Avoiding Disciplinary Placement in the Florida High School System

Parents rightly shudder at the thought of seeing their Florida high school student sent to reform school, what states nowadays generally call disciplinary placement and what Florida specifically calls second chance school. Disciplinary placement can be a parent and student nightmare, offering nothing like a traditional high school program and instead crippling the student's ambitions, reputation, and relationships. Fortunately, with the right information and approach, responsible Florida parents can help their high school students successfully navigate serious misconduct charges to avoid disciplinary placement in a Florida second chance school. Don't take a wait-and-see approach to your student's misconduct charges. Get your Florida high school student the help your student needs. Retain premier school discipline attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm's student defense team. Don't let disciplinary placement in a second chance school be your student's hazardous, even devastating, result.

Discipline Leading to Alternative Placement

Disciplinary placement is a real risk in Florida high school misconduct proceedings. A Florida Department of Education report shows that hundreds of thousands of Florida students suffer school suspension, and hundreds more suffer expulsion every year. Minor high school misconduct may result in minor sanctions from verbal or written warnings to in-school or after-school detentions, loss of school privileges like hall passes and field trips, and parent notification. More serious misconduct may result in suspension from sports, band, theater, clubs, and other extracurricular activities and in-school suspension where the student must complete coursework outside of the student's usual classes. Serious misconduct, though, can result in short and long-term suspension and dismissal or expulsion from the school, especially if the student doesn't have skilled and experienced attorney representation. While the discipline often depends on the seriousness of the misconduct, a series of lesser misconduct charges and disciplines can also lead to more serious discipline, including expulsion. One event, when serious enough, can lead to expulsion. But expulsion can also sneak up on a student who persists in smaller infractions despite increasing discipline. Unless the student simply gives up on a high school education, which is seldom, if ever, a good approach, long-term suspension or expulsion means seeking and accepting an alternative placement. Disciplinary placement is a real risk in many, if not most, high school misconduct proceedings.

Authority for Florida Disciplinary Placement

Florida school districts have the authority to assign students to disciplinary placement. Florida Statute 1006.07(2)(k) authorizes a district's school board to adopt policies “for the assignment of violent or disruptive students to an alternative educational program….” The same statute permits a school to make a “referral of such students to mental health services identified by the school district….” Florida Statute 1006.08(1) broadens the authority of school officials to place students in alternative educational programs to include not just violent or disruptive students but other students who are disobedient, disrespectful, abusive, or uncontrollable:

“Each district school superintendent shall fully support the authority of his or her principals, teachers, and school bus drivers to remove disobedient, disrespectful, violent, abusive, uncontrollable, or disruptive students from the classroom and the school bus and, when appropriate and available, to place such students in an alternative educational setting.”

Florida Statute 1006.09(1)(c) reinforces the responsibility of the school principal to ensure the safety and orderly operation of the school through expulsion “or assignment to a second chance school” of disruptive students:

“The principal or the principal's designee may recommend to the district school superintendent the expulsion of any student who has committed a serious breach of conduct, including, but not limited to, willful disobedience, open defiance of authority of a member of his or her staff, violence against persons or property, or any other act which substantially disrupts the orderly conduct of the school.”

Disciplinary Placement Differs from Regular School

The above statutes show the authority of a Florida high school to assign a student to a so-called alternative educational setting or second chance school. One might say that anything goes once the disciplined or expelled student gets there. Florida schools may jettison the traditional educational program. Florida Statute 1003.53(1)(a) states specifically, “Dropout prevention and academic intervention programs may differ from traditional educational programs and schools in scheduling, administrative structure, philosophy, curriculum, or setting….” Florida second chance schools don't look like regular high schools. Indeed, the same statute not only permits schools to abandon regular programs. Florida Statute 1003.53(1)(a) goes further in requiring that schools “shall employ alternative teaching methodologies, curricula, learning activities, and diagnostic and assessment procedures” for students sent to second chance, dropout prevention programs. Disciplinary placement tends to be more individualized. Even if the second chance school's academics are reasonably structured and appropriately challenging, which is no guarantee, the student sent to a Florida second chance school almost surely won't have the same opportunities for mental, physical, and social development as the student would have had remaining in the student's own school.

Florida Second Chance Schools

Florida second chance schools differ from traditional high schools because different government officials and private organizations often run them. Florida Statute 1003.53(1)(d) specifically authorizes a school district to contract with the state's Department of Juvenile Justice, local law enforcement, other state agencies, or even private entities to run a second chance school. The same statute permits the Commissioner of Education to waive the usual Board of Education rules, giving second chance schools even greater freedom to depart from traditional educational standards. And the school district may even find money in contracting with public or private entities to run the district's second chance school. Florida Statute 1003.53(1)(d) authorizes startup grants for partnership second chance schools, even for-profit second chance schools. Look around, and you'll see plenty of Florida second chance schools advertising to enroll your expelled high school student. Just don't expect those schools to look anything like a traditional high school program.

Grounds for Second Chance School

It takes very little for a Florida school district to send a student to a second chance school. At first blush, Florida law makes second chance schools look as if they are only for dropouts. Under Florida Statute 1003.53(1)(d), students in sixth grade to tenth grade may end up in a second chance school if they are a habitual truant, detrimentally affected by excessive absences, lacking in motivation, and at risk of dropping out of school. But the same statute permits a school board to send a student to a second chance school if the student meets any one of the following conditions. You can see from this list how easy it would be for a Florida high school to send almost any student charged with misconduct to a second chance school:

  • the student habitually exhibits disruptive behavior violating the district's student conduct code;
  • the student interferes with the student's own learning or the education of others and requires attention and assistance beyond that which the traditional program can provide;
  • frequent conflicts of a disruptive nature occur involving the student; or
  • the student has committed a serious offense warranting suspension or expulsion under the school's student conduct code, if the offense involves threats, violence, weapon or drug possession, or harassment or verbal abuse.

Negative Impacts of Disciplinary Placement

Don't view Florida disciplinary placement as simply your student attending another school. Disciplinary placement isn't that simple. Disciplinary placement leaves a permanent mark on your student's academic record. That mark may mean that your student can't gain admission to your student's preferred college, university, or vocational program. Your student's dream of attending a particular school or program may die with disciplinary placement. Your student may also lose out on the job and career for which your student had already studied, trained, and worked. And with the loss of education, job, and career, your student may lose social advantages such as the opportunity for mentors, friends, and even marriage and family. Even if substantial opportunities remain for your student to make a good life, your student may not see it that way. Not all high school students are resilient. Major setbacks like disciplinary placement can throw a student off their figurative game, resulting in malaise and depression. Mental and physical declines and bad habits can follow. Don't underestimate the impact of a Florida disciplinary placement. Instead, help your student fight the good fight to remain in school and on track toward a good education, job, career, and life.

Authority for Florida High School Discipline

Florida high schools certainly have the authority to discipline students right up to suspension and expulsion. Florida Statute 1006.07 requires school boards to adopt rules “for the control, discipline, in-school suspension, suspension, and expulsion of students” in the district's schools. Florida high school students can get in a lot of different kinds of trouble, just like high school students elsewhere. They can also face false, exaggerated, or unfair allegations of trouble in which they were not involved or for which the school should not be holding them responsible. And once your student faces disciplinary charges, many things can happen, including disciplinary placement. So first, learn what your student faces. While every matter is different, Florida high school misconduct allegations tend to fall into common categories. If your high school student faces disciplinary charges in one of these categories, it likely won't be the first time school officials have dealt with such an issue. Your retained student discipline defense attorney should have experience helping students defend and defeat charges in each of these areas:

  • physical violence between students, whether in the classroom, hallways, gymnasiums, or outdoors on school grounds or at school events, such as scuffles and outright fights, or even relatively harmless pranks and horseplay involving physical violence, can lead to serious school discipline, including suspension and expulsion;
  • physical violence directed toward teachers or other staff, no matter when or where it occurs relating to school activities, is routinely grounds for the most serious discipline, including expulsion because of its especially disrespectful and disruptive nature to school safety and programs;
  • threats of physical violence can be grounds for suspension or expulsion, especially when indicating a pattern of bullying or risk of serious injury that interferes with another student's ability to enjoy and benefit from the educational program. Florida Statute 1006.07(2)(m) addresses school authority to discipline for threats, while Florida Statute 1006.13(3) requires expulsion of students bringing firearms to school;
  • cyberbullying involving demeaning, harassing, embarrassing, or compromising texts, social media posts, emails, and other electronic activity can lead to serious discipline, especially when involving another student's mental or emotional distress and invasion of privacy. Florida Statute 1006.07(2)(f) addresses school authority to regulate electronic device use;
  • sexual misconduct, including not just sexual assault but also sexual harassment, can result in serious discipline up to expulsion. Florida Statute 1006.07(2)(j) addresses school authority to suspend or expel for sexual misconduct;
  • computer misuse, including hacking teacher, school, or student accounts, copying and distributing test or other academic information, or viewing pornographic or violent websites, can lead to suspension or expulsion;
  • firearms, knives, or other weapons on school grounds or at school events can be grounds for automatic expulsion, especially given notorious school shooting events. Florida Statute 1006.07(2)(g) and (l) address school authority to suspend or expel students carrying or brandishing weapons, pretending to do so, or even drawing or carrying images of weapons;
  • drug or alcohol possession and abuse on school grounds or at school activities, or attending school while under the influence of drugs or alcohol can lead to serious discipline, especially when influencing or involving other students in sale or distribution. Florida Statute 1006.07(2)(e) addresses school authority to suspend or expel for drug or alcohol possession or abuse; and
  • theft or vandalism, or other destruction of school property, can lead to serious discipline up to suspension or expulsion, especially when the property has significant value, the misconduct is public, or the misconduct interferes with school operations.

How Florida High Schools Handle Expulsion

While a Florida school board may delegate authority to other school officials to impose discipline up to suspension, under Florida Statute 1006.07(1)(a), only the school board itself may expel the student from the school. Florida expulsion hearings are typically private affairs, attended only by school officials, the student and student's parents, and witnesses. But the student's parents may request that the school board conduct the hearing publicly under Florida Statute 286.011. Florida Statute 1006.7(1) provides that two administrative hearing statutes, Florida Statute 120.569 and Florida Statute 120.57(2), govern expulsion hearings. Those statutes give parents the right to request an administrative hearing no sooner than fourteen days after the school notifies the parents of the school's intent to expel the student. These administrative proceedings give the accused student substantial procedural protections including unbiased administrative hearing officials, detailed notice of the charges, and the right to present and challenge evidence at an in-person hearing. The parents and students may also retain an attorney representative for the hearing. But these rights are not self-executing. Instead, the parents must affirmatively request the administrative hearing and invoke each right. Retain premier school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm's student defense team for the skilled and experienced representation your student needs to avoid expulsion.

Admission to Another Florida High School After Expulsion

Getting into another Florida high school after expulsion isn't easy. A student can't sneak in by concealing the prior expulsion. Florida Statute 1006.07(1)(b) requires the expelled student to disclose the prior expulsion along with any mental-health referral to the new school into which the student is trying to gain entry. The Florida high school considering admitting the expelled student must record the prior expulsion in the new school's records. The expelled student has no right to enter a new school. Instead, the expelled student's entry depends on the discretion, or some may say the whim, of the new district's highest officials. The new district's superintendent must evaluate the expelled student's application and make a recommendation, up or down, to the new district's school board. The school board may admit the expelled student or deny the expelled student's admission. Even if the expelled student gets into the new school, the school board may require that the school place the student in a certain educational program. The school board may also require the student to submit to mental health services as a condition of entering the new school. Don't assume that your student will get into another desirable, conducive, or convenient new school. Your student may instead have very limited options, if any. Fighting disciplinary charges up front is a far better strategy than planning to jump to a new school.

The Role of a School Discipline Defense Attorney

Aggressive and effective representation from skilled and experienced school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento can make all the difference in your Florida high school student's disciplinary outcome. Florida's extensive protective administrative procedures for school expulsions give your retained attorney representative the tools to learn the details of, evaluate, and effectively challenge the disciplinary charges. For an effective defense, you need to know the school's evidence. You also need to know the evidence available to your student to defend and defeat the charges. Attorney Lento and the student defense team at the Lento Law Firm not only know how to investigate a charge and prepare and present a strong defense. Attorney Lento also knows how to diplomatically communicate with school officials in ways that often lead to an early negotiated resolution. But when a negotiated resolution isn't available, attorney Lento and his premier student defense team have the cross-examination skills, argumentation skills, research and briefing skills, and other administrative hearing skills to defend and defeat false, unfair, and exaggerated disciplinary charges.

Alternative Special Relief

Even if you and your Florida high school student have exhausted all formal administrative remedies, other avenues for alternative special relief may still exist. Don't give up the fight. National school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped hundreds of students nationwide gain special alternative relief. Formal administrative procedures can be great. They can be the tools to bring evidence to light, prove charges false, and gain just relief. But the answer isn't always to invoke every formal procedure, dispute every assertion, and drag things out in a battle of attrition. Instead, attorney Lento can often show school officials that their greater interest is in structuring a resolution that wins for both the school and the accused student. And when disciplinary officials won't budge on the charges, attorney Lento may appeal to the better and broader senses of school oversight officials. Schools maintain general counsel offices and retain outside counsel to ensure that they see the full picture, including minimizing non-compliance and litigation risks. If you and your student haven't been able to gain any relief, and your student faces disciplinary placement, retain attorney Lento to reach out to school oversight officials to see if alternative special relief may be available.

Premier School Discipline Defense Attorney

School discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento is available for your student's aggressive and effective defense, no matter what Florida high school your student attends or the nature of the disciplinary charges. Don't retain an unqualified local criminal defense attorney who doesn't know school administrative law and procedures. Criminal defense practice is very different from school discipline defense. Local attorneys generally lack the academic administrative knowledge, skill, and experience for the successful defense of school disciplinary charges. Instead, retain a premier school discipline defense attorney who has successfully defended students at all levels of educational programs against all kinds of charges. National school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm's student defense team are available across Florida. Call 888-535-3686 or go online now. Don't let your delay lead to your student's defeat and assignment into disciplinary placement. Your student's stakes are far too high.

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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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