Defending Students in Expulsion Hearings

If your child is subject to a disciplinary action, you will receive a letter explaining that the principal of the child’s school has recommended a change of placement or expulsion because of an alleged violation of the Code of Student Conduct. That recommendation is made with the approval of the Disciplinary Review Team.

The letter usually includes a copy of the summary of the offense, discipline records, and grades at the time the child was suspended. The purpose of the initial meeting is to determine whether there are any disputed issues of fact.

If the child didn’t commit the alleged act, if the allegations are false or exaggerated, if the incident occurred off campus and didn’t cause a disruption on campus, then the child might be better off demanding a formal hearing in writing to outline the facts in dispute so that a full administrative hearing can be scheduled.

The letter outlining the disputed issues of fact can be presented to the committee at the initial meeting.

In some cases, there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute. If there are no disputed fact, then a full and formal hearing will not be necessary. In most of these cases with no disputed facts, at the initial meeting, the committee will decide to move forward with changing the child’s placement to an alternative school for at least one semester.

Most parents don’t want their child to attend an alternative school, so they withdraw the child from school and enter them into virtual school.

After the initial meeting and recommendation of the committee, a second letter will often confirm that your child’s placement was changed from their regular school (and all other regular Hillsborough County Public Schools), but that the child is permitted to attend the Alternative School Program.

The letter might also explain that prior to the child re-entering the Hillsborough County Public Schools, a conference is required for the student, parent, and the administrative staff of the school. After the conference, if the administrative staff does not feel that the child is willing to comply with school policies, they may again recommend to the Board that additional action be taken in regard to the child attending public schools in Hillsborough County.

What happens during the disciplinary hearing is just as important as what happens in juvenile court in front of the judge. In some cases, the results of the expulsion hearing or juvenile case can impact each other in unexpected ways.

The goal in these cases is keeping the child in school and protecting the child’s “student disciplinary history report” from having a notation that the child was suspended, expelled, or recommended for change or placement.

Attorney for Change of Placement Hearings in Hillsborough County, FL

The attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm are experienced in helping students charged with delinquent acts in juvenile court. In many of these cases, the attorneys also assist the student in navigating the requirements of the school system’s disciplinary process, including a change of placement or expulsion hearings with the Hillsborough County Public School System.

The hearings are held in the first-floor conference room of the Velasco Student Services Center in Ybor City at 1202 East Palm Avenue, Tampa, FL. The attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm are experienced in representing students during these hearings.

Contact an attorney at the Sammis Law Firm to find out more about how we protect middle school and high school students who get in trouble either on the school grounds or off campus.

Call (813) 250-0500 to speak directly with an attorney about the case.

Documents Supporting the Disciplinary Hearing

Prior to the hearing, your attorney can help you obtain a copy of all of the documents that will be used by the committee to make a recommendation in the case. Those documents can include the following:

  • checklist for schools change of placement packet;
  • student discipline history report showing the incident type, date of incident, disciplinary / referral action;
  • notice of the initial disciplinary meeting with the committee at the Velasco Student Services Center;
  • letter from principal to superintendent recommending change of placement;
  • expulsion referral – record of attempted intervention strategies;
  • a student referral / incident report;
  • summary of offense;
  • student arrest email (STATS notification);
  • witness statement describing incident;
  • student account of incident (voluntary statement);
  • attachment of discipline record (SDHC mainframe and viewpoint);
  • grades including qurater in progress grates prior to offense and current year report card;
  • cumulative summary screen (EdConnect)(9-1 only);
  • copy of screen J, L, and enrollment history;
  • MTSS Tier 2/3 forms or FBA/PBIP documenting current behavior support plan;
  • warning letter from area superintendent;
  • printed copy of discipline referral stating the type of change of placement referral (Zero Tolerance/Level 1, Code-81, CDB); and
  • picture of weapon or alleged threats, if any;
  • alternative education / dropout prevention expulsion referral staff response form; and
  • risk assessment process summary.

Classification of Violations of the Student Code

The Hillsborough County Public Schools (the school district) established a Code of Conduct that students must follow and the school must enforce through disciplinary actions. Each school in Hillsborough County must also develop comprehensive discipline policies as required with the individual plans of the School Advisory Councils.

In determining how different types of violations are classified, the Hillsborough County Public Schools have developed “levels” of offenses with Level One being the most serious and Level Three being the least serious.

The school will often take the position that students who are formally charged with an off-campus act that would have been a Zero Tolerance Offense or a Major Offense if the act had occurred on campus may be suspended from school and/or extracurricular activities.

When the act occurred off campus and no formal charges are filed, however, the school cannot usually take any action to expel the student or change the placement (unless a few very limited exceptions apply).

In certain cases, the Principal will proceed with a formal disciplinary action. The school district must make every effort to contact the parent or guardian and describe in writing the alleged violation and the statutory authority that would support such as actions.

The student is also required to notify the parent and provide the parent with certain written communications. The student’s failure to comply with this provision could result in further disciplinary action.

Zero Tolerance Offenses – Level One

The school district for the Hillsborough County Public School has created a list of “zero tolerance offenses” that trigger mandatory parent conferences. For these offenses that occur on school property, the school is required to report the offense to law enforcement which could result in an arrest or prosecution.

The school can take certain actions and impose sanctions including a three (3) to ten (10) day suspension and/or a recommendation for expulsion unless special circumstances.

Any felony drug-related incident that occurs at school will result in expulsion from the Hillsborough County Public School for one year with permission to attend an alternative placement if the student participates in a drug treatment program.

The List of Zero Tolerance Offenses for Expulsion Hearings

The list of Zero Tolerance Offenses can include violent crimes such as:

Zero tolerance offenses also include property crimes such as:

  • arson;
  • breaking or entering of School Board Property;
  • motor vehicle theft;
  • passing counterfeit money.

Other zero tolerance offenses including crimes of dishonesty such as misrepresentation of facts resulting in public slander towards School Board employee or school;

  • bomb threats or general threats to the school population;
  • false fire alarm;
  • gang related activities;
  • major disruption of a school function.

Finally, many crimes involving contraband are classified as zero tolerance offenses including:

  • possession, sale, purchase, or use of alcoholic beverages;
  • possession, use, sale, distribution, purchase, or being under the influence of a controlled substance;
  • possession, use or sale of a firearm, bombs, explosives or a weapon;
  • use of a non-weapon as a weapon;
  • sale, distribution or possession of any substance represented by a student as being a controlled substance; or
  • grand theft.

Other Major Offenses or Serious Acts of Misconduct – Level Two

The school district for the Hillsborough County Public School has created a list of “serious acts of misconduct” also known as “major offenses.” For these offenses, the school is required to notify the parent or guardian. The school can impose certain sanctions including an in-school suspension or up to ten days out-of school suspension.

For repeat offenses at this level, the principals may consult with their Area Leadership Directory for additional types of sanctions during the disciplinary action which can include a recommendation for change or placement.

For the most common of these offenses, the Hillsborough County Public Schools have outlined additional sanctions that are often imposed.

Minimum Due Process Requirements for Expulsion Hearings

According to the website of the Hillsborough County School District, the student has the following due process rights explained in Florida Statute Section 1006.07, 1006.09, 1001.51, 1002.20. It is important to read each of those statutes. The school district’s summary of those rights are very limited and provide:

5611 – Due Process Rights

The Board recognizes the importance of safeguarding a student’s constitutional rights particularly when subject to the District’s disciplinary procedures. To better ensure appropriate due-process is provided a student, the Board establishes the following regulations:

A. Students subject to suspension

A student must be given both written notice of suspension and the reasons for the action and the opportunity to appear and respond to the charges prior to the suspension. An appeal may be addressed to the principal. Further appeal may be taken pursuant to procedures set forth in the Student Handbook. However, an appeal will not delay the suspension.

B. Students subject to expulsion

A student and a student’s parent or legal guardian must be given written notice of the intention to expel, the reasons for the action, and an opportunity to appear with a representative before the Superintendent to answer the charges.

The student and/or parent or legal guardian shall also be provided a brief description of the student’s rights and of the hearing procedure. The Board shall act on any appeal to an expulsion.

The Superintendent shall ensure that all members of the staff use the above regulations when dealing with students. In addition, this statement of due process rights is to be placed in all student handbooks in a manner that will facilitate understanding by students and their parents.

F.S. 1006.07, 1006.09, 1001.51, 1002.20

Florida Statute Section 1006.09 for Offenses that Occur Off Campus

Subsection (2) of section 1006.09 discusses the suspension or expulsion of students for certain crimes committed off campus and it applies to being formally charged which is more than an arrest. In juvenile court, the filing of a petition which is usually the triggering event. Many of these types of expulsion hearings are classified as a “Code 81.”

Most of the time, the criminal defense attorney is fighting to keep the petition from being filed in these types of cases. If the petition is filed, the disciplinary action can only occur if the incident also had an adverse impact on the school or the welfare of a student enrolled in the school.

Fla. Stat. Ann. § 1006.09(2) provides:

(2) Suspension proceedings, pursuant to rules of the State Board of Education, may be initiated against any enrolled student who is formally charged with a felony, or with a delinquent act which would be a felony if committed by an adult, by a proper prosecuting attorney for an incident which allegedly occurred on property other than public school property, if that incident is shown, in an administrative hearing with notice provided to the parents of the student by the principal of the school pursuant to rules adopted by the State Board of Education and to rules developed pursuant to s. 1001.54, to have an adverse impact on the educational program, discipline, or welfare in the school in which the student is enrolled.

Any student who is suspended as the result of such proceedings may be suspended from all classes of instruction on public school grounds during regular classroom hours for a period of time, which may exceed 10 days, as determined by the district school superintendent.

The suspension shall not affect the delivery of educational services to the student, and the student shall be immediately enrolled in a daytime alternative education program, or an evening alternative education program, where appropriate.

If the court determines that the student did commit the felony or delinquent act which would have been a felony if committed by an adult, the district school board may expel the student, provided that expulsion under this subsection shall not affect the delivery of educational services to the student in any residential, nonresidential, alternative, daytime, or evening program outside of the regular school setting….

Fla. Stat. Ann. § 1006.09 (West).

If the conduct occurs on school property, on the school bus, or at a school event, then Florida Statute Section 1006.07 is the statute that applies for district school board duties relating to student discipline and school safety.

Due Process and Essential Fairness in Expulsion Hearings

If you received a notice that your child is subject to expulsion then you should understand the student’s rights at these hearings. In Student Alpha Id No. Guja v. Sch. Bd. of Volusia Cty., 616 So. 2d 1011, 1012–13 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1993) the court explained the process as follows:

Any analysis of procedural due process in a school suspension or expulsion case must begin with Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 95 S.Ct. 729, 42 L.Ed.2d 725 (1985) where the Supreme Court held that a student facing suspension from a public school has property and liberty interests that qualify for protection under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Goss, 95 S.Ct. at 736.

In Goss nine students were suspended from high school without a hearing. The suspensions were based upon disruptive or disobedient conduct. The court commented that the fundamental requisite of due process is the opportunity to be heard and declared that at the very minimum, students facing suspension must be given some kind of notice and afforded some kind of hearing. Goss, 95 S.Ct. at 738.

The court noted, however, that interpretation and application of due process are intensely practical matters which negate any concept of inflexible procedures universally applicable to every imaginable situation. Goss, 95 S.Ct. at 738. The timing and content of the notice and the nature of the hearing depends upon the appropriate accommodation of the competing interests. Goss, 95 S.Ct. at 738–39.

After Goss, it became clear that due process in student disciplinary proceedings requires adequate notice, an opportunity to be heard, and substantial evidence to support the penalty. There are, however, no hard and fast rules by which to measure meaningful notice. Nash v. Auburn Univ., 812 F.2d 655 (11th Cir.1987).

It is equally clear that disciplinary proceedings do not require the same safeguards afforded criminal defendants. See e.g., Gordon v. Savage, 383 So.2d 646 (Fla. 5th DCA 1980), rev. denied 389 So.2d 1110 (1980)…. The due process requirement of an administrative proceeding is that the proceeding must be “essentially fair”. See Gordon v. Savage, 383 So.2d 646 (Fla. 5th DCA 1980).

Emergency Removal Proceedings for Suspension

According to the policies in Hillsborough County, if the emergency removal exceeds one school day, then a due process hearing will be held within three school days after the removal is ordered.

The student should be given written notice of the hearing and the reason for the removal and any intended disciplinary action prior to the hearing.

If the student is subject to out-of-school suspension, then the student will have the opportunity to appear at an informal hearing before the principal, assistant principal, Superintendent, or designee. At that hearing, the student has the right to challenge the reasons for the intended suspension or otherwise explain actions leading to the removal.

Within one school day of the decision to suspend, written notification will be given to the parent/legal guardian or custodian of the student. This notice must include:

  • the reasons for the suspension;
  • the right of the student or parent/legal guardian to appeal to the Board or its designee; and
  • the student’s right to be represented in all appeal proceedings.

When it is probable that the student may be subject to expulsion, the hearing will take place within three school days and will be held in accordance with the procedures outlined in the Policy 5611 – Due Process Rights.

If the Superintendent or principal reinstates a student prior to the hearing for emergency removal, the teacher may request and will be given written reasons for the reinstatement. The teacher cannot refuse to reinstate the student.

In an emergency removal, a student can be kept from class until the matter of the misconduct is disposed of either by reinstatement, suspension, or expulsion.

F.S. 1003.32, 1006.07, 1006.09.

Finding an Attorney for Expulsion Hearings in Hillsborough County

If your child needs the services of a criminal defense attorney after an arrest or notice to appear on criminal charges, contact the attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm. We also represent students in the Hillsborough County School System who are referred for an expulsion hearing.

Read more about the bylaws and procedures for expulsion hearings used by the Hillsborough County School District.

Call (813) 250-0500.

This article was last updated on Wednesday, May 15, 2019.