K-12 School Discipline
School Discipline in California
School discipline is regulated by school rules as well as state laws which outline the types of punishment that a student can receive at school. The main forms of punishment are in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspension and expulsion.
A student cannot be suspended where alternative forms of punishment are feasible.
Alternatives to Suspension
- Conference between school personnel, pupil’s guardian, and the pupil
- Referrals to a school counselor or psychologist
- Study teams
- Referrals for a psychological-educational assessment
- Anger management classes
- Restorative justice program
- Positive behavior intervention and support (PBIS)
Use of Corporal Punishment
The use of force, threat of force, or violent and nonviolent physical obstruction inflicted with the intention of injuring any person attempting to enter or exit either public or private school grounds is considered an offense except for a parent or guardian acting toward his/her minor.
A person aggrieved by the breach of this law can bring a civil action for compensatory and punitive damages, injunctive relief, and the cost of the suit and legal fees incurred. In the case of use of force and violent physical obstruction, the aggrieved party may elect for an award of statutory damages of five thousand dollars and for nonviolent physical obstruction, one thousand dollars.
The Attorney General, district attorney or city attorney may also bring a civil action against such offender(s) for compensatory damages to the victim(s) and for an imposition of a civil penalty against the offender(s). The penalty for the use of force and violent physical obstruction shall not exceed $15,000 for a first-time offense and for a subsequent violation, $25,000.
Unlawful corporal punishment or injury entails the willful infliction of cruel or inhuman punishment that results in a traumatic condition upon any child. The use of reasonable and necessary force by a person engaged or employed in a public school to control a disturbance threatening physical injury to a person or property, for cases of self-defense or to obtain dangerous objects from the pupil does not amount to illegal corporal punishment. Also, injury caused by the use if reasonable and necessary force by a peace officer acting within the course and scope of his/her employment does not amount to an offense.
Use of Student & Locker Searches
School employees are prohibited from conducting a search that includes:
- The carrying out a body cavity search of a pupil manually or by use of an instrument
- The removal or arranging if any or all of a pupil’s clothing to allow for a visual inspection of the undergarments, breast, buttocks or genitalia of the pupil.
K-12 Suspensions & Expulsions
Education Code 48900 outlines the grounds for suspension from school or recommendation for expulsion. It strictly provides that such suspension or recommendation of expulsion can only be done where the superintendent of the school district of the principal of the school determines that the pupil indeed committed any of the acts stipulated in the code.
A student can only be suspended for an act(s) that is(are) related to a school activity. Suspensions should only be resorted to where no other form of correction is feasible and where the presence of the student is deemed to cause a continuing risk to other persons’ safety.
Cyberbullying, Bullying & Harassment
Education Code 48900 also prohibits bullying, cyberbullying including cyber or sexual bullying and harassment on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, race, ancestry, national origin, religion, color, or mental or physical disability.
Such harassment is considered a form of discrimination and may attract disciplinary action from the local agency. Where the perpetrator is an employee, such disciplinary action could be termination and in cases of students in grades K-12, the disciplinary action shall depend on the ages of the students and the factual circumstances of the incidents.
Drafting Letters to Teachers & School Districts
The governing body of a school district shall notify a pupil or his/her parent or guardian of the intention to hold a closed session to consider suspension, disciplinary action or any other action except expulsion as pertains to the said pupil. This notification shall be done in writing.
A pupil can, in writing, to the governing board of the district make a request for:
- The postponement of the hearing
- The postponement of the decision
- The hearing to be a public meeting
Following an expulsion and a pupil’s transfer to another school district, the receiving school district shall inform the teacher of the pupil that the pupil was suspended from school or expelled from the school district and the act(s) that resulted in that action.
Social Media Posting that Results in Disciplinary Action
The impersonation of another pupil, creation of a false profile, cyber or sexual bullying, and putting up any post on a social network internet website that places a pupil’s person or property in fear of harm, causes mental anguish, interferes with a pupil’s academic performance or causes great intrusion with his/her ability to engage in and benefit from activities provided by the school can result in suspension from school or expulsion.