In order to successfully defend a challenge to a disciplinary or expulsion decision, it is fundamental that every student and parent be placed on notice of the conduct which will result in discipline.  It is not required that the District’s discipline policy be given to each student and parent, as long as the student and parent are informed of where they can view or obtain copies of the full policy if they desire.  However, critical information contained in the Policy must be summarized in sufficient detail in the Code of Conduct that is distributed to students and parents.  The Code of Conduct must include a detailed description of the conduct which is considered a violation, and identify the type of discipline, including expulsion, which could be imposed.  The Code of Conduct must accurately reflect and coincide with the District’s comprehensive policy in order to avoid successful challenge. 

In many situations, a disciplinary action, especially in the context of expulsion proceedings, may rely on several sections of the Student Code of Conduct depending upon the nature of the offense.  Policies regarding drugs and alcohol, assault, harassment, discrimination, terroristic threats, tobacco use, vandalism and weapons may all be implicated.  Adequate summaries of the drug and alcohol, harassment, tobacco and weapons policies within the Code of Conduct are critical.  For example, if a drug and alcohol policy prohibits “look alike” drugs and the weapons policy prohibits “look alike” weapons, the Code of Conduct must also define what is considered a “look alike” drug or a “look alike” weapon.  With regard to harassment issues, the types of harassment should be described in greater detail.  If sufficient detail is not provided, the District could find itself faced with a reversal of a student expulsion in a situation where a serious violation has occurred.  It is strongly recommended that a review of each of these issues be conducted on a regular basis to determine whether sufficient information is included and that it adequately addresses the offending behavior. 

In the event that you have any questions about the required detail in the Student Code of Conduct or are in need of guidance in amending the policy summaries, please do not hesitate to contact one of our school attorneys.

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Alfred Maiello

Alfred C. Maiello is the founding member of MBM and has represented area school districts as solicitor for 50 years. He counsels school districts and educational institutions on leading developments in school law and guiding them through their day-to-day and long-term challenges.