Illinois has made changes to its law governing student expulsions and suspensions that are intended to benefit students. Like many well-intentioned laws, however, the new law may make little difference in how schools actually conduct their procedures.
In terms of setting policy, the law is a good idea. Schools are no longer supposed to have zero tolerance policies where students are expelled on a first offense for particular behaviors. When expelling a student, any decision must detail the specific reasons why removing the student from the learning environment is a good idea along with a rationale for the length of the expulsion. For a suspension, the school board must explain the specific misconduct leading to the suspension as well as a rationale for its duration.
The new law encourages schools to limit the number and duration of suspensions/expulsions to the greatest extent practicable and use them for legitimate educational purposes only. Schools should first consider other forms of discipline.
Suspensions of three days or less may only be used if the student’s presence would pose a “threat to school safety” or “disruption to other students’ learning opportunities.” Suspensions or expulsions of longer than three days may only be used where other appropriate and available behavioral or disciplinary interventions have been exhausted and the student’s continuing presence would pose a threat to school safety or substantially disrupt the school.
During a suspension of more than four days, students are supposed to receive support services and may be placed in an alternative program. (See our related post: ”My Child May be Expelled!”: The Alternative Learning Program in Illinois.)
Sound good so far? Here’s the rub: School officials get to define the terms “threat to school safety” and “disruption of other students’ learning opportunities” on a case by case basis. What that really means depends on the school district. Unless parents take schools to court and win, school districts can in reality get away with quite a lot of disingenuous behavior. If the district is inclined to help its students, it will continue to do so. But if a district’s first response is expulsion, the district will simply inoculate itself by using the language required by the statute and throw your kid out of school anyway.
If your student is facing a discipline issue, contact an experienced school law attorney immediately. An attorney can help guide you through a system that is generally biased in favor of the school. Sometimes the attorney can help negotiate a more favorable result. If not, an attorney can present evidence at the hearing in hopes of exonerating your student. Otherwise, it is important to have established a complete record at the school hearing level if you wish to take the matter to court.
If you have questions about this or another related school law matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)