What does it mean to get suspended, expelled, or excluded, and what rights do I have?

Suspension is when school administrators prohibit a student from attending school for a period of two to ten school days. Dismissal for a partial school day, or for only one school day, is not suspension, except in some cases if the student has a disability. Administrators cannot impose consecutive suspensions against the same student for the same course or incident of misconduct, except where the student will create an immediate and substantial danger to persons or property around him or her, or where the district is in the process of initiating an expulsion. In these cases, the suspension may be extended to a total of 15 days.

Expulsion is when the local school board prohibits an already enrolled student from further attending school for a period. This period can run for up to 12 months from the date the student is expelled.

Exclusion occurs when the school board prevents a student from enrolling or re-enrolling for a period. Unlike expulsion, this period cannot extend beyond the current school year.

All students have rights contained within the Minnesota Pupil Fair Dismissal Act that apply if they are suspended, excluded, or expelled from school.

This law provides that students cannot be denied due process and equal protection in any such proceedings. In most suspension cases, there will be an informal conference with the student before suspension happens. The administration must give the student a written notice containing the grounds for the action, a brief statement of facts, a description of testimony to be used against the student, and a re-admission plan. This notice must also be mailed to the student’s parent or guardian. A copy of the Minnesota Pupil Fair Dismissal Act must also be given to the student and parents at or before the time of suspension.

The procedures are more complicated when expulsion or exclusion is involved. A formal hearing, which resembles (but is not) a court trial must take place, and is described in greater detail in the Pupil Fair Dismissal Act. A student or parent can even choose to have an attorney represent the student at this hearing. There is no right to an attorney, however. After a decision regarding exclusion or expulsion is reached, there is a right to appeal that decision to the commissioner of education and beyond that, to the court system. In situations where the student’s actions create an immediate threat and substantial danger to persons or property around him or her, these procedures may happen after the suspension or expulsion takes place.

If you are suspended, excluded, or expelled, the principal is obligated to give you a copy of the Pupil Fair Dismissal Act that will tell you in greater detail all of the rights that you have.

What kinds of rights do I have in school?

You have legal rights in school. Nevertheless, in order to make sure that the school is safe and that other students are not disrupted in their efforts to obtain an education, school administrators and teachers have significant powers to limit some of those rights.

You do have some protected First Amendment free speech and assembly rights. For instance, you may choose whether to participate in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, and that decision must be respected.  Furthermore, you cannot be suspended, expelled, or excluded simply for participating in a protest or expressing controversial ideas. You can, however, have these rights severely limited if the protest or your speech creates a safety hazard, incites a riot, leads to violations of the law, or interferes with the educational process by causing a disruption at school. Some off-campus speech, such as internet and social media activity, can also be limited by schools if they cause disruption at school.

Corporal punishment is not allowed in Minnesota schools. As a general matter, you can sue a teacher if he or she hits you. As with any lawsuit, however, you will have the burden of proving that the action was unjustified and caused you harm.

What can I do if I’m being bullied at school?

Most cases of bullying and harassment at school are handled by the school administration. Schools are required by law to have and implement an anti- bullying policy, which outlines the procedures a school will use to address bullying, including how students should report bullying if they experience it. Schools must distribute this policy to their students and parents each year.

Students may want to speak with an attorney if the school is failing to adequately protect them from bullying if: the bullying is severe enough to interfere with a student’s education; it is related to a student’s race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, sexual orientation, or disability; and the school fails to address the bullying under the school’s policy. It is always a good idea to discuss your individual situation with a lawyer who is experienced in education law before bringing a lawsuit against a school.

Students can also contact agencies responsible for enforcing anti- discrimination laws. These include the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, which is part of the U.S. federal government, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR), or a local agency such as the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights.

If you intend to make a formal complaint or bring a lawsuit, it is important that you act quickly. There are time limits associated with these legal actions, which typically begin at the time of the incident. If you miss the deadline, you may be barred from bringing your claim forever

 Can school authorities search my locker?

School lockers are considered the property of the school district. The school retains exclusive control of lockers which are provided for the convenience of students. The law states that there is no expectation of privacy in lockers and it allows school authorities to inspect the interior of lockers for any reason, at any time, without notice, without student consent, and without a search warrant.

The personal possessions of the student, like backpacks and purses, within the school locker may be searched only when school authorities have a reasonable suspicion that the search will uncover evidence of a violation of law or school rules. The law says that school authorities must provide notice of the search to students whose lockers were searched as soon as practicable after the search, unless such disclosure would interfere with an ongoing investigation.

What is the penalty for possession of firearms at school?

Students who bring firearms to school must be expelled by school boards for at least one year. The board may, however, modify this expulsion requirement for a pupil on a case-by-case basis. The law also requires school officials to refer any student who brings a firearm to school to the criminal justice or juvenile delinquency system.

The expulsion may be disclosed by the school district to other school districts in connection with the possible admission of the student to another school.

Who has a right to see my grades?

Your grades are private information that the school cannot release to anyone except a school official or your parents or guardian. Your parents do have a right to know your grades until you are 18 years of age unless you have made a special request denying parental access. The school will make the decision as to whether your parents can see your grades. After age 18, your parents still have a right to see your grades if they claim you as a dependent on their tax returns.

Can I stay in school if I get married or if I become pregnant?

The school is not allowed to expel you simply because you get married or become pregnant. In fact, many schools have classes and programs geared towards young women who become pregnant. You should check with your principal or school administrators regarding such programs and classes.

Does the school have to give me help in my language if I do not speak English?

Yes. Your school must provide help if you do not speak English. You should contact your school counselor or principal to obtain more specific information about the programs available to you.

May I be denied access to any school because I have a physical or emotional disability?

You cannot be restricted from attending school just because you have a disability. There are laws that protect disabled persons from being discriminated against, and these also apply to schools. However, you should determine that the school you wish to attend is best suited to help and educate you given your particular disability.

Do all sports have to be open to both male and female students?

Public schools are prohibited by law from discriminating on the basis of gender against students who want to participate in sports. There may be separate men’s and women’s teams, but the same opportunities must be made available to both men and women. Persons trying out for teams must meet all of the standard requirements, regardless of gender, in order to be considered.

Can a teenager go to work instead of going to school?

In Minnesota, if you are from seven to sixteen years of age, you are required to attend school. If you fail to attend school for a period of time and you do not have a valid excuse for staying away from school, you can be considered truant and subject to the juvenile court’s jurisdiction for discipline. A student between 16 and 18 who seeks to withdraw from school must attend a meeting with his/her parent(s) and school personnel to discuss educational alternatives and sign a written election to withdraw from school.

While you cannot replace school with work, some schools have various work-study programs that let students receive credit towards a high school diploma while working and learning on the job. Check with your school counselor about work/study programs.

Can my parents set up school at home for me instead of sending me to school, or can I attend a private school?

You may receive an education at home instead of attending school if your parents meet the guidelines provided by the Minnesota Board of Education for home schooling.

You may also attend a private school, but generally you must pay for such attendance, as private schools are not publicly funded. If you are interested in attending a private school but do not have the money required to pay for it, you should contact the private school directly and determine whether any scholarship or financial aid programs are available.

Have more questions?

Set up an appointment with an attorney through our online Self-Referral program by clicking here, or request assistance from an LRIS referral counselor here.  Please note: “School Law” can be found under “Administrative Law” on our Self-Referral forms.  For more information, visit LawHelpMN to read articles drafted by some of our partnering agencies: LawHelpMN: Youth Law and Education.