As a parent dedicated to providing the best opportunities for your children, you have immense hope for the paths they can take once they graduate high school. Whether they work to become a business owner, doctor, engineer, lawyer, or teacher, each occupation begins by fulfilling the requirements to obtain a diploma. These formative years of adolescence are loaded with educational instruction and experience-based learning. Yet, the shift into young adulthood can cause conscientious students to misstep and struggle through challenging situations. Unfortunately, school infractions that once merited a phone call home from the guidance counselor or principal are increasingly common grounds for removal from the school altogether in institutions governed by zero-tolerance disciplinary policies.
At times, school administration officials may unfairly charge students for various types of misconduct. Mischaracterizations like this can brand your child alongside perennial offenders and leave your student child subject to unjust consequences that will affect them for the rest of their lives. You don't want a misunderstanding to jeopardize your child's future academic career, but it happens in West Virginia school districts.
Considering the vast repercussions, it's imperative that you know how schools handle misconduct and how it can negatively affect your child. Luckily, whenever your high school child falls into trouble and has their academic future threatened, you can hire professional assistance to defend your child and their standing.
Avoiding Alternative Education Placements in West Virginia
When a West Virginia high school accuses your child of misbehavior or misconduct, punishments can be as minimal as ungraded class assignments and stern lecturing or as serious as expulsion. Sanctions should be levied in proportion to the severity of the alleged rule violations, but that doesn't always occur. Administrators and school boards have an obligation to protect the public perception of the institution, and your child can get caught in the middle unbeknownst to them.
One option West Virginia school districts have to manage students with recurring infractions and what they deem uncorrectable behavior patterns is sending them to an Alternative Education Program (AEP). While this is a seemingly holistic approach to help misbehaved students improve their character, grades, and interactions with their high school peers, West Virginia AEPs can label your child a delinquent and cause them to be the target of unwarranted criticism.
AEPs do provide a standard of effective remediation for some students. However, many can react badly to the unconventional atmosphere and change to their routine, causing unnecessary damage to your child. Moreover, individual West Virginia AEPs may have their own issues, including an outdated curriculum, substandard instruction, and a lack of quality support services.
If your child faces a West Virginia high school disciplinary proceeding, the risk of their relegation to an AEP at least temporarily is real. To help you navigate the West Virginia high school disciplinary system and keep your student child out of an alternative education setting as a punishment, call student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm. They have built their premier experience on successfully defending high school students in West Virginia and nationwide.
Student Codes of Conduct for School Discipline in West Virginia
West Virginia high schools don't discipline arbitrarily. The West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) directs each school district to develop a code of conduct overseeing student behavior, following the state legislature's legal guidelines.
The code of conduct, also known as the student handbook or honor code, is your foundation of defense against unjust school discipline. When you hire professional assistance, your student defense advisor will review the particular school or district's rules to ensure they adhere to their parameters and don't impose excessive sanctions or unnecessarily banish your children. The code of conduct will specify prohibited conduct for students and the subsequent consequences. Although each school and district may differ in its code of conduct, some common prohibited behaviors are:
- Computer misuse
- Drug, alcohol, and tobacco use
- Student or teacher assault
- Title IX offenses
- Weapons at school
In addition to types of misconduct, the code of conduct will list the sanctions for students who commit these behaviors. Typically, consequences include:
- Loss of privileges: Students lose school privileges or are forbidden to participate 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: West Virginia school districts may 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 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. The length of a suspension should be short, usually one to three school days, but may extend to ten consecutive days.
- Removal to an AEP: 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 AEP.
Emergency Removals in West Virginia Schools
West Virginia schools are given the authority to conduct emergency removals of students in some instances from either the classroom, campus, or district-sponsored transportation systems. West Virginia Code §18A-5-1 states that an emergency expulsion may be carried out on a student if they engage in the following:
- Assault and/or battery on a school employee
- Possession of a firearm or other dangerous weapon
- Selling or distributing a controlled substance
Once a student has been removed, the school principal must relay the decision to the county superintendent and school board within 24 hours. A hearing will be held to determine the facts of the situation, and if the student is found responsible for the alleged behavior, they will remain expelled.
There are limits on suspensions and expulsions of this nature. For example, the school district may not authorize the suspension or expulsion of any student from the public school system for truancy. Even if the student is declared truant, separation from studies is off the table, but they may be directed to an AEP.
Hearing Process for Suspension and Expulsions in West Virginia
Students who are suspended for ten days or less are entitled to an informal hearing. Per West Virginia Code § 18A-5-1 and § 18A-5-1a, the following must be provided:
- Parental or guardian notification in writing about the time and conditions of suspensions
- Students are granted the opportunity to present reasons why they should not be suspended
The state's guidelines are vague regarding informal hearing procedures and are typically handled through the school principal's deference under the county superintendent's guidance. Although it's unclear whether your child has access to due process or proper representation, hiring a student defense advisor can help their chances. A professional can coach them on how to behave during the informal process and how to provide a coherent argument in their defense.
Moreover, a student defense advisor can give you the assurance you need as a parent that your student child is protected from removal to an AEP. Yet, the informal process begins quickly after misconduct is alleged, so it's important to know now that you have options for redress.
For infractions that may incur a suspension of more than ten days, a formal hearing before the county board of education is required. Typically, hearings are scheduled within ten days after misconduct is alleged. According to West Virginia Code § 18A-5-1a, the hearing must adhere to the following guidelines:
- Parents or guardians must be informed in writing of the charges against their child, including a summary of the evidence upon which the charges are based
- Students are entitled to be represented or advised during the proceedings by a person(s) of their choosing, including legal counsel
- Students are given "reasonable time" to prepare for the hearing
In procedures wherein the accused student may be levied an expulsion, the student is offered the aforementioned due process. In addition, the student has the right to the following:
- Present witnesses on their behalf
- Hear the testimony of witnesses against them
- Question the witnesses against them
Hearings managing expulsion are decided based on a preponderance of the evidence. If the county board of education decides that the charges against a student do not warrant expulsion, the student may remain in school or return to school without being "subjected to punishment or harassment." All decisions rendered by the county board of education are final, but student and their parents may appeal to the State Superintendent of Schools. If the State Superintendent of Schools concludes that the county board of education's decision to expel the student was proper, then the expulsion will stand unless overturned by a court.
Manifestation Determination Review in West Virginia High Schools
When a West Virginia school suspends a student for more than ten consecutive school days or ten total days in the school year for discipline related to a pattern of misconduct, 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 afforded by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
In West Virginia, the personnel who conduct an MDR are known as the Alternative Education Placement Team (AEP Team). The AEP Team consists of school representatives with knowledge of the student and county school board members. During the meeting, the AEP Team 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 student child has regular contact with behavioral counselors or other healthcare providers, it will be a good idea if they are present in the meeting. Some disabilities warranting an IEP or Section 504 Plan include:
- Emotional disabilities
- Hearing impairment
- Intellectual disabilities
- Learning disabilities
- Orthopedic disabilities
- Speech or language impairment
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Visual impairment
Suppose the AEP Team decides that an incident or pattern of misbehavior was caused by a student's disability or an IEP not being implemented. In that case, the student has the right to return to school immediately or be allowed to enroll in a charter school, private school, or be homeschooled. The suspension or expulsion will continue if the AEP Team doesn't discover a disability.
Challenging the AEP Decision Process
The IDEA requires mediation as an option for resolving a parent's concerns through a due process complaint. Once the WVDE receives a request, the WVDE Office of Special Programs (OSP) will assign a hearing officer to the case. The local educational agency (LEA) must hold a resolution meeting—or resolution session— within 15 days of receiving the due process complaint.
Parents may be accompanied and advised by a professional student defense advisor during a due process hearing. Students will remain in an AEP program pending the outcome of the case.
West Virginia Students' Rights and AEP Program Requirements
Students placed in an AEP have rights. The county school boards must create a written curriculum for AEPs based upon WVDE-approved instructional goals and objectives. The curriculum shall also include a component for teaching and learning responsible behavior. In addition, staff certified in the core subject areas shall participate in developing the academic curriculum and the assessment measures to determine mastery of instructional goals and objectives.
According to West Virginia's Mingo County Schools, students placed in an AEP must:
- Continue to receive educational services to participate in the general education curriculum aligned with WVDE mathematics, writing, social studies, reading, and science standards.
- The work or instruction must not be considered "busy work" or assignments below the student's academic progress or grade level.
- Academic counseling required before entrance into the program must continue throughout the AEP.
- A student will receive, if necessary, a functional behavioral assessment or behavioral intervention services designed to address recurrent violations.
- As needed, academic, personal, and career guidance counseling should be provided during the program.
- Students will participate in the State Assessment Program, wherein their test scores are counted in the results of the home school of referral.
The Downside of West Virginia's Exclusionary Discipline
Getting placed in an AEP can immensely impact a child's future. It can stall their academic progress, generate additional behavioral problems, and lead to dropping out and failing to obtain their high school diplomas. Isolation from friends and teachers can affect their emotional health, further impacting academic performance. Although removal from traditional educational programs is meant to be a positive behavior management apparatus, it can lead to adverse outcomes.
A study conducted by the Center for Court Innovation concluded that schools tend to overuse zero-tolerance approaches to discipline and safety. They found that zero-tolerance policies:
- Increase racial disparities and referrals to the juvenile justice system.
- Likely have adverse effects on child development.
- Create unintended consequences for students, families, and communities that result in higher societal costs.
If your child faces placement in an AEP, you must become involved to prevent these counterproductive consequences. Their future depends on it.
Protecting Your Child Experiencing Disciplinary Issues at Their West Virginia High School
Parents have a better chance of preventing their children from being remanded to an AEP if they stay active and remain engaged during the disciplinary process. When you become aware of an issue, it's critical to:
- Contact the school immediately and transcribe as much information as possible.
- Call student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento. With his years of experience and dedicated team, he and his team can begin working with you on a strategy once he has the details about your situation.
- 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.
- Collect evidence, including emails, texts, social media posts, and visual documentation, such as photos, if your child has sustained a physical injury during the incident.
- Refer to the school's code of conduct to get more information on how the disciplinary process may proceed.
- Record your contacts with school officials and anyone else. Note the date, time, and length of conversations.
- 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 AEP, you must contact a professional to help you navigate the situation.
How an Experienced Professional Can Assist You
When your student faces a temporary placement in a West Virginia AEP, you might think it's not that important of an issue. After all, the limitations of suspensions and expulsions mean your student child may 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.
You may also think that school administration officials, AEP Team personnel, and other school employees aren't civil authorities, so you don't need representation. The rules surrounding school discipline in West Virginia 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 a better outcome.
Suppose you don't fully grasp West Virginia legislation, WVDE policy, or your child's school's code of conduct. In that case, you may struggle to defend your child's rights during the disciplinary change in the placement decision process. You need experienced help when your child's future is on the line.
How Student Defense Advisor Joseph D. Lento Can Help Your Child Avoid AEP
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, parents, and guardians to prepare them for MDR and AEP hearings. He works to negotiate with school administration officials and an institution's Office of General Counsel (OGC) before an AEP is recommended as remediation. Even if you can't have an advisor present with you at the meetings, the Lento Law Firm can still be an invaluable asset to you and your child as you navigate this tough situation.
A professional specializing in student discipline defense can help you understand how schools manage misconduct and recurrent infractions. 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 AEP for a minor offense that the administration can handle in a conventional situation.
Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have assisted countless students across West Virginia and the U.S. 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.