Student Discipline Laws – Improvements to 37H

In a prior blog post we learned that one of the current discipline laws (37H) can result in excruciatingly severe consequences for students who have committed certain offenses at school, to the point that a student might be expelled and unable to re-enroll anywhere else in Massachusetts :

“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)).

As of July 1, 2014, that section of the law will be repealed, and replaced with 3 new sections that will allow students to maintain the right to access educational services, while still allowing school administration to discipline students who commit certain offenses.  The new law will include the following wording:

(e) Any school district that suspends or expels a student under this section shall continue to provide educational services to the student during the period of suspension or expulsion, under section 21 of chapter 76. If the student moves to another district during the period of suspension or expulsion, the new district of residence shall either admit the student to its schools or provide educational services to the student in an education service plan, under section 21 of chapter 76.

Section 21 of Chapter 76 that the new law refers to is itself a new section of the law that will appear in 2014.  Section 21 goes into a bit more detail about what  educational rights and services students will have access to while being disciplined.  Section 21 includes the following wording:

Section 21.  Principals and headmasters shall ensure that students who are suspended from school  for 10 or fewer consecutive days, whether in or out of school, shall have an opportunity to make academic progress during the period of suspension, to makeup assignments and earn credits missed including, but not limited to, homework, quizzes, exams, papers and projects missed. Principals shall develop a school-wide education service plan for all students who are expelled or suspended from school for more than 10 consecutive school days, whether in or out of school.  Principals  shall ensure these students have an opportunity to make academic progress during the period of suspension or expulsion, to makeup assignments and earn credits missed, including, but not limited to, homework, quizzes, exams, papers and projects missed.  Education service plans may include, but are not limited to, tutoring, alternative placement, Saturday school, and online or distance learning…  Any school or school district that expels a student or suspends a student for more than 10 consecutive school days shall provide the student in the parent or guardian of the student with a list of alternative educational services.  Upon selection of an alternative educational service by the student and the student’s parent or guardian, the school or school district shall facilitate and verify enrollment in the service…

In the above paragraph, I tried to color code the wording to highlight what I view as the two important sections.  First, students who are suspended for less than 10 days (the blue text) will have the opportunity to make up work  and credits that are missed.  Second, principals must develop education service plans for students who are suspended or expelled for 10 days or more (the red text).  While  such students will have the opportunity to make up work and credits that are missed, the  school environment  and placement might be different for the students dealing with longer-term exclusions.  Principals will need to present available placement options to the student in the student’s parents or guardians, and it will then be up to the student and his or her  parents or guardians to decide which of the available placement options will be utilized for continued education.

Other changes to student discipline laws will be discussed in upcoming blog articles.

The Law Office of James M. Baron represents students and parents in special education and other school-related legal matters throughout Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  Please visit http://www.lawbaron.com, or call 781-209-1166 for more information.

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