When the hearing occurs, many schools do not even bring any live witness testimony to the hearing (this is a whole different evidentiary issue), and the panel evaluating the matter is made of school district employees already biased against the student. Does this sound like a fair system? Regardless, it is the system that exists for students and their parents to face.
Additionally, district expulsion panels seem to believe they are limited in what they can do as far as punishment, to expulsion or suspended expulsion, and do not think outside this very punitive box.Sometimes panels do find students innocent, but it is certainly a rare occurrence due to the stacked deck and presumed guilt.
If a student really is innocent and this can be proven, hearing may be the only option if the school won't drop the matter. However even with innocence, hearing still poses a risk no matter how good the case, particularly with difficult accusations that other students back up. Witnesses can lie or misperceive, to the detriment of the accused student.
If a student "did it" or did something which makes them culpable in some manner, negotiation options which might be open to a student pre-hearing may disappear at hearing due to the panel's potentially narrow view of punishment options and bias. Sometimes panels may be persuasively reminded of non-expulsion options but one never knows what will happen.
With most situations, parents should try to explore pre-hearing negotiated outcome if at all possible. This usually has to be sought, as the school will not generally seek out a parent to offer a negotiated outcome. Or, if they do approach parents, the school's offer is just to "stipulate expulsion" which basically means the parent signs their agreement to the expulsion proposed and no hearing will be held.
I have discussed various options in a previous post, but continue to be saddened by parents who proceed to hearing naively believing the expulsion panel will "hear them" and "understand," only to later end up in my office with a full blown expulsion having already been issued. Once that expulsion decision issues and is ratified by the school board, the only option is to appeal to the local county board of education, and there may or may not be adequate bases to support appeal.
Negotiating the expulsion pre-hearing is often a good option for students, and can result in a very positive outcome. Such outcome, even if it involves some form of punishment, may still be a victory when the potential hearing outcomes are reviewed. Attempting to negotiate generally serves the best interests of the student involved, to try to obtain the most positive outcome possible. It is certainly better than blindly showing up and hoping a panel of district employees sees it the student's way. They may, or more likely, they may not.
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228