Avoiding Disciplinary Placement in the Massachusetts High School System

If your student faces misconduct charges or other disciplinary proceedings at your student's Massachusetts high school, your student very likely wants to avoid disciplinary placement at all costs. Like other states, Massachusetts maintains so-called alternative education programs, what the public once knew as something more like reform schools. No sane student wants to attend reform school. Disciplinary placement in an alternative education program can throw a high school student so off track that the student may take a very long time to recover, if recovery is even possible. In theory, an alternative education program can help a student reform behavioral issues, whether violence, substance abuse, truancy, or other significant personal, social, and academic issues. But in practice, an alternative education program's isolated nature, limited resources, and reputational stain can seriously impact the progress of a student who should instead remain in the traditional high school program. Retain national high school discipline defense advisor Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm's student defense team if your Massachusetts high school student faces disciplinary placement. Preserve your student's traditional school placement, whether at a public or private high school, at all costs.

Reasons for Massachusetts Disciplinary Placements

To accomplish their education mandate, Massachusetts high schools must keep their students and staff members reasonably safe in a reasonably orderly educational environment conducive to learning. They often do so by suspending or even expelling students whose removal is necessary for safety and order, as Mass. G.L. ch. 71, §37H, authorizes. Yet Massachusetts high schools can't simply kick students out of school, leaving the student languishing without education. Instead, Mass. G.L. ch. 71, §37H(e), requires that any "school district that suspends or expels a student under this section shall continue to provide educational services to the student during the period of suspension or expulsion…." Massachusetts commits itself to educating even those students whose conduct warrants removal from the traditional high school. Indeed, Mass. G.L. ch. 69, §1N, provides for state grants for school districts to create their own alternative education program or to work with another district for an inter-district program to serve removed students. The tension between needing to maintain safety and order, on the one hand, while educating all students, on the other hand, is why disciplinary placements in alternative education programs happen so often in Massachusetts and other states. Just don't let it happen to your student if you can possibly avoid it.

Disciplinary Placement for Violence, Weapons, and Drugs

Disciplinary placement is most likely when a student's misconduct involves violence, weapons, or drugs. Mass. G.L. ch. 71, §37H(a), provides that any student "found on school premises or at school-sponsored or school-related events, including athletic games, in possession of a dangerous weapon, including, but not limited to, a gun or a knife; or a controlled substance… including, but not limited to, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, may be subject to expulsion from the school or school district by the principal." Similarly, Mass. G.L. ch. 71, §37H(b), provides that any student "who assaults a principal, assistant principal, teacher, teacher's aide or other educational staff on school premises or at school-sponsored or school-related events, including athletic games, may be subject to expulsion from the school or school district by the principal." Many states make such expulsions mandatory. The above language that the principal "may" expel the student suggests that Massachusetts allows some discretion. But if your student faces disciplinary charges alleging violence, weapons, or drugs, your student needs aggressive and effective representation from national high school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento. Treat these charges most seriously.

Disciplinary Placement for Crime or Delinquency

Massachusetts high school principals may also suspend or expel a student and place the student in an alternative education program for felony crimes. Mass. G.L. ch. 71, §37H1/2, provides that when "a criminal complaint charg[es] a student with a felony or upon the issuance of a felony delinquency complaint against a student, the principal… of a school in which the student is enrolled may suspend such student … if said principal … determines that the student's continued presence in school would have a substantial detrimental effect on the general welfare of the school." The crime or delinquency need not have been on school premises or at a school event, although if the misconduct occurred elsewhere, the school would have a greater burden to prove its detrimental effect on the school. That question, though, is the crux of the matter. Be sure to retain national school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento to help your student present evidence that any alleged misconduct did not have the required substantial detrimental effect.

Discretionary Expulsion and Disciplinary Placement

Massachusetts high school principals may suspend and expel high school students and place them in an alternative education program, for more than just violence, weapons, drugs, and crime. Massachusetts law, including Mass. G.L. ch. 71, §37H3/4, clearly authorizes school districts to discipline students up to suspension or expulsion and disciplinary placement on virtually any other published grounds. Mass. G.L. ch. 71, §37H, requires district superintendents to publish school disciplinary policies. The student code of conduct must prohibit tobacco products and bullying on school grounds. Mass. G.L. ch. 71, §37H, also mentions violence, weapons, illegal substances, vandalism, and civil rights offenses. But the statute does not limit the school district to just those offenses. Student codes of conduct may include, and routinely do include other offenses. The student code of conduct for the Boston Public Schools provides a good example, listing the following offenses while permitting local schools to add other offenses:

  • vandalism, defacement, or theft of school textbooks or other property;
  • using tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, on school property;
  • possessing firearms, knives, tasers, or other dangerous weapons;
  • possessing a controlled substance, including marijuana, cocaine, or heroin;
  • assault on a student, teacher, or other school employee;
  • felony conviction of a crime off premises affecting the school;
  • sexual assault and sexual harassment;
  • bullying, cyberbullying, hazing, and other threats of force;
  • setting fire endangering others;
  • sexting, hacking, and other misuse of electronic devices;
  • excessive absences or tardiness;
  • giving false identification or refusing to identify oneself;
  • trespassing or blocking access;
  • disrupting classes and other instruction;
  • bomb threats and false fire alarms; and
  • unauthorized use of cell phones during school hours.

Expulsion and Disciplinary Placement as a Last Resort

In fighting discretionary high school expulsion in Massachusetts, the state's legislature has given the student a statutory tool, in effect requiring that the school principal use expulsion only as a last resort. Mass. G.L. ch. 71, §37H3/4(b), states expressly that "[a]ny … person acting as a decision-maker at a student meeting or hearing, when deciding the consequences for the student, shall exercise discretion; consider ways to re-engage the student in the learning process; and avoid using expulsion as a consequence until other remedies and consequences have been employed." Massachusetts also offers in-school suspensions as an alternative to out-of-school suspensions and disciplinary placement. Your student stands a fighting chance at avoiding expulsion and disciplinary placement. But your student must generally give the principal a good reason not to expel. And that's the role of a skilled and experienced school discipline defense attorney. Mass. G.L. ch. 71, §37H(c), guarantees that the student may retain representation and present evidence, witnesses, and other reasons to avoid expulsion.

Appeals from Massachusetts Disciplinary Placement

A school principal's decision to send your student to disciplinary placement is not the end of the matter. Your student has a statutory right to appeal the principal's decision. In Massachusetts, an appeal from the principal's decision to remove the student to an alternative education program is an especially attractive option to pursue reinstatement. Mass. G.L. ch. 71, §37H(d), provides for an appeal from the principal's decision to the school district's superintendent. The same section guarantees the appealing student's right to retain an attorney to appear at the appeal hearing: "The student has the right to counsel at a hearing before the superintendent." In Massachusetts, appeals from school discipline are more than just a paper submission. They permit a factual redetermination of the principal's findings. Indeed, the superintendent may even go beyond factual redeterminations to consider other matters. Under Mass. G.L. ch. 71, §37H(d), "[t]he subject matter of the appeal shall not be limited solely to a factual determination of whether the student has violated any provisions of this section."

The Attorney's Role in Disciplinary Placement Appeals

While an appeal may be your student's best route to overturning a Massachusetts disciplinary placement, don't attempt that appeal on your own without skilled and experienced school discipline defense attorney-advisor representation. An appeal requires an especially astute and strategic approach to presenting evidence and arguments. After all, a student takes an appeal only after losing the hearing before the school principal or other decision maker. The superintendent to whom the student appeals may prefer to defer to that decision maker. An appeal must thus ordinarily demonstrate compelling grounds to reverse the principal's decision. National school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento has the special skills and discernment for a winning appeal. Don't trust your student's appeal to a local criminal defense attorney or civil litigator who doesn't have academic administrative experience. Academic administrative appeals differ from court appeals and proceedings. Trust attorney Lento and the Lento Law Firm's student defense team with your student's appeal of high school disciplinary placement.

Massachusetts Alternative Education Programs

The Massachusetts Department of Education acknowledges that alternative education programs are generally for troubled students: "Alternative Education is … offered to 'at-risk' students in a nontraditional setting. 'At-risk' students may include those who are pregnant/parenting teens, truant students, and suspended or expelled students, returned dropouts, delinquent youth, or other students who are not meeting local promotional requirements." While these students certainly deserve educational services, and alternative education programs may provide those services, the population and services are not generally ones that a parent would choose over a traditional high school program. Traditional high school students often express an ambition for college or vocational school, jobs and careers, and marriage and family. Students in an alternative education program, and their earnest instructors, instead necessarily focus on overcoming the student's current besetting issues. The Department of Education lists the state's alternative education programs, the names of which typically include "Alternative," "Alt," "Extension," "Challenge," "Collaborative," "Gateway," "Opportunities," "Options," "Reach," "Recovery," or other signifiers that the school is for at-risk students. Alternative education may be necessary for some students. But few students would choose it to promote their educational and social ambitions.

Harm from Disciplinary Placement

Again, alternative education programs generally seek to do their best for the challenged, at-risk students whom they serve, with the limited resources on hand. But understand: the methods and practices that alternative education programs use can differ widely from traditional high school instruction. Your student won't generally have the support of student peers in a large and dynamic classroom setting. Alternative education programs necessarily develop individualized placement plans for each removed student. Each student tends to proceed at the student's own pace, presumably under the watchful eyes of diverse members of a multidisciplinary team. While the extraordinary structure and detailed requirements of those special programs may serve struggling students as well as possible, they can seem burdensome, even suffocating, to the student who was thriving in a traditional program. And even if the student persists through the alternative education program to graduation, the student's record will, one way or another, reflect the disciplinary placement. Colleges, universities, vocational programs, and employers generally ask about prior school discipline, which the student will have to disclose even if the academic record doesn't already reflect it. Don't underestimate the potential impact of disciplinary placement on your student. Instead, retain national school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento for your student's best defense.

Defending Massachusetts Disciplinary Placement

Massachusetts law guarantees due process to students facing disciplinary placement. Due process, in this case, means (1) notice to the student of the specific charges, (2) an opportunity for the student to contest the charges at a hearing before the school principal, and (3) the student's right to retain a skilled and experienced school discipline defense attorney to assist the student. For instance, for disciplinary charges involving weapons, drugs, violence, or crime, Mass. G.L. ch. 71, §37H(c) provides: "Any student who is charged with a violation of either paragraph (a) or (b) [the weapons, drugs, or violence sections] shall be notified in writing of an opportunity for a hearing; provided, however, that the student may have representation, along with the opportunity to present evidence and witnesses at said hearing before the principal." Other sections offer the same protections to students facing disciplinary placement on other grounds. Due process can mean all the difference to your student facing disciplinary placement. But due process isn't self-executing.

School Discipline Defense Attorney Services

Retain national school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to turn procedural protections into good outcomes. Notice of the specific charges gives your student the opportunity not only to evaluate the evidence against the student but also to identify, gather, and present exonerating and mitigating evidence. Your student's defense may, in other words, entail showing the school that the charges are wrong, with witnesses and documentation readily available to your student. Identifying, gathering, organizing, and presenting evidence is the skill of a trained and experienced school discipline defense attorney. If the disciplinary proceeding reaches the point of a formal appeal hearing before the superintendent, where Massachusetts law guarantees a right of cross-examination, preparing the questions for cross-examination is again the peculiar skill of a trained and experienced school discipline defense attorney. Even while exercising these strategic skills, attorney Lento would be communicating firmly and sensitively with school disciplinary officials. Keeping those lines of communication open for negotiation can often resolve a disciplinary matter before, during, or after a formal hearing. You can trust attorney Lento for your best defense because he has successfully defended hundreds of students facing disciplinary charges nationwide.

Alternative Special Relief

School disciplinary officials, including both the school principal and district superintendent, may take an unfortunately limited and harsh view of the disciplinary charges, resulting in inappropriate disciplinary placement. School districts, though, have oversight officials to correct bias, conflicts of interest, and other errors that school officials make from time to time, including in disciplinary proceedings. When oversight officials correct these errors, they can save schools from public embarrassment, internal strife, and the costs of litigation. School discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento has a national reputation and nationwide network of relationships with school general counsel offices, outside retained counsel, and other oversight officials. Attorney Lento knows how to reach out to those oversight officials to negotiate alternative special relief. Schools have broad interests in the education of all students, including the student who suffers discipline. Attorney Lento knows the creative options for compromise and remedial relief that schools may accept, to avoid disastrous disciplinary placement. With attorney Lento's special help, your student may gain reinstatement to your student's traditional high school program, even after your student has exhausted all hearings and appeals.

The Value of Effective School Discipline Defense

National school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento's defense services can have enormous value to your student. Students facing school discipline, and their concerned parents, tend to think in the shorter term. The embarrassment, concern, anxiety, and other emotion that false, unfair, or exaggerated disciplinary charges cause can cloud student and parent judgment, right when student and parent need to think clearly about the student's long-term interests. Those interests are substantial. High school can be such a critical time for young people, sending them on one life and career trajectory or another. Nothing can have a more positive impact on you and your student in these times than knowing that you have the best available school discipline defense attorney in your corner. Attorney Lento's swift, firm, sensitive, and strategic action may lead to prompt and full disciplinary relief, completely restoring your student's confidence in the future. If your student's disciplinary matter takes longer because of the nature of the charges, then attorney Lento's services become even more valuable in keeping your student moving forward on the best possible course. Most of us can look back on just a few critical life events that could have gone one way or another. Help your student persist and prevail through one of life's greater challenges.

Massachusetts High School Discipline Defense

National school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm's student defense team are available across Massachusetts to represent high school students in defense of disciplinary placement. Attorney Lento has successfully represented literally hundreds of students nationwide against all kinds of misconduct charges. In doing so, attorney Lento has developed the special knowledge and skills to discern the surest route to the best outcome in high school disciplinary proceedings. Defending and defeating high school disciplinary placement requires the inside knowledge and peculiar skills of a highly experienced school discipline defense attorney. Don't retain a local criminal attorney who, though skilled in defending criminal charges in local court proceedings, lacks experience in the very different academic administrative proceedings. Court proceedings involve litigation skills, not academic administrative skills. Instead, retain attorney Lento for his vast academic administrative experience. Attorney Lento knows how to walk the academic walk and talk the academic talk. He knows the available options for win-win resolutions. Trust attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm's student defense team for your student's best high school disciplinary placement defense. You won't regret retaining attorney Lento. Call 888-535-3686 or go online now.

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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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