewide tests.
7)  To request a particular school and receive a response.
8)  To have a safe environment supportive of learning.
9)  To examine curriculum materials of their child's classes.
10)  To be informed of their child's progress and whom the parent should contact if there are problems.
11)  To access their child's school records (see also Education Code 49069 which requires provision within 5 business days).
12)  To be provided with data regarding skills and standards their child is to meet.
13)  To be informed in advance of school rules, including discipline rules and procedures, attendance policies, dress codes, and procedures for visiting the school.
14)  To be informed regarding any psychological testing the school does and to refuse the testing.
15)  To participate in parent advisory committees, schoolsite councils, or site-based management leadership teams.
16)  To question anything in their child's records with which they disagree.

Now, parents, did you know you had all these rights????  Now go out and use them.

Best,
Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916-444-9064
Fax: 916-444-1209
Website: http://www.edlaw4students.com/

Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page [http://edlaw4students.blogspot.com/]. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting, etc. etc.!  This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship.