Avoiding Disciplinary Placement in the Hawaii High School System

As a dedicated parent, you have put years into your children's academic future, helping them maintain good grades and develop a wholesome character. In preparing your high school children to begin a business or gain the necessary education to become an attorney, doctor, engineer, or teacher, each journey toward success starts with satisfying the requirements to obtain a diploma.

One of the hallmarks of transitioning from adolescence into young adulthood is making mistakes and overcoming them. Yet, honest, diligent high school students get caught in bad situations. They risk facing unfair treatment and excessive punishments that fail to properly redress misconduct and derail a student's future. Violations of high school rules that once may have merited a phone call home from school are increasingly grounds for suspension and expulsion due to zero-tolerance disciplinary policies.

When your child is threatened with a separation from studies for misconduct they didn't commit, unfair treatment and consequences can categorize them as perennial offenders. Such branding will affect your children long into their adult years.

You don't want a misunderstanding or miscommunication to threaten your child's academic career or future prospects, but it happens in Hawaii high school districts. Considering the far-reaching repercussions, it's imperative that you understand how school districts handle misconduct and how it can cause suffering for your child.

Avoiding Alternative Education Placement in Hawaii

When your child is accused of misbehaving at a Hawaii high school, approaches to discipline can be as minor as ungraded classwork or as serious as expulsion from school. Sanctions should be proportional to the severity of the alleged misconduct, but that isn't always how situations are handled. School boards have an obligation to protect the institution's reputation in the district and statewide, and your child will get caught in the middle of an administrative battle without the appropriate defense.

One option Hawaii school districts have for students with recurring infractions is to place them in an interim alternative education setting (IAES). While this is a seemingly reasonable resolution for allegedly misbehaved students, the problem is that Hawaii IAESs can brand your child a delinquent, opening up the door to unjust treatment.

An IAES does help as a foundation for remediation for some students, but many react poorly, derailing their formative years in high school. Moreover, a particular Hawaii IAES may have its own problems, including an outdated curriculum, substandard instruction, and a lack of quality support services.

If your child faces a Hawaii high school disciplinary proceeding, the risk of them being relegated to an IAES is clear and present. To help you navigate the Hawaii high school disciplinary system and keep your child out of a remedial placement, call student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm. They have built their premier experience on successfully defending high school students in Hawaii and across the U.S.

Student Codes of Conduct for School Discipline in Hawaii

Disciplinary officials in Hawaii high schools don't investigate misconduct and levy sanctions arbitrarily. Each school must produce a code of conduct to govern student behavior at the direction of the Hawaii Department of Education (HIDOE) that "promotes excellence and equity in Hawaii public schools." Each code of conduct, honor code, or student handbook's policies will be backed by the state legislature's guidelines.

The student code of conduct at your child's school is your first line of defense against unjust school discipline. Your student defense advisor will review the school's regulations to ensure that your school adheres to its own parameters and treats your student child justly. The code of conduct will detail prohibited behavior for students and their corresponding consequences. Although each school and district may differ in what it includes in its code of conduct, some common prohibited behaviors are:

  • Bullying/cyberbullying
  • Computer misuse
  • Drug, alcohol, and tobacco use
  • Student or teacher assault
  • Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Weapons at school

In addition to forbidden behaviors and actions, the code of conduct will list the sanctions for students who commit them. Typically, consequences include:

  • Loss of privileges: Students lose school privileges or are removed from participation in extracurricular activities.
  • Behavioral counseling: The establishment of a line of communication between the student, their parents or guardians, and a school administration to discuss a remedial course of action.
  • Detention: Students must remain after school, show up before school, or on a Saturday to complete their schoolwork.
  • Exclusion: Some Hawaii school districts allow instructors to exclude a student from their classroom for misbehavior, and the student is reassigned to another teacher.
  • Community service: Students must complete a set number of service work hours either in the school or community.
  • In-school suspension (ISS): Students are removed from their regular classrooms and placed in an ISS classroom to complete assignments for up to five days.
  • Out-of-school suspension (OSS): Students are barred from attending school for no more than ten days unless proscribed by the complex area superintendent.
  • Removal to an interim alternative education setting (IAES): Students are temporarily assigned to an alternative education setting.
  • Expulsion: Students are banned from attending their regular school for a certain period of time. Depending on the student's age and the school district, expelled students are required to attend an IAES.

Schools may move to impose punishments without understanding how or why they could have occurred. Given the turbulent time in adolescence, there are often extenuating circumstances that lead students astray, and harsh measures often aren't reform-driven tactics to rehabilitate a student in need. Your student defense advisor can represent your student child as an individual, not just a cog in the vast mechanics of institutionalized education. Yet, Hawaii schools can utilize burdensome methods to remove students from the classroom at will.

Emergency Removals in Hawaii Schools

Schools can also conduct emergency removals—known as "crisis removals—of students in certain cases. According to the Hawaii Administrative Rules (HAR) §8-19-7, a principal or designee may remove a student immediately based upon preliminary inquiry and findings. They must conclude that the student's conduct presents a "clear immediate threat to the physical safety" of themselves or others or if the student is "so extremely disruptive" that removal is required "to preserve the right of other students to pursue an education free from undue disruption."

Once a student is removed, the following must occur:

  • The school is required to make a "good faith effort" to inform the parent immediately by telephone
  • Deliver a follow-up written notice by mail or personal delivery containing the following statements:
  1. Allegations that formed the basis of the crisis removal
  2. Allegations of the specific and substantiated acts
  3. Statement of presumed disciplinary action
  4. Date, time, and place offered by the school administration to meet with the parent or guardian

Students may return to school once the crisis no longer exists. Crisis removals in Hawaii high schools cannot continue more than ten school days unless extended by the complex area superintendent. Whether the student is removed from school for one or ten days, the principal may consider providing alternative education activities or placement in an IAES, pursuant to HAR §8-19-11.

HAR §8-19-9 states that parents may appeal the decision of the complex area superintendent within ten calendar days, and appeals will be heard no sooner than 15 calendar days later. Once a hearing commences, the superintendent will have seven school days to render a decision.

Hearing Process for Suspension and Expulsions in Hawaii

In non-emergency situations, the principal or designee shall immediately investigate the incident when a school alleges misconduct against your student child. Upon completion of the investigation, the student may be suspended if the principal finds that the facts are sustained. The principal or designee shall inform the parent of the findings and the disciplinary actions in writing.

According to HAR §8-19-8, if the student or parent denies the charge, the principal must indicate to the student and parent what evidence school authorities possess to support the findings. The student or parent will then be given an opportunity to present the student's version of the incident.

Considering the investigative and hearing processes in Hawaii high schools are rather informal and depend on the deference of each school's principal and complex area superintendent, the risk for undue punishment is elevated. A student defense advisor will be with you and your child every step of the way to guarantee they are treated fairly under the school's rules and the administrative law of Hawaii. Nevertheless, once this point in the process has arrived, there are other procedures your child will experience.

The Manifestation Determination Review in Hawaii High Schools

When a school suspends a student through a crisis removal, for more than ten consecutive school days, or ten total days in the same school year due to a pattern of misbehavior, the school administration must conduct a Manifestation Determination Review (MDR). The purpose of the MDR is to determine whether a student's disability caused the behavior that led to the suspension or if the behavior resulted from the school's failure to implement the student's Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) or Section 504 Plan supported under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Typically, an MDR is conducted after the superintendent's determination and must happen within ten school days of the suspension. The MDR Team—also known as an IEP Team—consisting of school representatives with knowledge of the student, a school's special education personnel, and the student's parents or guardians, will consider all relevant information to understand the possible connection between the sanctioned misconduct and a disability.

If your child has regular contact with outside behavioral counselors or other healthcare providers, it is appropriate if they are present in the meeting. Your student needs all the help they can get when defending themselves against a school disciplinary board. Some disabilities warranting an IEP or Section 504 Plan include:

  • Autism
  • Emotional disabilities
  • Hearing impairment
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Learning disabilities
  • Orthopedic disabilities
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Visual impairment

If the MDR Team decides that an incident or pattern of misbehavior was caused by a student's disability or an IEP not being implemented, the student has the right to return to school immediately. The suspension will continue if the MDR Team doesn't discover a disability. If the suspension is longer than ten school days, a complex area superintendent may order a student to an IAES but has the authority to remand them to a remedial placement anytime a separation of studies happens.

Challenging the MDR Process

A student, parent, or guardian may pursue an expedited hearing if they refuse the MDR team's findings. The student and their parent or guardian can file a due process complaint with Hawaii's Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA).

The expedited process requires:

  • Assigning a hearing officer and convening a resolution session within 15 calendar days of receiving the complaint
  • In-person hearing with student and parent or guardian
  • Decision made within ten calendar days describing the following:
  1. Explanation of why the department proposed or refused to take action raised in the due process complaint process
  2. Description of other options that the MDR or IEP Team considered and why they were rejected
  3. Evaluation of procedures, assessments, records, or reports the department used as the basis for the proposed or refused action
  4. Account of other factors relevant to the department's proposed or refused action

Parents may be accompanied and advised by a professional student defense advisor during a due process hearing. Students will remain in an IAES pending the outcome of the case.

Hawaii Students' Rights and Program Requirements

Students placed in IAES have rights. A disciplinary change in placement must:

  1. Continue to receive educational services to participate in the general education curriculum aligned with HIDOE standards of mathematics, writing, social studies, reading, and science.
  2. The work or instruction can't be "busy work" or assignments below their academic progress or grade level.
  3. Academic counseling required before entrance into the program must continue throughout IAES.
  4. A student will receive, if necessary, a functional behavioral assessment or behavioral intervention services designed to address recurrent violations.
  5. Academic, personal, and career guidance counseling should be provided, as needed, during the program.

The Downside of Hawaii's Exclusionary Discipline

Getting placed in an IAES, even if it's only temporary, can enormously impact a child's future. It can slow down their academic progress, trigger more behavioral problems, and lead to students dropping out and failing to obtain their high school diplomas. Isolation from friends and teachers can also affect emotional health, further impacting academic performance. Although removal from traditional educational programs is meant to be a positive behavior management tool, it can lead to adverse outcomes.

A Center for Court Innovation study concluded that schools tend to overuse zero-tolerance approaches to discipline and safety. These harsh punitive measures can lead to:

  • Increases in racial disparities and referrals to the juvenile justice system
  • Adverse effects on child development
  • Unintended consequences for students, families, and communities that result in higher societal costs

If your child faces placement in an IAES, you must become involved to prevent these counterproductive consequences. Their future depends on it.

Protecting Your Child Experiencing Disciplinary Issues at Their Hawaii High School

Parents have a better chance of preventing their children from being remanded to an IAES if they stay active and remain engaged during the disciplinary process. When you become aware of an issue, it's critical to:

  1. Contact the school immediately and transcribe as much information as possible.
  2. Call student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento. With his years of experience and dedicated team, once he has the details about your situation, he and his team can begin working with you on a strategy.
  3. Ensure that your child is all right. Speak to them about the incident and ask them to write down what they remember, including interactions with students, teachers, or school administration officials.
  4. Collect any evidence, including emails, texts, social media posts, and visual documentation, such as photos if your child has sustained a physical injury during the incident.
  5. Refer to the school's code of conduct to get more information on how the disciplinary process may proceed.
  6. Record your contacts with school officials and anyone else. Note the date, time, and length of conversations.
  7. Keep all written and electronic correspondence relating to the disciplinary process and make copies.

It's critical that you consult with a student defense advisor as early in the process as you can. Once you know this issue can lead to severe disciplinary consequences, including a relocation to an IAES, you must contact a professional to help you navigate the situation.

How an Experienced Student Defense Advisor Can Help You

When your student faces a temporary placement in a Hawaii IAES, you might think it's not that important of an issue. After all, limitations on suspensions and expulsions mean your student child will return to school eventually. These misunderstandings can lead to the long-term consequences noted above. You don't want your child falling by the wayside and missing out on the college experience or failing to begin their dream career.

As well, you may think that school administration officials, MDR Team, and other school employees aren't civil authorities, so you can't benefit from representation, right? The rules surrounding school discipline in Hawaii are complex. It takes an experienced student defense advisor to understand the laws and apply them to your child's specific situation to provide them with relief.

Suppose you don't fully grasp HIDOE policy or your school's code of conduct. In that case, you may struggle to defend your child's rights during an IAES disciplinary change in the placement decision process. You need experienced help when your child's future is on the line.

How a Student Defense Advisor Joseph D. Lento Can Help Your Child Avoid IAES

Inexperienced attorneys typically begin their defense of a student's academic career by threatening expensive lawsuits. Although a formal suit is a possible course of action to keep you or your student child intact with their studies, litigation is rarely necessary. While many attorneys tout their legal expertise in front of judges and juries, those skills don't often translate into proven tactics to mitigate negative consequences in student disciplinary matters.

Few lawyers have demonstrated themselves to be successful student defense advisors like Joseph D. Lento. He coaches students and their parents and guardians to prepare them for MDR hearings and works to negotiate with school administration officials and an institution's Office of General Counsel (OGC) before an IAES is recommended as behavior remediation by a complex area superintendent or other authorities. Even if you can't have an advisor present with you at the meetings, Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm can still be an invaluable asset to you and your child as you navigate this tricky situation.

A professional specializing in student discipline defense can help you make sense of school disciplinary policy to know what your child's rights are and how to protect them. A legal specialist in this area can also read the code of conduct for your child's school district and ensure that school administrators follow disciplinary procedures correctly. You don't want the school to abuse its authority and send your hard-working child to an IAES for a minor offense that can be handled by school administration officials in a traditional situation.

Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have assisted countless students across Hawaii and the U.S. mainland in disciplinary matters, allowing them to stand up to their schools and protect their rights effectively. They have the knowledge and experience necessary to support you and your child through a challenging situation with your school board and sanctioning body. Contact the Lento Law Firm by calling 888-535-3686 or visit the online consultation form to protect your child's high school education and future.

Contact Us Today!

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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