Avoiding Disciplinary Placement in the New Hampshire High School System

Students enrolled in New Hampshire's education system are presented with a myriad of challenges. Schools assess students through rigorous academic trials, from group-based assignments and standardized tests to semester-long research projects and oral exams. Dedicated parents are committed to assisting their student children throughout their time in the school system. While they may be able to help with schoolwork or peer relationships, they may not understand how to administer aid when misconduct allegations arise.

Schools are increasingly moving toward zero-tolerance disciplinary policies, and how they address rule violations are constantly in flux. Misconduct that may have been handled by a stern lecture from a school official or a phone call home from the principal's office is likely to garner exclusionary corrective action such as:

  • Emergency interventions
  • Out-of-school suspensions
  • Expulsions
  • Change in education placement to an alternative program

Regardless of if you want your child to reach their goals of enrolling in college, building a business, or joining a civil service program, any of the aforementioned punishments can hinder their chances. Many colleges and universities pay close attention to an applicant's character. If students have struggled with misconduct addressed via suspensions, expulsions, or an alternative program, it will impact the admissions board's decision.

While parents rely on New Hampshire's exceptional school system to teach their children, it can also become the reason their graduation goals are shattered. New Hampshire schools face growing pressure in the public eye and commitments tied to government funding programs, and they commonly place the institution's reputation above a student's rehabilitation. Consequently, honest, goal-oriented students are threatened with harsh consequences. The unfair treatment they may very well experience can categorize them as troublemakers when, as a parent, you know that couldn't be further from the truth.

It's crucial that you understand how New Hampshire school districts address misconduct. Parents must be prepared when misconduct allegations are clear and present, and the steps they should take to defend their student children.

Alternative Programs in New Hampshire

Suspensions and expulsions are fairly straightforward insofar as they are short-term or long-term separations from school. However, alternative programs may not be as familiar to parents.

The New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated (RSA) §193:13 states that school districts and chartered public schools must establish procedures to ensure suspended or expelled students have access to education during their separation. Students will be remanded to an alternative program if they are suspended for more than ten school days in any school year.

Alternative programs provide students "the majority of" their instruction methods designed to address their needs stemming from at-risk qualifiers, according to the New Hampshire Code of Administrative Rules of Education (N.H. Code Admin. R. Ed) §306.21. For example, alternative programs may be pursued to address the following:

  • Habitual truancy
  • Potential dropouts
  • Recurrent behavioral issues
  • Students with disabilities

Programs must comply with the requirements of N.H. Code Admin. R. Ed §306.18 regarding hours of instructional time, standardized tests, and break periods, among others. While alternative programs are beneficial for some students to change their negative behavior patterns and return to their traditional school environment, not all achieve rehabilitation. Frequently, the behavior that initiated a student's change in placement is reinforced during their alternative program tenure. Students may also be mischaracterized for their alleged misconduct and sent to an alternative program under false pretenses. Besides, since alternative programs are an exclusionary measure of corrective action, the public may be unaware of potential issues within the programs.

Even though AEPs must follow guidelines backed by legislative directives carried out by the New Hampshire Department of Education (NHDOE), they can still present problems. For instance, individual alternative programs may be at risk of:

  • A lack of student support resources
  • Insufficient teaching methods
  • In-house behavior or social issues
  • Outdated curricula

While a student may be placed in an alternative program for a first-time offense, their time of exclusionary punishment can brand them a delinquent, raising the risk of the student being subject to unfair treatment from the school administration, teachers, and peers. Although there are steps to returning to the normal learning environment, there is no guarantee for reintegration. Alternative programs may even cause emergent personal challenges that inhibit further academic performance and lead to dire consequences down the road that will plague them upon graduation. If your child faces a change in placement as a punishment, it's important that you contact student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm immediately.

Student Codes of Conduct for School Discipline in New Hampshire

Through NHDOE regulations by the direction of the state legislature, each district school board must create and adopt a code of conduct. The code of conduct will include all the information a parent needs about the school's mission and vision, academic requirements for graduation, and prohibited student behavior. Each school district must distribute the code of conduct to each student, during matriculation or after advancing to the next grade. Students and their parents or guardians are typically asked to sign a statement explaining they have received the code of conduct. This means that ignorance is not a defense in student disciplinary matters.

RSA 193-D:2 states that the code of conduct must also include the procedures governing disciplinary proceedings that "assur[e] due process." However, it's important to note that hearings to address student misconduct are not courts of law. Therefore, while schools may purport to uphold a student's right to due process, it may not be reliable security.

In any case, the code of conduct is a parent's first line of defense when misconduct allegations arise. Although students face harsh repercussions in institutions with zero-tolerance disciplinary policies, school districts cannot arbitrarily investigate claims and levy sanctions. Each school district may vary in what it details in its code of conduct, but some universal prohibitions that will garner sanction are but are not limited to:

  • Academic misconduct (cheating, plagiarism, multiple submissions, unauthorized collaboration)
  • Computer and network misuse
  • Title IX offenses (sexual assault, gender discrimination, harassment)
  • Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Violent acts against students, teachers, or staff members
  • Weapons or replicas on the school premises

Although the code of conduct at any New Hampshire school summarizes the processes of identifying and addressing misconduct through the investigative, hearing, and sanctioning stages, some violations may be managed on a case-by-case basis. The unintended consequences of oversight left to a handful of school administration officials can mean that not only the alleged misconduct is punished, but the student's character.

Even if a student has a minor misconduct charge on their record, like disrupting the class by talking out of turn, it can cause them to suffer excessive punishments if the school establishes a pattern of recurrent misbehavior through an additional trivial infraction. Disciplinary boards may use an initial fault to substantiate a second, thus facilitating removal from school to an alternative program. Bias is a genuine concern for parents of students facing a school's punitive body. Moreover, conflicts of interest may be present when your student child is investigated for misconduct. Schools have guidelines for disciplinary board members recusing themselves in such situations, but the fact that protecting the institution's reputation often comes first, it's also no guarantee.

Given the turbulence of adolescence, there are regularly extenuating circumstances that lead students off course from their academic goals. From family emergencies to social challenges, a student's obstacles in life can end up unfairly punished at school. Relocating students away from their typical learning environment isn't efficient in rehabilitating a student in need. Even though parents are willing to stand by their student children in times of duress, they may be unaware of how schools can remove them before they're informed.

Emergency Removals in New Hampshire Schools

Under certain circumstances, New Hampshire students may be subject to emergency removals. RSA 627:6 states that "physical force" may be used by "persons with special responsibilities," including but not limited to teachers or others "entrusted with the care or supervision of a minor." Restraint and seclusion can be used in the following situations:

  • When a student creates a disturbance in the learning environment
  • The student refuses to leave the school premises
  • When the school deems it necessary for the maintenance of discipline

There are limitations on the nature of restraint and seclusion, however. RSA 126-U:5 explains that restraint may only be used in a school to ensure the "immediate physical safety" of students and staff members wherein a student presents a "substantial and imminent risk of serious bodily harm" to themselves, other students, or damage to school property. Restraint may never be used explicitly or implicitly as punishment for a student's behavior. Moreover, seclusion may not be used to punish or discipline and must cease once the "danger has dissipated." RSA 126-U:5-a states that seclusion cannot be used in a manner that unnecessarily subjects the student to the risk of ridicule, humiliation, or emotional or physical harm.

Pursuant to RSA 126-U:7, the school must make "reasonable efforts" to "verbally notify" a student's parents or guardian whenever seclusion or restraint has been used no later than the time of the return of the child to the parent or guardian or by the end of the business day.

Suspensions and Expulsions in New Hampshire Schools

New Hampshire schools will detail in their codes of conduct the various forms of misconduct that can lead to a separation from studies through suspension or expulsion. According to RSA 193:13, only a school district superintendent, chartered public school director, or a representative thereof may suspend a student from school for a period not to exceed ten consecutive school days for:

  1. Behavior deemed detrimental to the health, safety, or welfare of the student or school personnel
  2. Repeated and willful disregard of the reasonable school rules
  3. Physical or sexual assault that would be a felony if committed by an adult
  4. Criminal threats under RSA 631:4, II(a)
  5. Acts of violence under RSA 651:5, XIII

Students who bring or possess a firearm as defined in the United States Code Title 18, §921 without written authorization from the superintendent will be expelled from school for a period of not less than 12 months. Initially, the student will be suspended for a period of ten school days pending a school board hearing, and if the student is in violation, they will be subject to expulsion.

Any time a student is removed from school via an emergency intervention, subject to seclusion, or separated from studies through an out-of-school suspension for more than ten days in a school year or is threatened with expulsion, the school may seek to place them in an alternative program.

New Hampshire's Alternative Program Placement Process

When an alternative program is sought through N.H. Code Admin. R. Ed §306.21, the school district must perform a manifestation determination review (MDR). An MDR conducted by the MDR team will determine if a student's disability caused an instance of misconduct or a pattern of misbehavior. Students with disabilities are supported under Section 504 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and must have an individualized education plan (IEP) to continue their studies.

The investigation will include the student, their parent or guardian, staff and faculty familiar with the student, and the district's special education staff. The MDR team, sometimes called an IEP team, will review the student's information and record to understand a possible connection between misconduct, an emergency with a disability, or the school's failure to implement the IEP assistance. If your child has regular contact with a doctor, counselor, psychiatrist, or other healthcare professional, they should be present at the meeting. Some disabilities that may permit the establishment of an IEP include but are not limited to:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism
  • Chronic emotional distress
  • Hearing impairment
  • Learning disabilities
  • Physical limitations
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Vision damage

The MDR team may determine that a disability caused the student's sanctioned misconduct or that the school district failed to carry out the student's IEP properly. In that case, the student may immediately return to school with a created or updated IEP. Yet, if no disability is uncovered or the school's original procedures are adhered to, the student will be sent to an alternative program.

Challenging the MDR Process

Parents of students relocated to alternative programs have an opportunity to defend their children against unfair discipline. When parents seek to challenge an MDR, stipulations of a student's IEP or any MDR team findings, a written complaint may be filed to the NHDOE or the New Hampshire State Board of Education (NHSBE).

In most instances, informal dispute resolution options can be a good starting point to resolve disputes. The following four are supported by the NHDOE:

  1. Proving new or additional information to the IEP team: The IEP team considers any further information, along with existing knowledge, to make an informed decision.
  2. Requesting another IEP team meeting: The IEP team uses the additional meeting to understand further, discuss, and consider the options available.
  3. Third-party moderated discussion: A moderator listens to each party's perspective of the dispute and clarifies or offers options to consider to resolve the dispute.
  4. Facilitated team meeting: Both parties work with a facilitator to reach an agreement.

If informal means fail to provide a solution both parties agree on, the NHDOE states the following five formal avenues of relief are available to parents are their students:

  1. Neutral conference: Provides a third party to review the situation and present a non-binding resolution.
  2. Due process complaint: A formal means for parents and local education agencies (LEAs) to resolve disputes.
  3. Resolution session: Allows LEAs to settle the dispute outside of a due process hearing.
  4. Mediation: Provides an alternative to a due process hearing in which the parties can reach a binding, court-supported agreement.
  5. State complaint: Supports a means for alleged violations to be investigated and, as warranted, corrective action ordered against LEAs.

Parents, LEAs, or IEP teams aggrieved by a decision may appeal to the NHSBE for review in accordance with N.H. Code Admin. R. Ed §200. Appeals must be filed within 30 days of receipt of the local school board's decision or within seven days after any alternative dispute resolution that did not produce an agreement with the parties.

Protecting Your Child from New Hampshire Alternative Programs

Placement in an alternative program can immensely impact a student's academic career and future opportunities. Considering the harsh repercussions stemming from alternative programs, there is a significant possibility your student child will be classified as a perennial offender when attempting to enroll in college or secure a job after graduation. Parents have a greater chance of stopping their children from alternative programs if they remain engaged during the process.

When you become aware of a disciplinary issue, it's critical to do the following:

  • Contact the school immediately. Write down as much information as possible and keep a record of all contacts.
  • Speak with your child about the incident and assist them in writing down what they remember, including communications with students, teachers, and administration officials.
  • Call student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento to begin working with you on a strategy to help your child.
  • Continue to gather relevant evidence. This could be emails, photos, text messages, social media posts, and transcriptions from verbal contacts.
  • Consult the school's code of conduct to understand how the disciplinary process may proceed.

How Student Defense Advisor Joseph D. Lento Can Keep Your Child Out of an Alternative Program

When an alternative program is a possible remedial course of action, you need proven, professional help from a student defense advisor. While you may think an attorney will provide your student child with relief, consider the following situation.

Typically, lawyers will tout their experience in the courtroom, arguing cases before a judge and persuading a jury with evidence on behalf of their client. When the outcome of an expensive lawsuit is on the line, even the slightest misstep can derail the case; therefore, lawyers are often aggressive in their tactics, attempting to ensure the best outcome. While that may sound like the perfect person to have to defend your child, it can often backfire.

Litigation is rarely necessary to keep a student out of an alternative program. Threatening big-ticket lawsuits mainly benefit the legal representative, not the student. Additionally, court proceedings can make the situation much more stressful for the student and their parent or guardian. Moreover, school disciplinary meetings are distinct from a court of law. The skills used to arbitrate are much different than those required in discussions with school administration officials. Parents need a professional they can count on to help their student children throughout the school grievance process and subsequent MDR proceedings, not excessive legal strategies.

During his years as an education attorney, Joseph D. Lento has developed beneficial relationships with members of schools' Office of General Counsel in school districts across New Hampshire and the U.S. This implies the following:

  • Parents have peace of mind that a knowledgeable attorney will understand how the school will proceed with its disciplinary measures.
  • A student is kept out of the courtroom and away from unnecessary stress.
  • Parents don't have to rely on mediating through various NHSBE procedures.
  • Students can remain intact with their traditional means of study.

Retaining a student defense advisor will guarantee you're aware of the timeframes for notices of hearings, the investigation process, and how to appeal, even if the situation goes to the NHDOE or NHSBE. Parents will discover that effective representation can end a disciplinary crisis quickly with the student's best interests in mind.

Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have assisted New Hampshire students in countless disciplinary circumstances. The confidence he gives clients allows them to stand up to their school's burdensome disciplinary boards. Protect your student child's rights with a team staffed with the knowledge necessary to support you through challenging situations. Contact the Lento Law Firm today by calling 888-535-3686 or visiting the online consultation form.

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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