Thursday, May 08, 2008

Snagged: CT Rules, Regulations, and Rights in School

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Rules, Regulations and Rights in School
February 2008

February 2008
Do students have rights when they break school rules?
How do I know what my school's rules and policies are?
Must schools have policies on bullying? & more about bullying
What are the ways a school may punish a student?
What rights does a student have when removed?
Will grades be lowered because of a suspension?
May schools transfer a student?
School attendanceSchool records
For more information

1. Do students have rights when they break school rules?

Yes. Students must follow school rules, but they have the right to know what those rules are. If a student breaks a school rule, state law limits the ways in which that student may be punished and protects the student’s right to be treated fairly. Also, if a student is receiving special education services, state and federal law protect the student’s right to receive a free appropriate public education (see Section III, Question 9).

1. How do I know what my school's rules and polices are?

State law requires that schools make available to students and their parents a handbook of school rules and policies. This handbook should include rules governing student behavior and attendance and is usually given out at the beginning of the school year. If you have not received a copy of your school’s rules and policies, you should call your school principal and ask for one.

2. Must schools have policies on bullying?

Yes. Connecticut state law requires schools districts to have policies to address bullying. The policies should explain the right to report the bullying and the actions the school must take in response to that report. Ask the principal or school district for a copy of the policies if you do not have one. Also ask for a list of "all verified acts of bullying" to see how often it happens.

What is bullying?
"Bullying" includes a wide variety of behaviors but involves a student(s) repeatedly trying to harm another student. Bullying acts are intended to ridicule, harass, humiliate or intimidate the other student. The acts can be physical, verbal, or psychological. Examples: hitting, kicking, threatening, taunting, name calling, spreading rumors, etc.

Important Tips about Bullying for Parents/Guardians

Ask a school administrator for a copy of the bullying policies.
Put your concerns in writing. The school is required to investigate only when a written report is made. (This can be as easy as following up a conversation with a written note).
After you make your report, follow up regularly after with the principal to see what is being done to address the problem.
The school policy on bullying must:

allow anonymous reports by students and written reports by parents or guardians;
require teachers and other school staff who witness bullying or receive a student's report of bullying to report it to an administrator;
direct what school staff should do when bullying occurs;
require school administrators to notify parents or guardians of all students involved in a confirmed act of bullying;
require interventions (including counseling and discipline) for students who repeatedly bully or are bullied; and
require each school to keep a list of verified bullying.
3. When must the school address bullying?

A school must address bullying when it happens on school grounds, at a school activity or on a school bus. The policies may address bullying that happens outside of school if it has a direct and negative impact on a student’s academic performance or safety in school.

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1. In what ways may a school punish a student?

The most common ways a school may punish a student are removal from the classroom, in-school suspension, suspension, and expulsion.

a. Removal from Classroom (Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-233b). Of the punishments listed above, this is the least serious. A teacher may remove a student from the classroom if that student is deliberately causing a serious disruption of the work in the classroom. A student who is removed from the classroom must be taken to another part of the school building to remain for the rest of the classroom period, up to 90 minutes. Removal from the classroom for 90 minutes or more must be considered a suspension.

b. In-school Suspension (Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-233f). A student may be placed on in-school suspension if he/she has:

seriously disrupted work in the classroom or school;
violated a school rule or policy; or
put himself, other students, or school property in danger.
In-school suspension means the student is allowed to come to school but is not allowed to participate in classroom activities. A student may not be placed on in-school suspension for more than five school days in a row (may increase to 10 school days in a row starting in 2009).

c. Suspension (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-233c). A student may be suspended from school for conduct on school grounds or at a school-sponsored activity for any of the reasons listed for in-school suspension (see above). In addition, a student may be suspended for conduct off school grounds if the conduct violated a school rule or policy and seriously disrupted work in the school. A suspended student is not allowed to come to school or participate in any school activities. Note: Starting in 2009, suspensions shall take place in school unless the administration determines that the suspended student poses such a danger to persons or property or such a disruption of the work in the school that the student shall be excluded from school during the suspension.) A student cannot be suspended for more than 10 school days in a row.

d. Expulsion (Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-233d). A student may be expelled from school for any of the reasons listed for suspension (see above). A student who is expelled from school is not allowed to come to school or participate in any classroom or school activities for a specified time up to a maximum of one calendar year. (See the legal aid pamphlet School Expulsions).

A student must face expulsion proceedings if he or she:

1) Possesses a gun or other deadly weapon on school grounds or at a school activity.
2) Uses a firearm or other deadly weapon to commit a crime off school grounds.
3) Sells or attempts to sell illegal drugs, on or off school grounds.

2. What rights does a student have if he/she has been removed from the classroom or suspended from school?
Whenever a student is disciplined by a school official, within 24 hours of the disciplinary action the school must inform the student’s parent or guardian of why and how the student was punished. The student may have other rights which depend on the type of punishment:

Removal from the classroom - When a student is removed from the classroom, he/she must be taken to another room in the school building and the teacher must immediately tell the principal about the removal. The student does not have a legal right to a meeting with the principal about the reason(s) for the removal unless the student has been removed from his or her classroom more than six times in one school year, or more than two times in one week. When this happens, the removal must be treated as suspension (see next section) which gives the student the right to meet with the principal. A parent or guardian may call a school principal if they have any questions about why their child was removed from the classroom.
In-school suspension - A student has a right to a meeting with the school principal before he or she may be placed on in-school suspension. At this meeting, the principal must tell the student the reason for the in-school suspension and must give the student a chance to explain the situation.
A student may not be placed on in-school suspension

for more than five school days in a row (may increase to 10 school days in a row starting in 2009). And
more than 15 times, or 50 days total in a school year, whichever is less.
Suspension - A student has a right to a meeting with the school principal to discuss the reason for the suspension before the suspension actually takes place. If a true emergency exists, the student may be immediately suspended, but a meeting between the principal and student must be held as soon after the suspension as possible. If excluded from school, the student must be allowed to return to school at the end of the suspension period.
A student may not be suspended from school for more than 10 school days in a row. A suspension is considered to be an expulsion if the student is suspended:

more than 10 school days in a row,
more than 10 times, or
a total of 50 days in one school year.
In these cases, an expulsion hearing must be held on or before the 11th school day (or 11th suspension or 51st day of suspension). See the legal aid pamphlet, School Expulsions.

3. What rights does a student have if school officials want to expel him or her?

Expulsion is the most serious of all school punishments. Both student and parent/guardian have rights including:

Right to a notice. Unless an emergency exists, a parent/guardian and a student have a right to receive a written notice five days before an expulsion hearing. The notice must state that officials want to expel the student and the specific reason(s) for the proposed expulsion. The notice must include information about how to find local free or reduced rate legal services.
Right to a hearing (Conn. Gen. Stat. §10 233c(a)). A student has a right to a formal expulsion hearing within a certain time period.
Right to copies of all documents. You have the right to get copies of all documents relating to the proposed expulsion before the hearing takes place.
Offer of education. A student under 16 years of age must be offered an "alternative educational program" during the period of time he or she is expelled from school (Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-233d(d)). (See our pamphlet, School Expulsions, for rules on students between 16 and 18 years of age).
4. Will a student's grades be lowered or will credit under an attendance policy be lost because of a suspension?

Not if the student makes up all class work missed, including examinations. Suspended students must be given a chance to make up all class work and examinations which were missed during the suspension (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-233c(d)). A student who makes up this work in a reasonable period of time should be given academic credit for the days lost from school.

It would be a good idea to find out what work or homework will be missed during the suspension period. The parent/guardian may need to pick the work up from school. If the work was not completed ahead of time, as soon as the student returns to school he/she should find out what work was missed and complete the work on time.

5. May school officials transfer a student to another school?

School officials may reassign a student to a regular classroom program in a different school in the school district. Such reassignment is not considered a suspension or an expulsion and therefore the student is not entitled to a hearing. (Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-233f(b)).

However, school officials may not reassign or transfer a student to an "alternative" education program or another school that is not a regular classroom program. Such a transfer constitutes an expulsion, and therefore, unless the parent/guardian consents to the transfer, the student is entitled to a formal expulsion hearing. (See our pamphlet, School Expulsions).

6. If a student is in a special education program, may he or she be suspended or expelled from school?

If a student receives special education, he or she may be removed from the classroom, placed on in-school suspension, or suspended from school for up to 10 days in a row for one of the reasons noted in Section III, Discipline, #1, above. Even if a special education student is expelled, he or she is still entitled to an educational program that is consistent with his or her needs (Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 10-233d(i).).

If a special education student is suspended or removed from the classroom, a PPT (planning and placement team) meeting should be held. If the suspension is for more than 10 days in a school year, a PPT meeting must be held. The PPT should determine whether the student's behavior is caused by his or her disability and whether the student's special education program was being properly implemented. You may wish to ask the PPT to initiate a re-evaluation of the student to help answer these questions.

It is illegal for the school district to continually suspend or expel a special education student for behavior which is the result of the student's disability.

If the school district is considering recommending a special education student for expulsion, the school must first hold a PPT meeting to determine if the student's behavior was caused by his or her disability. If the PPT decides that the behavior was not caused by the disability, you can expect that an expulsion hearing will soon be scheduled. Connecticut law allows expulsions if the behavior was not caused by the disability. However, if you disagree with this or any of the PPT's decisions, you have the right to ask for a "due process hearing."

You may ask for a due process hearing by writing to your school district's director of special education and sending a copy to the State Department of Education Due Process Unit. If you start the "due process", the student should remain in his or her current placement until the due process is completed. (Note: If the student possessed a weapon or drugs or the student caused someone serious bodily injury, the school may place him or her in an alternative educational setting for up to 45 days, despite a due process request.)

Even if you do not believe that a student's misconduct was caused by his or her disability, you may still be able to stop the expulsion hearing. The Connecticut laws regarding expelling special education students may be different from the federal laws. The Connecticut law that permits schools to expel special education students under the circumstances described above may conflict with federal laws. The federal special education laws appear not to permit a special education student to be expelled under any circumstances.

Therefore, if your child receives special education and is threatened with expulsion for any reason, you should get legal assistance right away.

1. What are the rules on school attendance?

Under Connecticut law, all parents or guardians of children between the ages of 7 and 18 (except 16- or 17-year olds whose parent/guardian has consented to withdrawal) must see that their children attend school (Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-184). If a parent/guardian wishes to allow a 16-or 17-year-old to withdraw from school, the parent/guardian must go in person to the school district office and sign a consent form.

The parent or guardian of a child between the ages of 7 and 18 (except 16- or 17-year olds whose parent/guardian has consented to withdrawal) who is not attending school may be fined for each unexcused absence (Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-185); or the student may be stopped by police or an "attendance officer" ("truant officer") if he or she is found on a public street during school hours and sent to school (Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-199, 10-200).

If a student is absent from school without a valid excuse four days in any one month or ten days in any school year, school officials must hold a meeting with the parent/guardian to discuss why the child has been truant. If the parent/guardian does not attend the meeting or fails to cooperate with the school, school officials will refer the child to the superior court for juvenile matters (Juvenile Court) to start a "family with service needs" (FWSN) petition.

2. May a student’s grades be reduced or course credit lost for absences from school?

Yes. Many school systems have attendance policies that state which absences are excused or unexcused and when a grade reduction and/or loss of course credit is allowed if a student misses a specific number of days from school in a given school year. While students may lose credit for non-attendance, it is illegal for school officials to "withdraw" a student from school based on non-attendance. Ask for a copy of your school’s attendance policy if you have not already received one.

3. Where does my child attend school if my family is homeless and living in an emergency shelter?

Under federal and state law, all children, including homeless children living in emergency shelters, have a right to a public education. Children living in emergency shelters may attend school either in the school district in which the emergency shelter is located or in the school district in which they would be living if they were not living in a shelter (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-253(e)). Under this law, the shelter’s school district will notify the school district where the homeless child would otherwise be living. The school district in which the homeless child would otherwise be living is responsible for the costs of the child’s education and it can either pay tuition to the shelter’s school district or arrange transportation back to that school district.

Parents/guardians may request their children continue attending the same school during the family's period of homelessness. If the school refuses to allow continued attendance, parents/guardians may request a "best interest" determination by asking for a "residency hearing" as described in #4 below.

No child should be kept out of school because of disagreement over which school district is responsible for educating the child.

4. What if a school district claims my child is not a resident of the school district and refuses to allow him/her to attend school?

The parents/guardians of any student (and any student 18 years of age and over) may immediately request a hearing by the Board of Education whenever a school system denies a student the right to attend school in a particular school district (unless the school district has expelled the student). The persons denied schooling (that is the parents, guardian, or student 18 years of age and over) have the burden of proving residency.

The hearing must be held within 10 days of a written request, it must be taped or some other record made of the hearing, and it must follow specific procedures.

The student may continue to attend school in the school district while the hearing request is pending. Caution, if the child is found to have attended school illegally in a district where the child was not a resident, the denied party can be liable for reimbursement of the cost of the education.

If the student 18 years of age and over loses the hearing, the parent/guardian or student may request a further hearing with the State Board of Education. The parent/student must request that the local Board of Education give them a transcript of the hearing. The request for a further hearing must be in writing within 20 days after the decision of the local Board of Education. A copy of the request should be delivered to the local Board of Education at the same time it is delivered to the State Board of Education. A hearing must be held and a decision made by the State Board of Education within 45 days after receipt of the request for hearing.

Again, the student may continue to attend school in the school district while the hearing request is pending. In the case of a district's refusal to honor homeless parents' request that their children continue attending school while living outside the district and a refusal to provide transportation to school, parents' should ask for a best interest determination by asking for a residency hearing.

If the school you want to send your child to refuses to allow your child to attend, call Statewide Legal Services for assistance.

1. Does a parent or guardian have a right to look at his/her child's school records?

Yes. Under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (commonly called the "Buckley Amendment"), a student’s parent or guardian and any student 18 years of age and over is allowed to look at the student’s educational records (20 U.S.C. §1232g). After receiving the written request, the school system must produce these records within a reasonable time (not more than 45 days). And, the school system must provide records of special education students within 5 days of the written request.

The parent, guardian, or adult student may also ask the school officials to explain or interpret any of the records. School officials must respond to all reasonable requests.

2. Are there any records a parent/guardian or student may not see?

For the most part, parents and guardians have a full and free right to see their child’s records. However, the following records cannot be seen, including:

notes made by a teacher or other school officials solely for their personal use and which are not disclosed to other individuals (except a substitute teacher).
records of school security officials, as long as these records are kept separate from the student’s school records and kept solely for law enforcement purposes.
personnel records of school employees.
A student 18 years of age or older also may be denied access to physician, psychiatric, or psychological records made or used only in connection with non-educational treatment and which are disclosed only to individuals outside the school who are providing that treatment.

3. May a student's records be released to someone other than a parent or guardian without the parent or guardian's consent?

Generally no. The school system must receive the written consent of the parent or guardian or student if he/she is 18 years of age or older before school officials may disclose any information from a student’s educational records. However, there are some exceptions. The following information may be released without prior consent by the parent or guardian (adult or student):

a student’s record may be released to teachers and other school officials within the school system.
the records may be released when the disclosure of the information is necessary because of any emergency to the student’s health and safety.
certain information that is generally not considered harmful or an invasion of privacy. This information (called "directory" information) includes a student’s name, address and telephone number; the date and place of birth, etc.
4. Is there anything a parent or student can do if the information in a student's school records is not correct or invades the student's privacy?

Yes. Under the Buckley Amendment, a parent/guardian may ask school officials to correct or remove any information in the student’s educational records which is "inaccurate, misleading, or an invasion of privacy."

If school officials refuse to correct the records or do not respond to a parent’s request within a reasonable amount of time, the parent/guardian may request a hearing by writing to the superintendent of the school district.

The hearing may be conducted by an employee of the school system. The person should be "impartial". That is, the person should not be the one who wrote the student’s record (such as a teacher) or the person who made the decision not to correct the record.

At this hearing, the parent or guardian must be given a chance to present evidence to show why the records are inaccurate, misleading or invade the student’s privacy.

If after a hearing, the hearing officer decides that the student’s records:

ARE inaccurate, misleading, or invade the student’s privacy,
the records must be corrected.

ARE NOT inaccurate, misleading, or invade the student’s privacy,
the parent or guardian has the right to put his or her own written statement in the student’s record explaining why he or she disagrees with the information in the record. This written statement must be made part of the student’s school records.

For more information call Statewide Legal Services for free advice and information:
(860) 344-0380 (Central CT & Middletown) or 1-800-453-3320 (All other regions)

This pamphlet was produced by the Legal Assistance Resource Center of CT in cooperation with Connecticut Legal Services, Greater Hartford Legal Aid, New Haven Legal Assistance Association, and Statewide Legal Services.

The information in this pamphlet is based on the laws in CT as of 2/2008. We hope that the information is helpful. It is not intended as legal advice for an individual situation. If you need further help and have not done so already, please call Statewide Legal Services (see above) or contact an attorney.

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