Avoiding Disciplinary Placement in the New Jersey High School System

Disciplinary placement in what New Jersey calls an alternative education program can be a high school student's worst nightmare. They may not call it reform school anymore, but that's what it can look like. New Jersey sends high school students to alternative education programs when they have a substance use disorder or dependency, commit violent assaults on a teacher or student, carry a firearm onto school premises, or suffer conviction for crimes or juvenile offenses involving firearms. Students can also end up in a New Jersey alternative education program when their school kicks them out for other misconduct or simply cannot help them advance through the education program. That's not the student population or school you would choose for your New Jersey high school student. Don't let your New Jersey high school student fall into an alternative education program. If your student faces misconduct charges or other disciplinary proceedings, retain New Jersey high school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm's student defense team. Get your student the attorney defense help your student needs to preserve the traditional school placement, whether at a public or private high school. Your student's future depends on it.

New Jersey Authority to Discipline Students

New Jersey law authorizes high schools to progressively discipline students right up to suspension, expulsion, and disciplinary placement. Chapter 16 of New Jersey Admin. Code 6A addresses Programs to Support Student Development. Supporting student development sounds good, but the Code's subchapter 7 instead authorizes student discipline. Under N.J. Admin. Code 6A:16-7.1, each school district must "develop, adopt, disseminate, and implement a code of student conduct that establishes standards, policies, and procedures for … student behavioral expectations on school grounds and, as appropriate, for conduct away from school grounds." These codes of student conduct are supposed to protect student safety. But N.J. Admin. Code 6A:16-7.1 also requires that the school codes "establish parameters for the intervention and remediation of problem student behaviors…." and "school responses to violations of the code of student conduct…." For some students, that means punishment. N.J. Admin. Code Sections 6A:16-7.1, 7.2, 7.3, and 7.4 specifically provide for short-term suspension, long-term suspension, and expulsion of students not meeting code standards.

New Jersey Alternative Education Programs

When a New Jersey high school determines to suspend a student long term or expel the student, disciplinary placement in an alternative education program is likely. N.J. Admin. Code 18A:35-30 authorizes the school district to establish two kinds of alternative education programs. The first kind is "to address the individual learning, behavior, and health needs of students who are not succeeding in a general education program or who have been mandated for removal from general education." Failing students and students suffering from school discipline get sent to these alternative education programs. The second kind, though, "serves students diagnosed with substance use disorder or dependency" under psychiatric standards. New Jersey calls this second kind of program a recovery high school alternative education program. So, New Jersey sends not only failing students and students suffering discipline for school misconduct, but also students exhibiting alcohol and drug abuse issues, to alternative education programs. If your New Jersey high school student faces misconduct charges in a disciplinary proceeding, your student risks getting sent to an alternative education program.

New Jersey Disciplinary Placement Patterns

New Jersey publishes limited data on high school suspensions, expulsions, and disciplinary placements. But data from a state Department of Education annual report shows a very high risk of suspension. New Jersey's schools suspend about 55,000 students each year, which is about four percent of the total student population. That means that for every classroom of about twenty-five students, one of those students suffers suspension. While some of those suspensions will be short term, others will be long term or result in expulsion. The Department of Education data shows well over one-thousand students each year moved to alternative education programs. One press report noted that those figures reflect an alarming increase in discipline. New Jersey school discipline also disproportionately affects minority students. Nearly one out of ten New Jersey African-American students suffers suspension. If your New Jersey high school student faces disciplinary proceedings, take those proceedings seriously. Retain school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento to preserve your student's traditional school placement. Don't let your student become another sad statistic.

New Jersey Disciplinary Placement Grounds

Disciplinary placement isn't ordinarily a sure thing, whenever a high school charges a student with misconduct. Instead, in the ordinary case, New Jersey law grants substantial discretion to the school district's board whether to remove the student from the traditional school to place the student in an alternative education program. Under N.J. Admin. Code 6A:16-9.3, the board need only base its decision on "the student's academic, health and behavioral records," consultation with the student's parents, and any multidisciplinary school team responsible for providing special services. In other words, it is often up to the board what to do with the student accused of misconduct. The board's discretion in many cases highlights the value of retaining a skilled and experienced school discipline defense attorney. Aggressive, strategic, and sensitive advocacy can make all the difference in your student's outcome. New Jersey school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento has the extensive knowledge, skills, and experience your student needs for the best outcome.

Mandated New Jersey Disciplinary Placement

The above laws give a New Jersey high school the discretion to remove students who violate their student code of conduct and to place the removed student in an alternative education program. In some cases, though, New Jersey law restricts the high school's discretion whether to retain the accused student or remove the student to an alternative education program. Mandated disciplinary placement is an even greater risk in these cases. Under N.J. Admin. Code 18A:37-2.2, the high school must remove any student who assaults another student, a teacher, or another school employee, with a weapon, on any school property, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored function. The school must place the removed student in an alternative education program. Likewise, under N.J. Admin. Code 18A:37-8, the high school must remove any student criminally convicted or adjudicated delinquent for possession of a firearm or a crime while armed with a firearm, or knowingly in possession of a firearm on any school property, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored function. Once again, the school must place the removed student in an alternative education program. Because high school disciplinary officials have no discretion to retain these students, the student must effectively defend and defeat the disciplinary charges up front. Retain school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento for your student's most aggressive and effective defense.

Disciplinary Placement Isn't Like Traditional School

New Jersey alternative education programs don't generally look like traditional high school programs. Indeed, New Jersey law requires that alternative education programs have a different look and feel. N.J. Admin. Code 6A:16-1.3 requires that alternative education programs "provide a variety of approaches to meet the State-adopted standards, such as, through non-traditional programs, services, and methodologies…." Under N.J. Admin. Code 6A:16-9.1, the agency operating an alternative education program must keep the program separate and distinct from any other program. Under N.J. Admin. Code 6A:16-9.2, the alternative program must develop an Individualized Program Plan for each student, providing for specialized services. And once in the program, the student must remain there for at least two complete marking terms. Under N.J. Admin. Code 18A:37-11, the student may not return to the student's traditional school unless and until the school's chief officer approves. Students generally find it far better to remain in their traditional program than to suffer removal and have to fight for return.

New Jersey Alternative Education Schools

New Jersey's Department of Education Alternative Education Unit maintains a list of the state's alternative education schools in each county. Many of the schools include "Alternative" in their name, while other schools identify their distinct disciplinary nature by including "Auxiliary," "Initiative," or "Academy" in their name. Some alternative schools, particularly the Project Teach schools, focus on serving pregnant and parenting students. Other alternative schools focus on serving removed students with special needs. Other alternative schools admit that they serve students who have shown "a consistent pattern of maladjusted or inappropriate behavior within the school setting" or "are having difficulty in [the] traditional high school setting due to discipline, academic or attendance problems." Under N.J. Admin. Code 6A:16-9.3, if the school district doesn't maintain an appropriate alternative education program, the district may send the removed student to another district's program. Surely, these schools provide necessary educational services within their budgets and their staff members' abilities. But once again, an alternative education program is very likely not your New Jersey high school student's preference or goal. Retain school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento to ensure that your student has the best chance to remain in your student's traditional New Jersey high school.

The Harmful Impact of Disciplinary Placement

Some students and parents don't initially understand the potential harmful impacts of disciplinary placement. The educational methods, resources, and personnel in alternative education programs can all be starkly different from those in the traditional high school. Different doesn't necessarily mean worse. But your student may have come to depend heavily on the instructional methods and teacher and peer relationships in your student's traditional school. And even if the educational services remain roughly the same in their form and quality, the school settings, expectations, and reputations are necessarily different. Student goals in traditional high schools usually have to do with graduating into college or vocational programs, and jobs, families, and careers. Student goals in alternative education programs necessarily have to do first with overcoming the behavioral, criminal, sexual, academic, or other misconduct that led to the disciplinary placement. Student disciplinary placement is obvious from the student's high school record but also something the student must usually disclose. Disciplinary placement can close the door to preferred colleges and universities, and even to vocational programs, jobs, and careers. Disciplinary placement can also inhibit or destroy student relationships, with short and long-term impacts on social development and reputation. Disciplinary placement is no small matter. Don't underestimate its mental, emotional, social, developmental, and other impacts.

Grounds for New Jersey High School Discipline

The state Department of Education annual report cited above includes statistics for the grounds on which New Jersey schools discipline students. There are many types of high school disciplinary violations. Nearly half of the tens of thousands of reported annual incidents involve some form of alleged violent misbehavior including fights, assaults, sexual assaults and contacts, threats and extortion, and robbery. Another quarter of the alleged incidents involve harassment, intimidation, or bullying. New Jersey reports a similar number of incidents involving substance abuse. Vandalism and weapons offenses make up smaller but still-significant percentages of New Jersey school discipline cases. Weapons are most often knives or blades but also include sprays, pellet or air guns, and in a small number of cases handguns. Vandalism cases include property damage, theft, false fire alarms, trespassing, arson, and computer hacking. Marijuana is by far the most commonly misused substance leading to a disciplinary charge, although alcohol and unauthorized over-the-counter drugs are other relatively commonly misused substances, with many fewer cases involving hard street drugs like cocaine or crack and heroin. To punish students for these and other offenses, New Jersey high schools commonly publish student codes of conduct listing these offenses, found in the Jersey City Public Schools student code of conduct:

  • excessive absences, tardiness, and other attendance issues;
  • violations of school dress code;
  • chronic disruption of class;
  • plagiarism, cheating, and other forms of academic misconduct;
  • fighting, assault, and sexual assault;
  • bomb threats and other terroristic threats;
  • gambling;
  • vandalism, tampering with or destroying property, and arson;
  • trespassing;
  • indecent exposure and possession of pornography;
  • theft, robbery, and extortion;
  • misuse of cell phones and other personal electronic devices;
  • harassment, intimidation, and bullying;
  • sexting and other privacy violations and technology misuse;
  • alcohol, drug, or other substance abuse; and
  • firearms and other weapons on school property or at school events.

Facing New Jersey High School Disciplinary Placement

Fortunately, if your New Jersey high school student faces misconduct charges that could lead to disciplinary placement, your student has important procedural rights. Those rights give your student a fair chance to defend and defeat false, unfair, or exaggerated charges, when you retain New Jersey school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento to invoke those rights. N.J. Admin. Code 6A:16-7.1, 7.3, and 7.4 together provide that for any long-term suspension or expulsion, including those that would promptly lead to disciplinary placement, the district's school board must provide the accused student and the student's parents each of the following:

  • notice of the specific charges against the student that could result in removal;
  • a description of the facts on which the school bases the charges;
  • before a temporary suspension, an informal hearing at which the student may present the student's side of the story;
  • a formal hearing before the school district's board, at which the student and parents may attend to present evidence in the student's defense;
  • before the formal hearing, a list of the school's witnesses against the student together with their statements;
  • at the hearing, the opportunity to confront and cross-examine witnesses against the student;
  • notification that the student may retain a school discipline defense attorney to assist the student and parents in the student's defense;
  • a written decision on the charges describing the evidence on which the board based any findings against the student; and
  • the right to appeal any adverse findings of the board.

School Discipline Defense Attorney Services

The above procedural rights create many opportunities for your retained school discipline defense attorney to preserve your student's education in the traditional high school setting and to avoid disciplinary placement. New Jersey school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento knows how to put these procedures to your student's strategic use. At first notice of the charges, attorney Lento can help you and your student identify and gather exonerating and mitigating evidence to present to school officials, even before the proceeding fully commences. A thorough response to the charges, together with firm but sensitive and creative negotiation, can lead to the dismissal of the charges. Even when the charges have a factual basis, attorney Lento has shown many school officials that compromise measures, rather than disciplinary placement, are in the best interest of the school and student. If the matter proceeds to a formal hearing, attorney Lento can help you and your student identify, prepare, and call favorable witnesses, while preparing an effective cross-examination of adverse witnesses. High school disciplinary proceedings are administrative in nature, not actual court actions. But they have some of the characteristics of formal litigation, for which attorney Lento has the special skills and experience.

Appealing New Jersey Disciplinary Placement

Sometimes, parents do not initially understand and appreciate the risk of a long-term suspension or expulsion and disciplinary placement until it has already happened. Sometimes, parents proceed without skilled and experienced school discipline defense attorney representation and, without that critical help, see their student suffer disciplinary placement. If that's you, don't give up. In those instances, an appeal may lead to relief and reinstatement. N.J. Admin. Code 6A:16-7.4 and related sections guarantee the student's right to appeal an adverse decision resulting in long-term suspension or expulsion, resulting in disciplinary placement. The Code's appeal guarantee incorporates the appeal procedures of N.J. Admin. Code 6A:3-1.3 through 1.17. Those procedures permit your retained school discipline defense attorney to obtain a hearing transcript, review the transcript for reversible error, and prepare and present an appeal brief for the state Commissioner of Education's consideration. In short, your student gets a second chance for a better decision before an independent decision maker. Academic administrative appeals, though, require the special skills of an experienced school discipline defense attorney. Retain New Jersey school discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento for your student's appeal.

Alternative Special Relief from Disciplinary Placement

Even if your student has exhausted and lost all hearings and appeals, you may have yet another avenue for special relief to preserve your student's traditional school placement. School discipline defense attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully represented hundreds of students nationwide against false, unfair, and exaggerated misconduct charges. That extensive experience has earned attorney Lento a national reputation and given him a national network of contacts and relationships with school officials and school attorneys. School districts generally have a counsel's office, ombuds office, or outside retained counsel to ensure that the school complies with all legal and equitable obligations. Those oversight officials generally have the authority to overturn inappropriate actions by other school officials, to avoid litigation and ensure public confidence and respect. If your student has suffered an unfair disciplinary placement, attorney Lento may be able to negotiate your student's return to the traditional school program, through attorney Lento's oversight contacts. Don't give up until the full fight is over. Your student's education and future are worth pursuing every avenue.

New Jersey School Discipline Defense Attorney

Although he has earned a national reputation and conducts a national school discipline defense practice, attorney Joseph D. Lento maintains an office and has attorney licensure in New Jersey. No matter the location of your student's New Jersey high school, or the misconduct the school alleges your student committed, attorney Lento is available to help your student defend and defeat the charges. Attorney Lento knows the customs, practices, and interests of New Jersey high school disciplinary officials. Those officials likely know, or will surely soon learn, attorney Lento's passionate commitment to and national reputation for student defense. Don't hire an unqualified local criminal defense attorney for your student's school disciplinary proceeding. Instead, trust a school discipline defense attorney who has successfully represented hundreds of students at all levels across New Jersey and nationwide. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm's student defense team are available anywhere in New Jersey for your student's defense. 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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