Massachusetts has some rather Draconian student discipline laws. The situation will be somewhat improved when a new set of recently passed laws go into effect on July 1, 2014 (yes, almost 2 years away). Over the coming days and weeks, I will break down and explain the changes in this blog. Before I dive into the changes, though, it’s probably worthwhile to explain the current law so that we have a baseline to appreciate the improvements.
The two discipline laws in Massachusetts that most directly affect students are known affectionately as 37H and 37H 1/2 (pronounced 37H and a half). These are both sections of Massachusetts Gen. Laws Chapter 71. 37H grants tremendous discretionary power to school principals. For example, school principals may (but are not required to):
- Expel any student “who is found on school premises or at school-sponsored or school-related events, including athletic games, in possession of a dangerous weapon, including, but not limited to, a gun or a knife; or a controlled substance… including, but not limited to, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin…” (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 71 § 37H(a));
- Expel any student “who assaults a principal, assistant principal, teacher, teacher’s aide or other educational staff on school premises or at school-sponsored or school-related events, including athletic games…” (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 71 § 37H(b)).
Any student charged with any of the above violations must be notified in writing of an opportunity for hearing, and be allowed to have legal representation, as well as the opportunity to present evidence and witnesses at a hearing with the principal. The principal does have discretion to suspend rather than expel a student. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 71 § 37H(c)). There is also the right to appeal to the superintendent within 10 days of the expulsion. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 71 § 37H(d)).
Although the above sections could be problematic, depending on how a principal wields his or her power, they are not what I find most troubling. Here is what makes the law so Draconian: “When a student is expelled under the provisions of this section, no school or school district within the commonwealth shall be required to admit such student or to provide educational services to said student. If said student does apply for admission to another school or school district, the superintendent of the school district to which the application is made may request and shall receive from the superintendent of the school expelling said student a written statement of the reasons for said expulsion.” (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 71 § 37H(e)). In other words, if a principal, in his or her sole discretion, expels a student from school because of one of the above violations, the student may not be able to attend public school anywhere else in Massachusetts. Even moving from one district to another might not help.
As we will see in coming blog entries, the new laws will drastically improve the current situation for students.
The Law Office of James M. Baron represents students and parents in special education and other school-related legal matters. Please visit http://www.lawbaron.com, or call 781-209-1166 for more information.