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

Source: 105 ILCS 5/10-22.6 Suspension or expulsion of pupils.

(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.)


Beginning January 12, 2011, Illinois schools will have the right to expel or suspend students for gross misconduct or disobedience committed using electronic means.

In some ways, the revised law only reflects what many school districts already have in place. For example, Evanston Township High School’s policy manual allows discipline if “a student’s personal Internet expression, such as a threatening message to another student or a violent website, creates a likelihood of material disruption of the school’s operations, that student may face school discipline and criminal penalties.”

The revised School Code also adds a section regarding on-line threats. A student may be suspended for up to ten days or expelled for up to two years if:

“i) The student has been determined to have made an explicit threat on an internet website against a school employee, a student, or any school-related personnel;
ii) The Internet website through which the threat was made is a site that was accessible within the school at the time the threat was made or was available to third parties who worked or studied within the school grounds at the time the threat was made;
iii) The threat can be reasonably interpreted as threatening to the safety and security of the threatened individual because of his or her duties or employment status or status as a student inside the school.”


The ability to discipline students for something which happened off school grounds often depends on whether there is a link between the misconduct and the school. The above revisions to the school code spell out ways in which that link can happen. For example, under the revised law, a student could be disciplined for posting a threat while off school grounds if the threatened person is related to the school or the threat was accessible to third parties at school when the threat was made.

If you have questions about this or another school law matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email

(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.)


Your son or daughter was suffering from a bad case of senioritis. So they joined in on a prank at school. Their prank did cause some trouble and expense. And you certainly believe they should accept responsibility. But still, you think the school is going overboard in barring your student from attending graduation after they had worked so hard to get there, just because of this one minor incident.

What can you do?

If you have just received notice of a discipline offense, then you are best advised to contact an attorney to guide you through the discipline procedure and help present your child’s case in the best possible light. An attorney can work with you to insure that the school follows its own guidelines procedurally and in how the school both defines and punishes the offense. Can the school prove your child committed the offense?

Avoid making statements to the school until you have consulted an attorney. While you may think your child’s explanation for his behavior is perfectly understandable, the school may not agree, and you may end up with a greater penalty taken against your child. Even worse, depending on the nature of the offense, your child may also be subject to criminal prosecution. Any statements you or your child makes to the school could end up as police evidence.

Even if you have already been through the discipline procedure, it may not be too late. Schools often have a lot of discretion about the penalties they impose. Depending on the offense, a skillful attorney may be able to negotiate with the school into allowing your student to attend graduation, or even the prom.

No matter where you are in the procedure, you and your student are best advised not to discuss this situation with anyone either in person, on the phone or electronically. Any Facebook discussions of the event could end up as evidence against your child.

It is imperative that you explore your options with a qualified attorney. If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email


Your high school student just got into the worst trouble of his life. School security searched his locker. After finding some narcotics, the principal demanded the keys to your 17-year-old son’s car and then proceeded to rip apart your trunk. That’s when the principal found a weapon: your husband’s favorite camping knife. Now your son faces expulsion from school. Worse yet, the school turned the matter over to the police, and your son is now being charged with a crime.

While you don’t condone the use of drugs and the Swiss knife was an oversight, you think the school overreacted. Anyway, doesn’t your son have any rights? And what can you do now?

While Illinois schools are bound by the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, they may have greater leeway in conducting a search than your local police. For one thing, a school official need not obtain a search warrant provided he or she has reasonable grounds for believing that the search will turn up evidence that your child has violated school rules. For another, because lockers are considered school property, the school is allowed to randomly search your child’s locker.

But this doesn’t mean that a school can get away with everything. The school cannot search your car without your permission if your child is a minor. If your child is an adult, he or she must consent to the search unless the school obtains a warrant. The school must also point to specific facts, which led officials to infer that your child had done something wrong.

If your child is being disciplined and/or prosecuted as a result of a search or seizure, there may still be hope. In Illinois, a school generally cannot suspend or expel your child without some form of hearing. Your are also entitled to a hearing in the criminal or juvenile court. An attorney can help evaluate your child’s case in order to determine the best defense strategy before the school and the criminal court. Did the school have the specific, articulated facts required to justify the search? Can the search of the car be suppressed because the school lacked the appropriate consent? Does your child have exclusive access to his locker or could someone else have slipped the drugs into it?

Whether the incident is or isn’t charged in a criminal or juvenile court, you and your child should not communicate with anyone but an attorney about the incident, whether by speaking, texting or emailing. Statements made to friends could end up as evidence against your child. Equally important, you and your child should refrain from discussing the incident on any Facebook, Myspace or similar pages. Any references to the incident should be removed.

If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email for advice.


You and your friends love playing gags on each other. Today at school, you brought a squirt gun, and you thought it would be a riot to soak your best friend between classes. The squirt gun, while gray, looks too cheesy to be real, so you figure no one could possibly mistake it for a real gun, and besides, it only shoots water. But just as you take the squirt gun from your locker, school security pulls you aside. Next thing you know, you’re in the principal’s office facing expulsion.

What went wrong? What can you do?

With high profile school shootings in the news, schools have an understandable interest in maintaining school safety. The school feels it cannot be too careful in keeping weapons out of school. Besides that, the Gun-Free Schools Act requires any school receiving government aide to expel for at least one year any student determined to have brought a firearm to school.

But it was only a squirt gun, right? Nonetheless, under some the policy of some schools, even a look-alike weapon can result in disciplinary action.

If you find yourself in this situation, there is still hope. Maybe classifying your object as a “weapon” or “look alike” is too big of a stretch even under the school weapon policy. Maybe the school failed to follow proper procedure in disciplining you. Maybe you can still obtain a reduced sanction. An experienced attorney can help determine the best strategy to fight the charges. Besides evaluating your options, an attorney can help prevent you from digging yourself into a deeper hole by advising you not to talk about the case or to take down your Facebook or My Space page.

If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email for advice.


You were at a party at your friend’s house, while his parents were out of town You were swigging on some beer having a blast, when someone took a picture. Next thing you know, someone emailed that picture to your high school principal, and now the school is threatening to suspend you.

How is that possible? What are your options?

The reality is that schools have a lot of leeway in disciplining someone for violating their rules, even if the student is off school grounds. If the event is somehow school sanctioned or initiated, like a parade or a club, you can be held responsible even though you weren’t at school. One important Supreme Court decision upheld the disclipline of an Alaska student for marching in a school parade with the sign “Bong Hits for Jesus.” The Supreme Court felt that since it was a school parade, the school had a valid interest in preventing the promotion of drug use. Therefore, the student did not have First Amendment rights and could be punished.

While usually there is some connection between the school and the student’s actions, that is not always the case. The party in the example above is not connected to the school in any way. However, some school officials take the position that once the picture is sent to them, the illegal drinking has come into the school and is now open to discipline. This can be true even when the person only sent the photo to get you in trouble.

The Glenbrook Powder Puff case is a locally famous example. At a “powder puff” football game, some seniors bullied junior students in several ways including kicking, beating and spraying them with animal urine. While the acts did not take place on school grounds nor at a school-sanctioned event, the district suspended the girls under its hazing policy.

If you should find yourself in one of these situations, the best thing to do is contact an attorney immediately for advice. Maybe there is some question about whether you actually committed the acts being disciplined. Or maybe the school has failed to follow its own discipline procedures. A careful review of school policy can sometimes yield a solid avenue for a defense. A skilled attorney can help you navigate through this minefield and help improve the outcome.