Avoiding High School Disciplinary Placement — Minnesota

Parents of high school students work hard to provide a better future for their children. Whether you envision them as an attorney, business owner, doctor, or teacher, each journey starts by fulfilling education requirements to obtain a valuable high school diploma. The transition into adulthood is a time when high school students are learning how to overcome adversity in their lives. Although parents are present to help them in their trials, harsh school disciplinary policies make the process daunting, and handling it alone may make the situation worse.

School infractions that once merited a phone call home from the principal's office or guidance counselor are increasingly becoming common grounds for suspension and expulsion in institutions with zero-tolerance misconduct policies. Unfortunately, honest students of good character can get caught in bad positions with administration personnel. Schools can unfairly blame your student child for violations they didn't commit, leaving them categorized alongside perennial offenders. Mischaracterizations like this will affect them for the rest of their lives.

You don't want a miscommunication with the school to threaten your child's academic future, but it happens in Minnesota high school districts. Considering the vast negative implications of sanctions, it's imperative that you know how school districts handle misconduct and how they can affect your child.

Avoiding Alternative Education Placement in Minnesota

When a Minnesota high school accuses your child of misbehavior or misconduct, reprimands can be as minor as an extra class assignment or as severe as expulsion. Punishments should be proportionate to the seriousness of the alleged misconduct, as stated in many codes of conduct, but that isn't always the case. Minnesota school boards have an obligation to safeguard the institution's standing, and your child can be caught in the middle of interests bigger than them.

One option Minnesota school districts have for students with recurring infractions is to send them to an alternative education program (AEP), also known as an alternative education center (AEC). AEPs are used to assist students that are deemed "at risk" of not graduating from a traditional school setting. While this is a pathway that provides a solution to some students and helps them graduate with a high school diploma, the issue is that Minnesota AEPs can brand your child a delinquent, opening up the door to unjust consequences in the future.

Minnesota AEPs, however, are not as prevalent in school districts as customary K-12 institutions. More than likely, your child will have to travel to a different district or county to obtain their education. This presents problems for parents who may not have the means to provide for increasingly expensive transportation. Moreover, individual AEPs may have their own problems in-house, including an outmoded course curriculum, substandard instruction methods, and a shortage of quality support services.

If your student child faces a Minnesota high school disciplinary proceeding, the risk of them being relegated to an AEP is real. To help you navigate the Minnesota school grievance process and keep your child out of a remedial placement, call skilled student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm. They have years of successful experience defending high school students in Minnesota and across the country from placement in AEPs.

Student Codes of Conduct for School Discipline in Minnesota

Minnesota high schools don't levy sanctions as they see fit. Each school must create a code of conduct to govern student behavior at the direction of the Minnesota Department of Education, following the state legislature's guidelines.

The code of conduct at your child's high school is your first line of defense against unjust school discipline. Your student defense advisor will obtain and review it to ensure that your school adheres to its own parameters and doesn't impose excessive sanctions. The code of conduct will detail prohibited behavior for students and the corresponding consequences. Although each school district may differ in its code of conduct, some common prohibited behaviors according to Minnesota Compilation of School Discipline Laws and Regulations include:

  • Bullying/cyberbullying
  • Computer misuse
  • Drug, alcohol, and tobacco use
  • Student or teacher assault
  • Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Weapons at school

In addition to prohibited behaviors, the code of conduct will list the sanctions for students who commit these behaviors. Your student defense advisor can use the code of conduct to ensure that your child's school administration doesn't impose sanctions beyond their reach. Typically, consequences include:

  • Behavioral counseling: The student is monitored by their parents or guardians and school administration personnel to implement remedial action.
  • Detention: Students must remain in school outside normal teaching hours or on a Saturday to complete their schoolwork.
  • Exclusion: Some Minnesota school districts allow instructors to exclude students from their classroom for misbehavior. The student is placed in another classroom to complete assignments for up to five days.
  • Loss of privileges: Students will be prohibited from participating in school clubs or extracurricular activities.
  • Community service: Students must complete a set number of service work hours in the school or with local community needs.
  • Suspension: Students are barred from attending school for no more than ten days but may extend to 15 days under certain circumstances.
  • Removal to an AEP: Students are temporarily assigned to an alternative education setting, usually lasting no longer than 45 days.
  • Expulsion: Students are banned from attending their regular school for a certain period. Depending on the student's age, they are required to attend an AEP.

Emergency Removals in Minnesota Schools

Schools have the right to conduct emergency removals of students in certain cases. Emergency removals may only be used in a "situation where immediate intervention is needed to protect a child or other individual from injury." The policy may not be used to punish a student alone.

The process and tactics to carry out emergency removals are complex. A myriad of requirements must be fulfilled to facilitate the seclusion or restraint of a student, including room size, what constitutes "physical holding" to restrain a student if necessary, and the time and frequency in which exclusionary tactics may be used.

Emergency expulsions can last no more than ten school days, and upon that threshold, a student will be allowed back into the school, or the student and their family will be given notice of a formal hearing. Afterward, there will be a determination if the student must experience long-term suspension, an AEP, or expulsion.

Hearing Process for Suspensions and Expulsions in Minnesota

Schools grant students a formal hearing when a separation from studies is a likely outcome, including sanctions involving admittance into an AEP. The district school board will send a written notice to the student and their parent or guardian personally or by mail which will include:

  • Copies of Sections 121A.40 and 121A.56 of the Minnesota statutes, also known as the Pupil Fair Dismissal Act
  • Date, time, and place of the hearing
  • Description of alternative educational services afforded to the student to avoid expulsion
  • Notice of the right to have representation of the student's choosing at the hearing, including legal counsel

The hearing will be scheduled within ten days of the notice and will include appearing before an independent hearing officer, a local school board member, a school board committee, or the entire school board.

During the proceedings, the following will occur:

  • Examination of student records, academic and behavioral
  • Presentation of evidence
  • Cross-examination of witnesses

Although witnesses must testify during the hearing, the accused student may not be compelled to attest to any involvement in the incident. The recommendation of the hearing officer, school board member, or committee will be based on substantial evidence and must be made to the school board and given to the parties involved within two days of the end of the hearing. The school board will render its decision at a meeting held within five days following the recommendation.

The notion of intent is also a large part of determining discipline for a student in Minnesota high schools. If your child innocently committed misconduct but had no knowledge of the prohibited item or action, punishment may be unwarranted if a lack of intent can be proven.

Manifestation Determination Review in Minnesota High Schools

When a school suspends a student for more than five consecutive school days or ten cumulative days in the school year for discipline related to a pattern of misbehavior, the district must conduct a Manifestation Determination Review (MDR), compliant with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The purpose is to determine whether a student has a disability that caused the behavior or if the punished behavior resulted from the school's failure to implement a student's Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) or Section 504 Plan.

Generally, an MDR is conducted after the school board's determination and must happen within ten school days of the suspension. The MDR team, consisting of school faculty and staff with knowledge of the student, members of the school district's Committee on Special Education, and the student's parents or guardians, will consider the possible connection between the sanctioned misconduct and a disability.

If your student child has regular contact with behavioral counselors, advisors, or other healthcare providers, they should be present at the meeting. According to the Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services, disabilities warranting an IEP include:

  • Autism
  • Emotional disabilities
  • Hearing impairment
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Learning disabilities
  • Orthopedic disabilities
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Visual impairment

If the MDR team decides that an incident or pattern of misbehavior was caused by a student's disability or an IEP not being implemented, the student has the right to return to school immediately. The suspension will continue if the MDR team doesn't discover a disability. If the suspension is longer than ten school days in a calendar year, the student may be ordered to an AEP for no longer than 45 school days without regard to whether the behavior is determined to be a manifestation of the child's disability.

Challenging the MDR Process

A student, parent, or guardian may pursue an expedited hearing if they refuse the MDR team's findings. The student and their parent or guardian can file a due process complaint, and the hearing will be held by the Minnesota State Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).

The expedited process requires:

  • In-person hearing with student and parent or guardian
  • Decision made by the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) within 90 calendar days after the hearing timeframe begins

Parents may be accompanied and advised by a professional advisor during a due process hearing. Students will remain in an AEP program pending the outcome of the case.

Minnesota Student Rights and Program Requirements

Students placed in an AEP have rights. Students placed in a temporary program must:

  1. Continue to receive educational services to participate in the general education curriculum, aligned with the Minnesota Board of Education's standards of mathematics, writing, social studies, reading, and science.
  2. The work or instruction can't be "busy work" or assignments below their academic progress or grade level.
  3. Academic counseling required before entrance into the program must continue throughout the duration of the AEP.
  4. A student will receive a behavioral assessment or behavioral intervention services designed to address recurrent violations.
  5. Academic, career, and personal guidance counseling should be provided, if necessary, during the program.

The Downside of Minnesota's Discipline Through AEPs

Remediation through an AEP can enormously impact a child's future. It can stunt their academic progress, generate additional behavioral problems, and push students to drop out and fail to obtain their high school diplomas. Isolation from friends and teachers can also affect emotional health, which further impacts academic performance.

A study conducted by the Center for Court Innovation concluded that schools overuse their zero-tolerance policies for discipline. The study states that a zero-tolerance approach:

  • Creates vast unintended consequences like the prevalence of emotional instability, susceptibility to poverty, and a lack of academic progression
  • It likely causes adverse effects on child development
  • Increases racial disparities
  • Refers otherwise well-behaved students to the juvenile justice system

Minnesota schools have been distancing themselves from a zero-tolerance policy approach, but some schools are still governed by it. Therefore, students may be removed from the classroom, suspended from school, or remanded to an AEP for misbehavior without accounting for extenuating factors, including subversive action on the part of the school in an attempt to protect their public reputation.

If your child faces school discipline via an AEP, you must retain professional assistance to prevent these counterintuitive consequences. Your child's future career and life goals depend on it.

Protecting Your Child Experiencing Minnesota School Disciplinary Issues

Students can avoid AEP placement if their parents remain active and engaged during the grievance process. When your student child is accused of misconduct, these steps will help you begin a well-informed defense:

  1. Ensure that your child is emotional and physically all right. Speak to them about the incident and ask them to write down what they remember, including interactions with their peers, instructors, or school administration officials.
  2. Contact the school and transcribe as much information as possible they give about the incident.
  3. Call student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento. With his years of experience and his dedicated team at the Lento Law Firm. He and his team can begin working with you on a strategy.
  4. Collect any evidence available to you, including emails, texts, social media posts, and photos describing the incident.
  5. Refer to your student's school's code of conduct or the school board district website to get more information on how the disciplinary process may proceed.
  6. Record your contacts with school officials and anyone else. Note the date, time, and length of conversations.
  7. Keep all correspondence, written and electronic, relating to the disciplinary process.

You must consult with a student defense advisor as early in the process as possible. Once you know this issue can lead to severe disciplinary consequences, including a relocation to an AEP, contact a professional to help you navigate the situation.

How an Experienced Student Defense Advisor Can Help You

When your student faces a temporary placement in a Minnesota AEP, you might think it's not that important of an issue. After all, the specific limitations on the timeframes of suspensions and expulsions mean your student child will return to their regular studies eventually. These misconceptions can indeed lead to the long-term consequences noted above. As a parent, you don't want your child falling by the wayside, missing out on the college experience, or failing to begin their dream career.

Additionally, you may believe that instructors, school administration personnel, MDR team members, and other disciplinary officials aren't law enforcement authorities, so you can get by without representation, right? The rules governing school discipline in Minnesota 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.

If you don't fully grasp Minnesota Statutes or your school's code of conduct, you may struggle to defend your child's rights during an AEP disciplinary change in the placement process. You need experienced help when your child's future is on the line.

How a Student Defense Attorney Joseph D. Lento Can Help Your Child Avoid AEP

Novice attorneys usually begin their defense of a student's academic career by threatening expensive lawsuits against the school or the Board of Education to force their clients out of AEP consideration. Although a formal suit is a possible course of action to keep you or your student child intact with their studies in a traditional school, litigation is rarely a necessary means to a positive end for students and their parents. Attorneys also tout their legal expertise in arguing before judges and juries. Still, those skills don't often translate into demonstrated tactics to mitigate negative consequences in student disciplinary matters, especially in cases involving decisions for alternative education.

Few lawyers have proven themselves to be influential student defense advisors like Joseph D. Lento. He coaches students and their parents to prepare them for MDR hearings and what you need to do to ensure your student child can remain in school where they belong. He has also worked to negotiate with school administration officials and an institution's Office of General Counsel (OGC) before the school recommends an AEP as an academic or behavioral remediation plan.

A professional specializing in student discipline defense can help you make sense of the nuances of Minnesota state education law to know your child's rights and how to protect them. 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 administration to abuse their authority and send your respectable child to an AEP for a minor offense that can be handled traditionally.

Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have assisted countless students across Minnesota 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.

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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