Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Who is a Resident of a School District?

 By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995 

What district a student is a resident of is usually a simple matter isn't it?  Where does one live and what does the online map say?  Regardless, sometimes this can become a tricky and very important issue for kids.  

Where a student resides legally comes up when a family moves, when a student wants to attend a school where their parent works, their parents are in the military, or are taken out of the state, while the child remains behind in California.  Residency status can become critical, and can involve investigations by school districts and termination of attendance if a student is not found a "resident" of the school district where they attend.

The bottom line is to attend a school district one must be a resident of that school district as defined by state law and district policy.  Simply, a resident is a student 

living with their parents within the boundaries of a school district.  A resident is also, per California Education Code Section 48204, defined as:

-  A student who is attending on an interdistrict attendance agreement (transfer) which has been approved (California Education Code section 46600)

- An emancipated minor living within the district

- A student living in a caregivers home in the district (e.g.caregiver affidavit)

- A student in a state hospital in the district

- A student whose parent or legal guardian works at least 10 hours in that district, who has been approved for transfer.  So long as the parent remains employed, this student should be able to attend through twelfth grade without reapplication (California Education Code section 48204(b)(8)).

-  A foster care, family home, or children's institution resident living in the district boundaries.

- A foster care student who remains in their school (but may not live in that area) within the district

Students may also continue to attend a school, although the codes do not address whether they are "residents," in the following circumstances:

- A student whose parent is active military and who is being transferred into the district. (California Education Code section 48204.3)

- A student whose parent has departed the state involuntarily, regardless of where the pupil lived in California prior to the departure (California Education Code section 48204.4)

- A student belonging to a military family who attends and was a resident previously (California Education Code section 48204.6).  The time they are allowed to stay will depend on the grade in which they were/are enrolled.

-  A student who is migratory and attends that district (California Education Code section 48204.7). The time they are allowed to stay will depend on the grade in which they were/are enrolled.

This determination of a student's status as a "resident," is critical for many families, to ensure their kids don't have to switch schools unnecessarily or that a student can enter a particular district or remain at their school of attendance.

Best,

 

Michelle Ball

Education Law Attorney 

 

LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL 

717 K Street, Suite 228 

Sacramento, CA 95814 

Phone: 916-444-9064 

Email:help@edlaw4students.com 

Fax: 916-444-1209

Website, Blog, Twitter, YoutubeFacebook

 

Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page. 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. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.  


[This communication may be considered a communication/solicitation for services]

Friday, August 21, 2020

School Suspension And Expulsion For Fighting Or Threats of Harm

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

There are a multitude of bases for student discipline.  One of those bases involves fighting (aka "mutual combat"), threats, and/or physical violence to another.  Such conduct may or may not get a student suspended or placed up for expulsion.

Per California Education Code 48900(a)(1) for a student to be suspended or expelled for this type of conduct, they must have:

- Caused, attempted to cause, or threatened to cause physical 
injury to another person, or
- Willfully used force or violence upon the person of another, 
except in self-defense.

But, what does this mean in "real life?"  It means student fighting, threats to hurt someone (even vague ones), and responding in a physical way when attacked by another student, can get a student punished.

Fighting in schools, unfortunately may not be what you think, as the schools deem anyone responding physically to an attack as being involved in that fight.  

Although self defense is listed as an excuse which should prevent discipline, self defense is rarely accepted as a reason to NOT punish, unless a student who is assaulted runs away to the office, to an adult, or curls up in a fetal position to take the beating...  I am not being sarcastic. 

For example, if a student is hit by another student, and hits back, the schools usually deems this "mutual combat," and suspend both kids, regardless of who started it.  The insertion of the words "except in
self-defense," is very confusing as schools usually ignore this phrase, and suspend students if they engage in any form of physical altercation, and even if the student has no other choice (e.g. they are attacked).  

There are times when schools may allow the self defense "excuse," for example, when it is glaringly obvious, such as with a gang beating, but for the most part in a two student battle, both will be punished regardless of who started it.

Additionally, the mere "threat" of physical harm can get a student punished.  A "hit list" against students or teachers, threats to students or school personnel on social media, in threatening or violent essays, and even drawings of guns and destruction can land a student in the discipline hot seat.  First
Amendment free speech issues may arise, but schools usually ignore such rights if they exist at all, claiming an immediate and disruptive threat.

Whether a student actually will be punished for such conduct each time is up to the school. 

Usually in the student handbook will be a grid with a list of crimes and the possible punishment for each.  With fighting, or other physical harm, the schools will usually allow suspension OR expulsion even on a first offense.

In the "old days," students could probably defend themselves for real and not be suspended, but in our "zero tolerance" world, this is not the case. Students are expected to take a beating or run away so they won't be in trouble.  

Alas, no one ever said that school discipline was logical or reasonable, and I would certainly never make that claim.

Best,

 

Michelle Ball

Education Law Attorney 

 

LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL 

717 K Street, Suite 228 

Sacramento, CA 95814 

Phone: 916-444-9064 

Email:help@edlaw4students.com 

Fax: 916-444-1209

Website, Blog, Twitter, YoutubeFacebook

 

Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page. 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. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.


Originally published 5/5/11, updated 1/16/18, 8/21/20

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

How To Get Speech, Occupational Therapy and Other Related Services Delivered To Our Kids During Coronavirus

 By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

The end of the 2019-2020 school year was a nightmare for kids, and hardest hit were special needs students.  Now that fall 2020 is starting mainly at home, students are not likely to receive adequate special education services, including their "related services."  


Related services are things such as speech and language, occupational therapy, adaptive physical education, and other similar supportive services necessary to help a special needs student to be educated.  These can be very difficult to deliver via online options and schools recently have cut down the provision of these services due to distance learning.

One possible solution for the delivery of these services is to have a school district pay for outside service providers to deliver in person services to the student.  These could be delivered either at the provider's business or in the student's home (if the provider and family are willing).  


Recently I have reached out to a local private speech and language provider and found they are open for business and can deliver right now to students at their office.  This means that while  school employees are not available for students to meet with, other equally qualified professionals are.  The argument is that these outside services must be provided or students will regress.


Parents may want to research what services are available in their area for in person delivery and contact their school to attempt to get their child's services delivered by these outside providers.  If the school argues they are already delivering, that argument can be countered by asking if they are willing to deliver their services in person or not and pointing out the obvious difficulties and deficiencies present with online provision.  


There is a huge difference between in person and video services when it comes to speech and language, occupational therapy, and adaptive physical education.  I have had some clients give up doing video delivery altogether as they cannot get the student to attend and they also don't have the equipment or training to deliver the services to their kids.


Additionally, parents can ask to be reimbursed for their mileage to and from these services.  The mileage reimbursement must be listed in the IEP.


Other supports such as from an aide/paraprofessional, where a student may be accompanied by a trained assistant throughout their schoolday, may have vanished recently as well.


With aide services, if a student is entitled to specialized support, they should be

provided that support to the fullest extent possible.  The aide should attend their classes with them, at the very least, and perhaps assist them online for their whole school day (as they would have been at school had it been in session) and beyond, helping them with whatever they need.  If minutes of service are noted in the IEP, those minutes should be delivered.  There are other arguments that aides should help children directly, but those may be a bit more complex at this point.

We have to do something, and not just wait until this is all over to try to pick up the pieces.  If outside providers are available to deliver, this may be an option for families to receive some of their services during this difficult time.  


Research and an IEP meeting may be the first steps to take to move our kids forward, as the government does not seem they will solve this problem for us.


Best,

 

Michelle Ball

Education Law Attorney 

 

LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL 

717 K Street, Suite 228 

Sacramento, CA 95814 

Phone: 916-444-9064 

Email:help@edlaw4students.com 

Fax: 916-444-1209

Website, Blog, Twitter, YoutubeFacebook

 

Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page. 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. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.

 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

School Suspension Or Expulsion For Bullying

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

Do you remember the school bully?  Or, maybe you have seen movie depictions such as the red haired youth with his raccoon fur hat who terrorizes the main character, Ralphie, in A Christmas Story.  Bullying can occur anywhere in schools: in the classroom, in the bathroom, in the office, behind a building, on a field trip, on the way to or from school -- wherever students interact.  Bullying conduct, or actions that someone says are bullying, may result in a student being suspended or expelled. 

Per California Education Code section 48900(r), students who bully can be removed from school. Bullying is defined generally as:

[A]ny severe or pervasive physical or verbal act or conduct, including communications made in writing or by means of an electronic act ...that has or can be reasonably predicted to have the effect of one ore more of the following [on a "reasonable pupil"]: 

1)  Places the student in fear of harm (for themselves or their property).
2)  Has a "substantially detrimental effect" to the student's physical or mental health.
3)  Causes substantial interference with the student's academic performance.
4)  Causes substantial interference with the student participating in or benefiting from "the services, activities, or privileges provided by a school. [information summarized not quoted]

When implemented, the legislature did attempt to limit the application of this statute to require "substantial" interference in three out of four of the categories.  However, they did not provide a definition as far as what amounts to "substantial interference," nor explain what a "substantially detrimental effect" to a reasonable student might be.  

The overbroadness of this statute means that practically anything can come under the "bullying" heading as many things kids do could put almost anyone "in fear of harm." 

Unfortunately, when disciplining students, schools require a low level of proof that an offense has occurred.  He who speaks first is believed.  And it does not help matters that expulsion hearings are usually in front of a panel of hand-picked District employees who will hear and decide on the matter.

The many ways actual and perceived bullying can manifest in school would be a good topic to go over with kids, so they can avoid a suspension or expulsion, as well as report bullying if seen to start the mandated investigation of process so they can help prevent it.  If you find your child being punished for "bullying," don't fear: with a thorough review of the legal codes and evidence, you just may show no bullying actually occurred. 

Best,

Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney 

LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL 
717 K Street, Suite 228 
Sacramento, CA 95814 
Phone: 916-444-9064 
Email:help@edlaw4students.com 
Fax: 916-444-1209

Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page. 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. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.

Originally published on August 27, 2012, updated July 15, 2020

[This communication may be considered a communication/solicitation for services]

Monday, July 13, 2020

Do You Want Your Kids To Go Back To In-Person Education This Fall? Call, Write, Email, Contact Your District And School To Express Your Opinion


By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

Have you been on edge not knowing if your kids will actually get an in-person education this fall due to the Coronavirus fears?  The not knowing is difficult.  Parents need to get back to work, but how can they work if their kids are at home?  And, are kids REALLY being educated if they are getting a couple hours of classes a week online?  What are they doing the rest of the day?  What can we do and what must we do if we want schools to reopen?  It's time to communicate. 

Although there are some charter home schools already set up for great distance learning which anyone can sign up for, most parents want their kids in a physical schooleven now.  Yet the education of our kids has largely been thrown to the side of the road and crushed by Coronavirus.  Now kids are not getting enough education or interaction, and are isolated and alone.

The California Constitution makes education an essential right, as outlined in Article IX which states:

Section 1

A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the Legislature shall encourage by all suitable means the promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural improvement.

Section 5

The Legislature shall provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be kept up and supported in each district at least six months in every year, after the first year in which a school has been established.

For months we have been waiting to see what would be decided by the authorities, and if school would reopen.  Would our right to an education, as outlined in the California Constitution, be returned?  It depends on where you live and who is in charge.

I have heard from parents who have received the glorious notification that their kids have a school to go back to (if they want to send them), such as in Placer County, or in Lodi, California.  I have also spoken to parents who were told no physical school was to begin, like in Los Angeles and San Diego.  These parents scratch their heads and say that this is impossible as they have young kids who cannot be left home, and that they are not equipped to teach them.  

One family I know has a First Responder parent who has to work and who cannot watch the children, let alone educate them.  This same family informed me that their District said that they had not been contacted by parents on the issue of reopening and as a result had concluded parents were indifferent to whether schools reopened for in-person education or not.  Hardly!  Parents care!  Surveys have found that the majority of parents want their kids to return to full time face-to-face school, or at least want the choice whether they do or they don't.

Ultimately, parents ALWAYS had the choice of whether to send their kids to in-person school or not, ever prior to Coronavirus.  Parents can enroll their kids in independent study, put them in a free charter school, create a private home school, or have students attend classes in the community part time with a home/class hybrid.  We did not need Coronavirus to have these options.  Parents do not need to be forced to keep their kids home- they can decide themselves, so long as the options are available to them.  Even if schools simply reopened, all parents could still keep their kids home to pursue alternative education options if they so desired, regardless.

If parents want kids to return or at least to have the option to return, it may be time to politely and reasonably contact the local school districts, the principals, our teachers, our congresspeople, the Governor, the State Superintendent of Education, the local newspaper and anyone else who may have a say in this, and let them know.  Perhaps with enough voices, we can get the hesitant school districts to just get the job done already, after months of knowing this day was coming- to get distancing in place, to get the masks and hand sanitizer dispersed, staggered breaks set up, and get our kids back to life and learning.  It is likely a large chunk of parents won't return their kids regardless, which means less crowding anyway for the rest of the kids.

Parents have more power than they think, but only if they exercise their right to be heard and express themselves.  If schools and government officials are only hearing from teachers unions and government officials on this, kids may be at home until they are 18 and even into college with the way things are going.  Kids will always get sick, whether it's from Coronavirus, the flu, or some other bug out there, but the harm from isolation and internet all day also poses a threat to our kids and their future.  How are other countries doing this, but the USA cannot?  We can do it also.

It's time for some grass roots parent-driven advocacy.  There are millions of parents in this state and I would say that is enough to make an impression on school officials if the respectful noise is loud enough.


Best,

Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney 

LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL 
717 K Street, Suite 228 
Sacramento, CA 95814 
Phone: 916-444-9064 
Email:help@edlaw4students.com 
Fax: 916-444-1209

Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page. 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. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.

Friday, July 10, 2020

California Time Limits For Filing Claim Form With School Districts under the California Government Code

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
This blog may not contain all relevant information or reflect current law.

There are strict time limits with regard to filing claims against school districts (and other governmental entities) under California law, which the courts do honor.  A case may be rejected if the student (or claimant) did not file the required notice timely with the District (see blog here) and file in court timely after that process is complete.

Time for filing with the governing body per Government Code 911.2

(a) A claim relating to a cause of action for death or for injury to person or to personal property or growing crops shall be presented as provided in Article 2 (commencing with Section 915) not later than six months after the accrual of the cause of action. A claim relating to any other cause of action shall be presented as provided in Article 2 (commencing with Section 915) not later than one year after the accrual of the cause of action.

Additionally, if the filing IS timely provided to the Board of Education, the Board will either reject the claim, act on the claim, or ignore it.  Once rejected, the claimant may proceed to file in court within the short window allowed.  

If the Board does not act on the claim (e.g. no response), it is deemed rejected 45 days from the date submitted (see Government code 911.6 ).  So, keep your calendar handy!

If the claim is rejected, the Government Code states the claimant has 6 months from the date the claim was personally delivered or deposited in the mail to file in court (see Government Code section 913).

Please be advised that other time limits might apply as well depending on the type of claim and which court it might be filed in.  The above is merely to outline some potentially relevant language for these types of filings.  The matter ultimately is much more complicated than could be covered in a blog.

Best,

Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney 

LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL 
717 K Street, Suite 228 
Sacramento, CA 95814 
Phone: 916-444-9064 
Email:help@edlaw4students.com 
Fax: 916-444-1209

Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page. 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. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.

[This communication may be considered a communication/solicitation for services]

Originally published January 5, 2011, updated August 2, 2018 and July 10, 2020

Special Education After Coronavirus- Steps To Take To Try To Recoup Services And Regain Lost Skills


By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

As the months of Coronavirus destruction of life as we know it roll on, it is clear that not only have lives  been destroyed, but also that the educational lives of our children have been crushed.  This is especially true for special needs kids, who have been shoved home and largely forgotten about as far as the level of support they may need to access and advance in their education.  With the fall approaching, and some schools reopening for physical classes, or a hybrid model of in-class instruction and online school, it is time to think about how to recover from the near-destruction of special education services this past time period.

Although no one has the answers on Coronavirus, what will happen, what may happen, and what parents may be entitled to in the future after a denial of their legally-mandated special education services, there are a few things that parents may want to do:

1)  Review their child's IEP (Individualized Education Program) and/or 504 Plan document and list out all the services the child should have been receiving and the dates those services stopped.

For example, if a student was to be receiving 30 minutes per week of speech and language services, this should be noted down.  Did they also lose out on a specialized classroom, or behavior instruction?  Put it all down.  Note when the service should have continued through (e.g. May 31, 2020) and when it actually stopped (e.g. March 15, 2020).

2)  List out all the services that were missed.  

On the speech and language example, if a student had no speech and language from March 15 through May 31, 2020, the student should have received approximately 11 sessions of speech and language, for a total of 5.5 hours of service. 

3) Figure out what services were actually provided, albeit via distance learning.

4) List out all the goals that the student was working on for all areas and see if there are any updates on their progress on the goals from service providers or the school.  Some schools provide zero quarterly updates, and some provide periodic updates listing the status of the goals.  Parents need to know what the goals in place are and where the student is on accomplishing their goals, if possible.  It may be tough to really determine where a student is on a goal, however, if they have not been in school.  Parents can only do their best.

5)  Gather all the work the student did, as well as all email or other communication between the family and school or providers about the child during the Coronavirus exclusion, and get them into date order so it can be clearly seen what was represented would be provided, or not provided, and what was actually provided.

6)  Pull up the child's report card and lists of assignments for each class, showing points awarded and points possible during the last semester and see what the student was assigned, what they actually turned in and the points they received.  Do the points they received evidence the student was at the level they are supposed to be?  Often lists of points tell a story about the student, their weak and strong areas, and their trouble spots.

These actions should give parents a good understanding of what was supposed to be provided, what was actually provided, and where the student may be as far as learning and goals.  

There is a question on special education and what parents and students will be entitled to when they return to school or if schools will just get out of their obligations due to Coronavirus.  It is uncertain, but needs to be approached by parents if they want to have a chance to recoup.  Things will go faster for parents if schools will physically reopen versus remaining on virtual learning, simply due to the mechanics of services being delivered.  

Parents should attempt to determine what may be needed to bring the student up to where they would have been had school been in session.  Services to accomplish this goal should then be sought.  This is hard to quantify, but parents may want to bring the literal hours missed to the school first (e.g. they missed 5.5 hours of speech) as a starting point.  However, school districts don't necessarily have to provide hour for hour make-up time.  

Ultimately, what may be required if the schools don't get out of this obligation due to a health emergency, are services to bring the student up to where they would have been had this debacle not occured.  This is hard to evaluate and it is possible outside experts may have to be brought in to determine this (e.g. a licensed speech and language therapist).  Services provided to make up loss may be in a smaller or larger amount than what should have been provided had schools remained open.  Services are really based on what the student needs to be brought whole again.  These services are sometimes called "compensatory" services, as they compensate a family for lost education.

In its "Fact Sheet:Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in SchoolsWhile Protecting the Civil Rights of Students" released March 16, 2020, the United States Department of Education wrote in discussing the special ed issues from Coronavirus: 

The Department understands that there may be exceptional circumstances that could affect how a particular service is provided. If a student does not receive services after an extended period of time, the student’s IEP Team, or appropriate personnel under Section 504, must make an individualized determination whether and to what extent compensatory services are needed consistent with the respective applicable requirements, including to make up for any skills that may have been lost.  
[emphasis added]

This appears to confirm an affirmative obligation of schools to act to provide compensatory services to students who lost skills during this time.  Offering compensatory services has started happening outside California, for example in Louisiana where the state is taking a proactive approach.  I am not sure that California schools will take on this issue or offer compensatory services without being asked by parents first. 

How hard the districts fight or if they are able to wiggle out of compensatory services is yet to be seen.

Regardless, parents need to start looking at this and take action if they want to help their children regain any skills lost during the Coronavirus school shutdown.  

Best,

Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney 

LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL 
717 K Street, Suite 228 
Sacramento, CA 95814 
Phone: 916-444-9064 
Email:help@edlaw4students.com 
Fax: 916-444-1209

Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page. 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.

Notification to School Districts Required Prior to Proceeding to Court

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
This blog may not contain all relevant information or reflect current law.

In California, the Government Code sets forth the requirements for suing a public entity in the state courts.  That code requires that the entity and its ruling body be provided with written notice IN ADVANCE of fling a claim in court in many situations.  This may be a mandatory prerequisite to filing a legal action and may apply to actions against public school districts, public college districts, and other governmental entities in the state, depending on the claim.  This blog will cover generally some information on this, but not all requirements may be provided here.  

Content of Notice 
Government Code Section 910 and the surrounding sections, roughly require the following be provided to the government entity: [requirements abbreviated]

1)  Name and address of claimant
2)  Address where notices should be sent.
3)  Date, place, and other circumstances which led to the occurrence(s).
4) General description of the indebtedness, damage, injury, loss as known at the time.
5)  Name(s) of public employees causing the above if known.
6)  Amount claimed if less than $10,000 and/or note if it is a limited civil case.

The notice should also be signed (see Government Code 910.2).  In the case of school districts, this notice would typically be sent to the governing body (see Government Code 900.2 and the surrounding sections for definitions), such as the Board of Education (Board).  Once this is provided, the Board is supposed to either act on the claim or reject the claim.  They are also supposed to notify the claimant if there are defects in the notice so the form can be corrected and resubmitted.

Prior to writing their own claim form to be filed, a parent/student can call the Board and/or the Board secretary to ask if they have a blank claim form they could be sent, typically called a "tort claim form."  A tort is, in simple terms a breach of duty. The Board is required to provide a form (see Government Code 910.4), although sometimes it is hard to get a hold of one and/or the person at the school district does not know what a parent is talking about.  A parent or student may write their own form if the school district does not have one.

In my experience, it is rare for a school district to act on a claim and it is typical for a claim filed to be rejected by the Board.  That may not be everyone's experience.  It can be very costly to proceed to court, but if a student/parent is considering going to court, they need to be mindful of these requirements and the time limits involved.  This is not the only time limit which may apply to a situation.

There are some matters which may not be required to comply with this claim requirement, and the list can be explored here.  Some of these include childhood sexual abuse under Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1, occurring after January 1, 2009, retirement benefit claims, and others. This blog does not cover what is NOT covered, just some basics.  A litigator may need to be consulted if a suit is going to be pursued.

Best,

Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney 

LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL 
717 K Street, Suite 228 
Sacramento, CA 95814 
Phone: 916-444-9064 
Email:help@edlaw4students.com 
Fax: 916-444-1209


Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page. 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. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.

[This communication may be considered a communication/solicitation for services]

Originally published January 4, 2011, updated August 2, 2018 and July 10, 2020

Thursday, June 25, 2020

College Discipline: Initial Contact And Investigation Meeting

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

 

College discipline hearings can be difficult matters, and they all start with the allegation and investigation.  Due to the potential for severe punishment, it is important the initial steps are not mishandled.


Usually the first notice of a discipline issue arrives via the student's official college email, with an attachment telling the student to contact the college in a few days to set up a meeting.  Often this notice indicates that if the student fails to reply, dire consequences may result, such as a hold on their records or a denial of class registration.  There may be reference to a vague or unidentified allegation, so the student may not be sure what they are being accused of.  Students should not ignore this email and should set up any meeting requested.


As the student may have no idea why they are being investigated, a polite inquiry should be made prior to this meeting to attempt to get more detail on the allegations.  If the staff say "you will find out at the meeting," the student should still respectfully ask if they may be provided with information on the context and what codes are alleged to have been breached, if this was not included in the initial notice


The student can also request copies of any "evidence" which has been gathered and if they can obtain such prior to the initial meeting.  


Colleges may have a student advocate office or other similar office which they can contact at the university to get some input and advice about local practices.  This may also be the time to seek input from family members, such as a student's parents (if the student is comfortable with that), or potentially other sources, to be prepared.  Although legal counsel may be denied entry to the investigation meeting(s), they can be consulted outside the meeting.


The student should review the college codes for all relevant areas of possible alleged breach, as well as any discipline policies the college has published.  For example, at the University of California, Davis (UCD), there are many policies on their "Office of Student Support and Judicial Affairs" page, including a link to the current policies and procedures that are applied in student discipline matters.  Not all colleges, unfortunately, have adequate information on line, or even adequate policies, but it is definitely worth the time to learn what may be out there before the meeting.   


It is important to remember that whomever a student may meet with during the investigation has a lot of experience in punishing students and far more knowledge in this area, usually, than the student, so doing anything one can to get prepared is critical.


At the initial meeting, the student will likely be interviewed, and will hopefully be fully informed of the allegation, context, and codes allegedly breached.  The student may even be asked to admit what happened.  Or, they may simply be told that the college will be investigating and will get back to them for a follow up meeting.


It is never certain what will happen with these allegations, but I have found that colleges  tend to believe the accuser, not the accused student, so students should be prepared for  being doubted and cast as someone who has done wrong, despite telling college staff the truth and/or providing an honest, heartfelt denial of any allegation.  


Additionally, even though the staff member who interviews them may seem like a very sweet, kind, and understanding person, that is part of their method of obtaining information and data they may be able to skew or use in a discipline hearing against the student.  It is best not to forget the nice person interviewing them is on the other side, likely trying to prove the student "did it," and is the one who will likely be making recommendations on what punishment the student may face.


It is a bit tricky.


University students may be able to be accompanied to this meeting by a parent or a college advocate, but it is up to the individual school on what they allow.


If faced with a surprise email from your college or university saying to "call us or else!" don't ignore it.  But, do approach it in a methodical and prepared way so you can help yourself navigate these tricky waters and keep pursuing your degree.


Best,

 

Michelle Ball

Education Law Attorney 

 

LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL 

717 K Street, Suite 228 

Sacramento, CA 95814 

Phone: 916-444-9064 

Email:help@edlaw4students.com 

Fax: 916-444-1209

Website, Blog, Twitter, YoutubeFacebook

 

Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page. 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, May 13, 2020

Will Lack of Social Distancing Or Threats To Touch Someone Be Suspendable and Expellable Offenses When Students Return To School?

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995


Schools and students are in turmoil in California, with all pushed to distance education for fear of  the "invisible enemy" aka Coronavirus.  But what about the upcoming fall and the 2020-21 schoolyear?  How will students return to school in the Coronavirus "new normal" and how will school restrictions be enforced?  Imagine kids prior normal actions at school (running, hanging out, talking, high-fiving, texting, laughing, playing sports together, walking through crowded hallways) and now imagine those actions 6 feet apart.  How will schools stop kids from interacting and how will they be punished if they do not socially distance?  I am not looking forward to finding out.

It is hard to imagine kids playing on a playground and social distancing, isn't it?  Let's take a 5, 10 or even a 16 year old and try to keep them 6 feet away from their friends.  How will this work?  What about in physical education (PE)?  Will they just jog alone or play tennis?  There are innumerable questions and serious concerns on how this will be managed.  It is not hard to envision a heavy type of authoritarianism will exist in schools to enforce the new standards.  In this new "normal" what will schools do to stop kids who run within 6 feet of someone or who shake someone's hand?  Will they be suspended, or even expelled for placing someone in theorized danger?  I hope not, but I am not sure.

California students will have to navigate severe restrictions and face a new class of offenses that at this time can only be imagined, such as:

-  Being within 6 feet of another.
-  Not sanitizing properly
-  Threatening others with touching, spitting or breathing on them
-  Lying that they have Coronavirus to intimidate and scare others
-  Threatening to bring Coronavirus to school
-  Touching a friend, teacher or staff member (e.g. high-fiving, hugging, poking, bumping into someone)
-  Touching things around campus
-  Not sanitizing their desk or seat, etc. when they change classes
-  Playing in groups
-  Playing contact sports
-  Using someone else's stuff
-  Going to the bathroom when someone else is using it
-  Sitting in the wrong seat, spot or being in a place not marked with a taped "X" 
-  Not wearing a mask (if required)
-  Whispering to each other
-  Coughing or sneezing and not covering up the cough/sneeze
-  Coming to school with a fever or sick
-  Not reporting when a family member is sick
-  Posting on social media related to Coronavirus in a way that threatens students or creates a school disruption

There are no direct provisions in the California Education Code for suspension or expulsion for failure to social distance, or for students not waiting their turn, YET, but there are provisions in the Education Code for suspension or expulsion for other things that I fear may be used against kids.  

Education Code §48900:

This code section allows suspension or expulsion for many things, including threatening someone, disruption/defiance, and bullying:

A pupil shall not be suspended from school or recommended for expulsion, unless the superintendent of the school district or the principal of the school in which the pupil is enrolled determines that the pupil has committed an act as defined pursuant to any of subdivisions (a) to (r), inclusive:

(a)(1) Caused, attempted to cause, or threatened to cause physical injury to another person...

(k) Disrupted school activities or otherwise willfully defied the valid authority of supervisors, teachers, administrators, school officials, or other school personnel engaged in the performance of their duties. [expulsion and suspension may be limited depending on grade level]...

(r) Engaged in an act of bullying. For purposes of this subdivision, the following terms have the following meanings:
(1) “Bullying” means any severe or pervasive physical or verbal act or conduct, including communications made in writing or by means of an electronic act, and including one or more acts committed by a pupil or group of pupils as defined in Section 48900.2, 48900.3, or 48900.4, directed toward one or more pupils that has or can be reasonably predicted to have the effect of one or more of the following:
(A) Placing a reasonable pupil or pupils in fear of harm to that pupil’s or those pupils’ person or property.
(B) Causing a reasonable pupil to experience a substantially detrimental effect on the pupil’s physical or mental health.
(C) Causing a reasonable pupil to experience substantial interference with the pupil’s academic performance.
(D) Causing a reasonable pupil to experience substantial interference with the pupil’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or privileges provided by a school.

So, if a student threatens another student with coming close to a friend and "getting" them, will this mean they are threatening them with harm?  What if a student purposefully intimidates a student who is very fearful of Coronavirus?  Will this be bullying?  If a student refuses to stand apart from friends trying to play, will they be sent to the office?  What if they want to run around separately, but accidentally run into each other- will they be expelled for endangering someone?  Is this even far-fetched in the current climate of California?  Not necessarily.  This is just one more minefield they will have to navigate.

Another code section which could conceivably be twisted into a tool to punish during the Coronavirus panic is Education Code §48900.4, which states:

...a pupil enrolled in any of grades 4 to 12, inclusive, may be suspended from school or recommended for expulsion if the superintendent or the principal of the school in which the pupil is enrolled determines that the pupil has intentionally engaged in harassment, threats, or intimidation, directed against school district personnel or pupils, that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to have the actual and reasonably expected effect of materially disrupting classwork, creating substantial disorder, and invading the rights of either school personnel or pupils by creating an intimidating or hostile educational environment.

The student who threatens another daily with touching them, with being next to them on the bus, with breathing on them, could conceivably have this code thrown at them to punish.

What about Education §48900.7?  This section allows suspension or expulsion for making threats of grave harm which can be immediately carried out:

(a) ... a pupil may be suspended from school or recommended for expulsion if the superintendent or the principal of the school in which the pupil is enrolled determines that the pupil has made terroristic threats against school officials or school property, or both.
(b) For the purposes of this section, “terroristic threat” shall include any statement, whether written or oral, by a person who willfully threatens to commit a crime which will result in death, great bodily injury to another person, or property damage in excess of one thousand dollars ($1,000), with the specific intent that the statement is to be taken as a threat, even if there is no intent of actually carrying it out, which, on its face and under the circumstances in which it is made, is so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate, and specific as to convey to the person threatened, a gravity of purpose and an immediate prospect of execution of the threat, and thereby causes that person reasonably to be in sustained fear for his or her own safety or for his or her immediate family’s safety, or for the protection of school district property, or the personal property of the person threatened or his or her immediate family

One can only imagine a student saying he spit on his hands and rubbed all the doors and handles, or who did not wash his hands (or gloves if required) before he came to class, or who tells many people he has Coronavirus and will purposefully make the school sick (despite not having it), being accused of terroristic threats. 

As I frequently see kids unfairly suspended and expelled, this is just one more concern I have when kids return to school under California's strict Coronavirus control measures.  Ultimately, it will be up to the reasoned application of discipline rules to students by school administrators and the strong advocacy of parents.  Let's hope schools use their discretion to discipline wisely in the "new normal."  We shall see.

Best,

Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney 

LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL 
717 K Street, Suite 228 
Sacramento, CA 95814 
Phone: 916-444-9064 
Email:help@edlaw4students.com 
Fax: 916-444-1209

Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page. 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.