In a prior blog post, I discussed how Draconian Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 71 § 37H can be. For example, if a student is simply found in possession of marijuana at a school-sponsored event – regardless of amount, regardless of use or non-use, regardless of whether they are even aware of being in such possession – not only can the student be expelled from school, but they can also be prevented from enrolling in any other school district in the Commonwealth.
As the TV commercials say, “But wait, there’s more…”
Massachusetts has also enacted Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 71 § 37H 1/2. Under 37H and 1/2, if a student is simply charged with a felony – even if the charge is baseless, and regardless of where the alleged event supposedly took place – the student can be suspended by the school principal. For how long? “[F]or a period of time determined appropriate by said principal or headmaster…” A day, a week, a month – the length of time is completely up to the principal. There is a standard that the principal is supposed to utilize, but even that is very subjective. Before a student can be suspended under this section of the law, the law requires that the principal determine that “the student’s continued presence in school would have a substantial detrimental effect on the general welfare of the school.” The student does have the right to appeal the principal’s decision to the superintendent, but that has to be done within 5 calendar days.
But wait, there’s more…
If the student is actually convicted of a felony – even if the felony has absolutely nothing to do with the school – the student can be permanently expelled. The same time frames, standards, and right to appeal as described above for suspensions apply equally to expulsions, as well. And as described in the prior blog post for 37H, no other school system in the Commonwealth is required to admit a student who has been expelled under this section of the law.
37H and 37H 1/2 have unfortunately been used too often in an unfair way to keep certain students from accessing a public school education. My child attended public school, so I certainly can appreciate the need to keep schools completely safe for all students and teachers. As a lawyer, though, it is very frustrating to see students being denied an education – sometimes permanently – simply because they may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is also possible that a student may have made a really stupid decision that they could learn from if given the chance. When 37H 1/2 is used improperly, what it teaches young people who have made a mistake is that there is no sense being remorseful for one’s acts or learning from one’s mistakes, because punishment can be severe and permanent, even at a young age. Thanks to the very hard work and dedication of many state legislators and the fine people at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, improvements to the discipline laws are finally coming. I will provide details of the upcoming changes in future blog posts, so stay tuned.
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.