Avoiding Disciplinary Placement in the South Dakota High School System

Schools in South Dakota provide students with the education they need to become successful, upstanding members of society. In their parents, adolescents have a strong support network to achieve their goals of enrolling in college or starting a career upon graduation. Parents understand that their student children will be challenged through a series of demanding academic tasks. While they must complete individual assignments, group projects, and even community service requirements, they will add up to a valuable diploma.

Students must also abide by an institution's guidelines governing behavior in class and at all school-sponsored events in their journey toward graduation. While they may be concerned with achieving good grades or participating in extracurricular activities, their conduct in the educational environment is one of the most important factors to consider. When applying to colleges and universities or submitting applications for corporate opportunities, admission board personnel and human resources representatives will take the applicant's character into account. Personality assessments are critical in secondary school and beyond, but the ways in which they can be affected may not be prioritized as high as test scores, grades, and degrees.

Parents may believe their trustworthy children have nothing to worry about aside from working diligently on homework and studying for tests. However, misconduct allegations can quickly put an end to a promising future.

As schools nationwide move toward instituting zero-tolerance disciplinary policies, even the most minor misconduct can snowball into harsh punishments. Rule infractions that were handled through amicable negotiations with administration officials and phone calls home from the school principal in the past are now increasingly addressed through separation from studies, including:

  • Out-of-school suspension
  • Seclusion and restraint
  • Emergency interventions
  • Expulsion
  • Placement in an interim alternative educational setting (IAES)

Schools of any caliber must constantly uphold their public reputations, and the obligations required to maintain government funding both cause institutions to act swiftly and sometimes severely when misconduct allegations arise. The growing pains of adolescence may cause students to misstep because of peer pressure, overwhelming academic loads, and the stress of succeeding. Unfortunately, at a time when students need positive-minded guidance, they are taken out of their everyday environment and forced to adapt to an unconventional educational placement as a disciplinary measure.

When your child is threatened with severe consequences because of misconduct allegations, unfair treatment can categorize them as perennial offenders. Such labeling can hurt them for years to come. Considering the repercussions of punitive school measures, it's imperative that you understand how school districts handle misconduct.

Avoiding Alternative Education Settings in South Dakota

Punishments like suspension and expulsions may be clearly understood by students and their parents as they address the most severe rule infractions. Yet, they aren't the only disciplinary measures South Dakota schools have in their cache of corrective action. One option for frequently misbehaved students is to place them in an IAES.

Many states have pages of legislation of administrative codes that clearly define what alternative learning programs are, what they offer to at-risk students, and their governance by state laws under the education department's purview. However, some states—typically those with sparse populations—do not support statewide policies for establishing official alternative learning programs. The Administrative Rules of South Dakota (ARSD) §24:55:01:01 only states that “alternative school[s]” are any “programs outside of the traditional setting whereby students receive instruction as an extension of the regular or traditional school environment.”

Although talking out of turn during class may not be a guaranteed way for your child to be sent to an IAES, it can be the foundation on which the school may substantiate a student's removal. IAESs are used to protect students and those around them against patterns of misbehavior detracting from the learning environment. ARSD §24:05:26:08.01 explains that IAESs address infractions involving, but not limited to:

  1. A student that carries a weapon to or possesses a weapon.
  2. A student knowingly possesses or uses illegal drugs or sells or solicits the sale of a controlled substance.
  3. A student has inflicted serious bodily injury upon another person.

If any of the above occur, school personnel may remove a student to an appropriate IAES for no longer than 45 school days. While alternative settings may be a helpful foundation for some students to help turn the tides on their patterns of negative behavior, for many, it may cause additional issues. Behaviors that triggered a student's change in placement are often reinforced during their time in an IAES. Moreover, since alternative settings are perceived as an exclusionary means of remediation and those in South Dakota are not clearly defined, problems within the programs are not as open to public scrutiny as traditional schools would be.

Considering the vagueness of IAES, some placements students could face are:

  • Distance learning courses
  • Work-study programs
  • Homeschooling
  • Detention-style educational programs

Placement in a South Dakota IAES can brand your child a delinquent. The ensuing response from peers and teachers could lead to unjust treatment. If you envision your student child attending college to become a doctor, engineer, lawyer, or teacher, an IAES can inhibit their progress by not providing the necessary resources they need to succeed. If your child faces a South Dakota school disciplinary proceeding, act now and call student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm.

Student Codes of Conduct for School Discipline in South Dakota

Typically, a state's legislature and department of education grants authority to local school boards to create and implement disciplinary codes governing the school community. These behavioral codes are sometimes referred to as:

  • Codes of conduct
  • Honor codes
  • Student handbooks

The purpose of the student discipline code is to foster a positive environment that promotes learning. These written rules outline how students, faculty, and staff behave and include the numerous academic thresholds students must meet at a pre-determined rate to fulfill their obligations to graduate with a diploma. Each student and their parent or guardian must be provided with the school's disciplinary code upon enrollment or advancement to the next grade. Parents will likely have to sign a page in the code demonstrating they and their student children are aware of the information therein.

South Dakota approaches student discipline differently. South Dakota Code (SD Code) §13-32-1 explains that “superintendents, principals, supervisors, and teachers have disciplinary authority over all students.” This provision applies to any action in school or any school-sponsored activities on or off school premises. Irrespective of how a school may address misconduct, it should be detailed in the code of conduct or other student information system.

Although each school may vary slightly in what it includes in its student discipline code, some universal prohibitions in addition to the aforementioned misconduct are:

  • Academic dishonesty (cheating, plagiarism, unauthorized collaboration)
  • Bullying/cyberbullying
  • Classroom disruptions (persistent nuisances affecting the teacher or classroom at-large)
  • Computer and school online network misuse
  • Title IX offenses (sexual assault, gender discrimination, harassment)
  • Theft
  • Truancy
  • Vandalism

Although there are typically straightforward processes in identifying and addressing misconduct, violations may be handled on a case-by-case basis considering South Dakota's approach to discipline. Because of this, not only is the alleged misconduct punished, but so is the student's past record. Therefore, disciplinary boards may hand out excessive punishments due to bias or a conflict of interest. Administrators can even impose penalties without understanding how or why they could have occurred.

Suspension and Expulsions in South Dakota Schools

Local school districts and their boards will be involved in the student disciplinary process. SD Code §13-32-4 states that the school board of every school district “shall assist and cooperate with the administration and teachers in the government and discipline of the schools.”

The board may suspend or expel any student for violating the school's rules or policies or for “insubordination or misconduct.” Also, the superintendent or principal in charge of the school may temporarily suspend any student per SD Code §13-32-4.2. Even though periods of expulsion may extend beyond the semester in which the misconduct occurred, the SD Code outlines limitations on various exclusionary policies:

  • Any expulsion for consumption or possession of alcoholic beverages may not extend beyond 90 school days
  • If a student has intentionally brought a firearm onto school premises, the expulsion may not be less than 12 months

The South Dakota Department of Education (SDDOE) shall transmit rules to establish administrative due process procedures to protect students' rights. Schools must give notice of a student's due process rights to their parent or guardian at the time of suspension or expulsion.

When suspensions extend past the maximum of ten consecutive school days, there will be a meeting between the student and the school board. Critically, each party may retain professional representation to assist them through the process. ARSD §24:05:26.01:05 explains that the hearing process will proceed as follows:

  1. The student (respondent) and principal, superintendent, or school administration representative (complainant) may make an opening statement to the hearing panel.
  2. Each party may introduce evidence, present witnesses, and cross-examine witnesses.
  3. Complainants and respondents may make “legal objections” to the evidence provided.
  4. The hearing officer may question witnesses or allow other school board members on the hearing panel to request additional information from any witnesses or parties.
  5. Each party will make a closing statement.

After the hearing, the panel will convene an executive session to deliberate the outcome. The student must then be given a notice stating the length of the expulsion. ARSD §24:05:26.01:05 provides that students may appeal an “adverse decision” by the school board to the circuit court.

ARSD §24:05:26:08.02 details that the hearing officer may decide to:

  • Return the student to the placement from which they were removed if the student's behavior was a manifestation of the student's disability
  • Order a change of placement of the disabled student to an IAES for no more than 45 school days if it's determined that maintaining the student's current placement is “substantially likely” to result in injury to the student or others

Relocating students away from their usual learning environment—even temporarily—isn't an effective reform tactic to rehabilitate a student in need. Fortunately, a student defense advisor can represent your child against aggressive moves from a school administration or school board.

Manifestation Determination Review

When students are suspended from school longer than ten consecutive days in any school year, or the school seeks to place a student in an IAES, the school board must conduct a Manifestation Determination Review (MDR).

An MDR determines whether a student's sanctioned behavior—regardless of the severity—was caused by 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. If the student does not have a disability filed with the school, the review may unearth one. Subsequently, actions will be taken to provide the student with an IEP.

Suppose a student needing special education or special education-related services pursuant to South Dakota Codified Laws §13-37-1 is the subject of the proposed expulsion. In that case, the superintendent must refer the matter to the school or district's placement committee. The placement committee will be comprised of the following:

  • The student
  • Parents or guardians of the student
  • School faculty and staff familiar with the student
  • The school or district's special education staff

If your child has had regular or previous contact with behavioral counselors, doctors, psychiatrists, or other healthcare professionals, you will want them present at the meeting. Some official disabilities that may warrant the creation of an IEP include, but are not limited to:

  • Autism
  • Chronic emotional distress
  • Hearing impairment
  • Learning disabilities
  • Physical limitations
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Vision damage

If a disability is uncovered, the student's expulsion will terminate upon implementation of an IEP. Otherwise, the student shall continue to receive services—including placement in an IAES—if the sanctioned misconduct was not the result of the student's disability.

Challenging the South Dakota MDR Process

Parents of students relocated to an IAES have options to fight back against unfair discipline. If they disagree with the school board's decision to place their child in an IAES may pursue a complaint with the SDDOE. Yet, the student's placement may not change until the completion of the proceedings, and their child will continue to receive services under the original IEP.

When parents seek to challenge the MDR's findings, they may challenge the school via the following:

  • Informal IEP facilitation
  • Mediation
  • State complaints
  • Formal due process hearing

For formal, legally binding procedures, the school district's representative must meet with the student's parents and relevant members of the IEP team to attempt to resolve the matter during a resolution session. This timeframe must be completed within 15 days of receiving a notice requesting a due process hearing. If both parties agree to meet at a resolution session, the 45-day timeline for conducting a due process hearing may be suspended. However, the timeframe will proceed if they decide to waive their right to a resolution session or use the mediation process instead. If no resolution is reached within 30 calendar days of a due process request, the 45-day timeline for conducting a due process hearing will begin again.

How An IAES Can Negatively Impact Your Child

Getting placed in an IAES can enormously impact a child's future. Although exclusionary measures are branded as constructive remedial tools, they are often out-of-sight, out-of-mind solutions that adversely affect students. Placement in an IAES may:

  • Cease academic progress or cause regression
  • Generate additional behavioral problems
  • Make students drop out of school
  • Promote truancy

Even when your student child returns to school from their IAES after 45 days, they may be detached from friends and teachers, causing emotional distress. Considering the harsh sanctions that will remain on the student's record, there is a significant possibility they will be classified as a perennial offender when attempting to enroll in college or secure a job after graduation.

If your child faces discipline through an IAES, you must become involved to prevent the consequences. Parents must take action now.

Protecting Your Child from a South Dakota IAES

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 do the following:

  1. Contact the school administration immediately and directly to understand what they know about the alleged situation and how they addressed it. Transcribing as much information as possible from the beginning is essential.
  2. Call student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento. He and his team at the Lento Law Firm can begin working with you on a strategy to help your child.
  3. Speak with your child about the incident and help them to write down what they remember, including interactions with students, teachers, and staff.
  4. Gather evidence pertinent to the situation. This includes emails, photos, text messages, social media posts, and transcriptions from meetings with school administration officials and LEA representatives.
  5. Refer to the school's student discipline code for more information on how the disciplinary process may proceed.
  6. Record your contacts—written or verbal—with school officials and anyone else regarding your child's situation. Note the date, time, and length of conversations.

You'll want to consult with a student defense advisor early in the process. Removal from school to an IAES is often the beginning of a student's downfall, and they need as much help as possible.

The rules governing school discipline and how students can be uprooted from their traditional settings in South Dakota can be confusing. Parents need a proven student defense advisor that takes the time to understand the state's laws, SDDOE regulations, the MDR process, IEP implications, and due process hearings. They have the wherewithal to use the rules in place to provide relief for your student child.

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

When an IAES is a possible remedial course of action, it's common for inexperienced attorneys to begin their defense by pursuing expensive lawsuits against the school. Although this may appear to be a great option to protect your child, it shouldn't be your first action. A formal suit is a possible method to keep your child out of an IAES, but litigation is seldom necessary. Furthermore, lawsuits can enflame the situation and make returning to the traditional school environment a stressful venture for the student.

Attorneys may also promote their performance in the courtroom. They may have great success arguing before judges or in front of juries, but school disciplinary meetings are not a court of law, and the standard rules do not apply.

Over the years, Joseph D. Lento has developed beneficial relationships with countless members of schools' Office of General Counsel in districts across the state of South Dakota and the nation. Therefore, worried parents can have peace of mind when suspensions, expulsions, or relocations to an IAES are settled before formal proceedings begin. An experienced education attorney can also help you make sense of school disciplinary policy and understand your child's rights in disciplinary matters.

Frequently, institutions with zero-tolerance policies overreact in their judgment to satisfy public opinion and retain government funding sources. With an experienced defense advisor, you'll learn that effective representation can end the situation quickly and lead school administration officials to handle cases with the student's best interests in mind.

Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have assisted countless students in South Dakota in disciplinary matters. The confidence he gives clients allows them to stand up to their school's harsh punitive measures. 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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