Avoiding Disciplinary Placement in the California High School System

It's probably safe to say that your big plans for your child don't include intense high school disciplinary experiences.

In fact, successfully attaining a high school diploma may be a prerequisite for the future you want your child to have. While you may not have seen any issues with your child's journey to that diploma, it's becoming more and more clear that high school students and their families cannot just dismiss the specter of disciplinary processes.

Rather, students and families must be prepared. Increasingly, simple mistakes, miscommunications, and misunderstandings can result in a recommendation for disciplinary placement, expulsion, or other types of consequences that could threaten your child's future.

In this guide, we'll talk about some of the alternative educational programs that exist as a disciplinary option for many high schools in California — and how you can help your child avoid these and their associated ramifications.

What Is California's Approach to High School Discipline and Consequences?

Every state in America has a slightly different approach to high school discipline. Recently, California has reformed many of its processes to emphasize an opportunity for restorative justice.

Restorative justice or discipline, as a form of discipline that seeks to resolve tough situations without resorting to exclusionary discipline such as expulsions or suspensions, relies on community and relationship-building therapeutic techniques and listening to students who are going through difficult times.

Some examples of disciplinary measures that may be used as part of a restorative justice program include:

  • Therapy
  • Community service
  • Helping with any repairs needed as a result of the student's prohibited actions
  • Written or verbal apologies to parties wronged by the student

Many California high schools may try to implement some restorative justice techniques before taking more drastic action.

However, even though the goal might always be to keep kids in school, suspensions and expulsions do happen. As we'll touch on later, there are some prohibited behaviors that necessitate the removal of the involved students from the high school environment.

In order to avoid infringing the rights of the involved students, California high schools are required to have plans in place to ensure that expelled students still have access to education.

While it may seem that the Golden State has its bases covered and is looking out for your student, being sent to alternative education in California can have a long-lasting impact on your child. Here, we'll discuss what you as a parent may be able to do in order to help your student avoid that outcome.

What Types of Student Behavior Could Merit CA Alternative Education?

Your school's code of conduct should detail the specific behaviors that your school has deemed punishable, as well as the escalation plan that your school will follow in the event that a student's behavior does not respond well to initial reproductive justice (or less significant disciplinary measures).

While checking your own school's paperwork is the best idea, in this case, common prohibited behaviors in California schools include:

  • Cyberbullying
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Student assault
  • Teacher assault
  • Weapons at school
  • Bullying
  • Computer misuse

In particular, under California's Education Code §48915(c), if your child is caught possessing or selling a firearm, brandishing a knife in the direction of a person, selling controlled substances, possessing explosives, or committing sexual battery or assault, that will automatically trigger an expulsion (and perhaps even an emergency removal).

This may even be the case if your student is unfairly associated with one of these offenses. Your school may be inclined to operate with more caution, not less — which may not be the best option for you and your student.

After My Student Is Expelled, What Are Their School Attendance Options?

Depending on the circumstances and the relationship your school may have with local alternative education programs, your student may be required to attend a juvenile court school, a community day school, or a county community school under California's Education Code §48915.2).

If those are environments you may not have chosen for your student — particularly if you don't have any say in which one, necessarily, your child heads to, you're not alone.

If you're wondering what's next, that's natural. Here are the answers to a few further questions you may be having.

How long will this California expulsion and disciplinary placement last?

This depends in part on the nature of the alleged offense and may be negotiated in an expulsion hearing (more on that in a moment). The maximum amount of time the expulsion is allowed to last is one full calendar year.

However, if the rehabilitation plan that you and your school come to an agreement on (partially during that all-important expulsion hearing) specifies goals that your student does not achieve during that year, the school representatives involved can move to extend the duration of your child's expulsion and disciplinary placement until your child meets the terms laid out in their rehabilitation plan.

What does a rehabilitation plan look like for a high school student expelled in California?

In California, per California Education Code Section 48926, every three years, the county superintendents must develop a plan for making sure that all students receive an education — even if they're suspended or expelled. If the plan already exists, every three years, the superintendents must revisit the plan and submit it to state authorities for approval.

This plan must feature viable educational options for students who have been expelled. It must also detail what might happen if a student does not meet the terms of their individual rehabilitation plan.

The specifics of your student's rehabilitation plan may be unique, but some common terms and conditions required for readmission to your student's original school include:

  • Maintaining grades above a certain GPA
  • Maintaining a good attendance rate
  • Completing a certain number of hours of therapy
  • Abiding by all school rules and state laws
  • Accruing no further expulsions or suspensions
  • Completing a certain number of hours of community service
  • Passing a drug test
  • Completing an essay or project related to the original behavioral issue
  • Obtaining a letter from a teacher, therapist, or similar professional that supports the student's readmission

This can (clearly) be quite difficult, and that's probably not a series of stipulations you want your school to foist upon your child — particularly not if your student is innocent or the allegations were the result of a misunderstanding.

To help your child avoid these types of rehabilitation plans and alternative education programs, it's time to make sure that you're ready to protect them and their rights through an expulsion hearing.

Will My CA High School Offer an Expulsion Hearing?

Before your student undergoes a disciplinary placement, your school should invite you to a hearing to understand more about what your school believes your student has done — and what your school believes the next best steps are. This is a vital part of your school's due process. At this meeting, your school should describe the actions it believes your student is responsible for, indicate the part of your school's code of conduct that your student has broken, and provide evidence backing up its views.

Whether your school alerts you to the fact that a disciplinary placement is in your child's future before it happens or your school enacts an emergency placement, you should be able to request an expulsion hearing. (If this happens after the fact, it should happen within a timely manner — e.g., within a few business days after the emergency move. If not, note that, and make sure your defense advisor knows there has been a delay.)

You should be able to bring your student defense attorney to this hearing. At this hearing, you and your student defense advisor can work to renegotiate your child's disciplinary placement with your school to avoid the short- and long-term consequences of this type of discipline.

When preparing for an expulsion hearing, it's a good idea to become educated on some of the limitations of disciplinary placements. For example, your school may not be able to enact a disciplinary placement if the following conditions are in place (or have not been met):

  • Your school has not exhausted all other means of discipline
  • Your student has special needs or mental or physical health limitations
  • Your student's responsibility for the allegations is uncertain
  • Your school didn't follow its due process for determining responsibility
  • Your available options for alternative education are insufficient
  • Your school refuses to provide you with an expulsion hearing
  • Your student committed the central behaviors as self-defense

Your student defense attorney may be able to use some of these factors as a basis to convince your school to reconsider your student's disciplinary placement during the expulsion hearing. If, after the expulsion hearing, your school still moves forward with your student's disciplinary placement, you can appeal this decision.

To appeal, you and your student defense attorney will put together the most compelling argument possible and submit it to your school's representatives.

You may have ways to escalate your appeal process if appealing once doesn't work. For example, you may be able to file an appeal with your school district's board of trustees or even with your state's department of education.

These kinds of appeals are important to complete, even if you don't believe they will have any specific purpose. Why?

Filing these appeals can show your school that you mean business and can even serve as a helpful foundation for any later conversations your lawyer has with your school. If you need to take any drastic measures later, such as filing a lawsuit, having these official appeals on file may also help your case.

The Potential Downsides of Disciplinary Alternative Education in California

While many different modes of education are becoming very popular, particularly in the wake of the pandemic, having a note on your student's record that they were recommended for alternative education as a punishment can make it very difficult for them to get a job later in life.

However, the nature of the alternative education itself can be significantly less beneficial for your student than their more familiar school environment. Many states across the nation are noticing that their various disciplinary alternative education programs aren't actually having a good effect on student behavior, mental health, and academic outcome.

Here are just a few issues you and your student may face in an alternative education scenario:

  • The standard of education may be lower. Whether your CA county's alternative education program is in-person or online, the instruction that your student would receive at a disciplinary educational program is probably not up to the same standards as their current or previous school.
  • It may be logistically difficult for your student to attend their new school. If your student's new alternative educational facility is in-person, it may not be in the same neighborhood that you live in. While you might have specifically picked a school based on its proximity or even moved to be within a chosen academic community, you may have far fewer choices when it comes to alternative education. Your student may be faced with a longer commute if it's feasible to get to the new location at all. And, if it's difficult to get to their new school or program, their attendance may suffer and reduce their access to any education — negating the point of alternative education in the first place.
  • Alternative education may make relatively innocuous student misconduct seem larger than it is. While you'd hope that your school only uses disciplinary alternative education as a last resort for serious offenses, it's often hard to quantify what that means for your school. Your school may remove your child from the classroom environment for such minimal misbehaviors as classroom disruption or disorderly conduct.
  • Repeat recommendations for alternative education are not uncommon. If your child is sent to an alternative education program in CA and manages to work their way back to their school, it's likely they'll be sent to alternative education again. Their school may see your child's experience as an example of how well alternative education works as a disciplinary strategy. The more a student's education is disrupted, the more it's likely they'll get set back or need to repeat classes — all of which won't look good on a student's permanent record.

If you believe that your student could be sent to an alternative educational setting, you need to take time as early on in the process as possible to make sure that doesn't happen.

Read This if Your Child Faces Disciplinary Issues at Their CA School

Here's the most important thing you need to know up front:

If there are any whispers of a disciplinary event in your child's future, you need to get involved — fast.

These types of processes can spiral out of control before you know it, leaving your child at a high risk of being forced into alternative education or other types of adverse disciplinary experiences.

The moment you hear that your child could be facing investigative attention from your school, consider taking the following steps:

  1. Call your school immediately and learn what has happened and what types of discipline your student is facing.
  2. Contact a student defense attorney-advisor once you have that information in hand. The earlier, the better: Once your defense advisor has all of the relevant information, they can start to support you as you figure out a strategy to protect your child.
  3. Talk to your child. Ask them if everything is okay — particularly with their teachers and with their classes. If your child has any complaints or anything that has recently made them uncomfortable, write them down. If you have a particular incident to point to, ask your child about it. Write down everything they say.
  4. Take pictures of any evidence you may find: Feedback on homework, messages from teachers or your child's peers, or any injuries your child may have.
  5. Start a log of the conversations you have with school officials. Be particularly sure to note the length of the conversation, any specific details mentioned, and the date on which a conversation happened.
  6. Start a folder on your computer (or a physical envelope) and save every email, letter, or other missives you receive from your school regarding your student's disciplinary process.
  7. Find your CA high school's code of conduct. It'll be a confusing, complex document, but it should contain much of the information you'll need to know about your child's disciplinary process. Your defense advisor will be very familiar with these documents and can help you wade through them if you require assistance.

All of these steps will take time, but they may make a huge difference in your child's case. Once you hear that your student is facing a disciplinary issue, particularly if your school is prone to recommending alternative education for students with behavioral issues, you need to contact a defense attorney.

The Long-Term Consequences of Being Involved in Alternative Disciplinary Education in California

While these types of plans and programs have been put in place to ensure that suspended, expelled, or high-risk students receive an education, the reality is far less kind.

Since CA schools are fully aware that ‘problematic' children will receive an education, regardless of their location, school representatives may feel less compunction over expelling a student. You might wonder what the big deal is, too — particularly if your school is recommending your student pursue alternative education before they're expelled.

You may even think that this type of recommendation is temporary or your student's journey to alternative education is one that can easily be reversed.

Unfortunately, alternative education because of disciplinary processes can have incredibly far-reaching impacts on a child's future. It can be next to impossible to get back into school, if desired. Later in life, when your child is trying to apply to college or get a job, their interviewers may have a very hard time overlooking your child's referral to alternative education.

If your child is approaching the end of your school's disciplinary processes, you need to know what's next — because “what's next” is often a version of education that is fully legal in your state, but could harm your child's chances of lifelong success. To make sure that you protect your child's prospects as successfully as possible, consider working with a student defense attorney as early as possible in your case.

Get the Help You Need to Navigate High School Disciplinary Placements in CA

If your high school student is facing a tough disciplinary situation, such as a high school disciplinary placement, you're probably already feeling the stress.

And we get it: Navigating the complexities of your school's due process can seem impossible. Very suddenly, it may seem like people you've known for years are out to get you and your kid. High school misconduct adjudication can be completely bewildering, and it's very important to make sure that you're not doing this on your own.

You need to make sure that you're working with Joseph D. Lento — an expert DAEP Defense Advisor.

For years, Joseph D. Lento has helped countless students across the nation deal with their disciplinary matters effectively. He can help you and your student understand your options, pull together effective arguments, and help you defend your student's reputation and future.

Don't let a mistake or misunderstanding ruin your child's entire future. Instead, take action now to make sure this complex situation ends as favorably as possible for you and your family. Reach out to the Lento Law Firm today for more information. The number is 888-535-3686.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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