Parents work hard to provide a better future for their children. Whether you foresee them as an attorney, business owner, doctor, or teacher, each journey is built on a foundation of education and fulfilling the requirements needed to obtain a valuable high school diploma. The transition from adolescence to adulthood is a time when high school students are learning how to overcome adversity and forge their own path forward. Although parents are present to help them with their challenges, schools are not always forgiving in their disciplinary policies and make the process daunting, even for the most dedicated parents.
Infractions that once warranted a phone call home from the school principal's office or guidance counselor are progressively becoming grounds for suspension and expulsion in institutions with zero-tolerance policies. Unfortunately, conscientious students focused on their work can get caught in bad positions with administration officials. School disciplinary boards may unfairly blame your student child for violations they didn't commit by acting too quickly, leaving them categorized alongside perennial offenders. The subsequent consequences will hinder their abilities for years to come.
You don't want a miscommunication between your child and the school to threaten their academic future, but it happens in Nebraska high schools. Considering the far-reaching negative effects of sanctions, it's imperative that you know how schools handle misconduct and how they can have adverse effects on your child.
Avoiding Alternative Education Placement in Nebraska
When a Nebraska 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. Nebraska school boards have an institutional obligation to safeguard a school's interests, and your child may get caught in the middle.
One option Nebraska school districts have for students with repeated behavioral violations is to send them to an alternative education program (AEP). AEPs substitute traditional learning environments to assist students deemed “at risk” of not graduating. While such a pathway provides a resolution for some students and helps them graduate with a high school diploma, the issue is that Nebraska AEPs can label your child a troublemaker, potentially jeopardizing them as they become vulnerable to unjust consequences in the future.
Nebraska Revised Statute (NRS) Section 79-266 compels each school district to create an alternative school, class, or educational program. Yet, students in AEPs may not be able to attend during traditional school hours. This can cause issues not only with the students but their parents or guardians. Moreover, individual AEPs may have their own unique problems, including an outdated curriculum, substandard instruction methods, and a lack of quality support services for students.
If your student child faces a Nebraska high school disciplinary proceeding, the risk of them being transferred from their school to an AEP is real. To help you navigate the Nebraska school grievance process and keep your child out of a remedial arrangement, contact skilled student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento and his high school student defense team at the Lento Law Firm. They have years of knowledge based on their excellent defense of students from disciplinary placements in Nebraska and across the country.
Student Codes of Conduct for School Discipline in Nebraska
Nebraska high schools cannot sanction students through personal judgment. Each school must create a code of conduct to govern student behavior at the direction of the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE), following state legislation.
The code of conduct at your child's high school is your primary platform of defense against unjust school discipline. Your student defense advisor will obtain and review the school's rules to ensure they adhere to their own parameters and don't impose excessive sanctions. The code of conduct will detail prohibited behavior for students and their corresponding penalties. Although each school district may differ in its code of conduct, some common prohibited behaviors according to NRS Section 79-267 include:
- Computer misuse
- Drug, alcohol, and tobacco use
- Student or teacher assault
- Title IX violations
- Weapons at school
In addition to prohibited behaviors, the code of conduct will list how the school may manage infractions. 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 regular teaching hours or on a Saturday to complete their schoolwork.
- Exclusion: Nebraska school districts allow instructors to exclude students from their classrooms for misbehavior. Under NRS Section 79-264, emergency procedures may be initialized depending on the type of misconduct.
- 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 (long and short term): Students are barred from attending school for at least five days under short-term suspensions and at least six for long-term suspensions, but no more than 20 days.
- Transfer to an AEP: Students are temporarily assigned to an alternative education setting, typically until the long-term suspension period is over or until a hearing with the school board determines other options.
- Expulsion: Students are banned from attending their regular school for a certain period—generally at least one year. Depending on the student's age, they are required to attend an AEP.
Emergency Removals in Nebraska Schools
Schools have the right to conduct emergency removals of students in a limited scope of cases. According to NRS Section 79-264, a student may be excluded from school in the following circumstances:
- If the student has a dangerous communicable disease transmissible through normal school contacts and poses an imminent threat to the health or safety of the school community.
- If the student's conduct presents a clear threat to the physical safety of himself, herself, or others or is so “extremely disruptive” as to make temporary removal necessary to preserve the rights of other students to pursue an education.
Any emergency exclusion must be based upon a “clear factual situation warranting it” and cannot last more than five days unless the school board moves forward with a formal hearing within ten days after the initial exclusion date. 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 Nebraska
Schools grant students a formal hearing when a separation from studies is a likely outcome, including sanctions involving relegation to an AEP. The school will send a written notice to the student and their parent or guardian by mail within two school days of the initial reprimand, which will include:
- The student's rights established under the Student Discipline Act
- The rule or standard of conduct allegedly violated and the acts of the student alleged to constitute a cause for long-term suspension, expulsion, or mandatory reassignment
- A description of the hearing procedures provided by the act, along with procedures for appealing any decision rendered at the hearing
- Summary of the evidence and witnesses to be presented at the hearing
- Sanctions that may be implemented
The hearing will be scheduled no less than five days after the notice is sent but no more than 30 days afterward and will include appearing before an independent hearing examiner, school principal, superintendent, and other applicable school personnel.
During the proceedings, the following will occur:
- Examination of student records, academic and behavioral
- Presentation of evidence
- Cross-examination of witnesses
In conducting the hearing requested due to the possibility that sanctions will include long-term suspension, expulsion, or mandatory reassignment to an AEP, the hearing examiner is not bound by the rules of evidence or any other courtroom procedure, according to NRS Section 79-277. Nevertheless, the recommendation of the hearing examiner will be sent to the superintendent, who may review the hearing examiner's report and change, revoke, or impose the sanction recommended but may not impose a sanction more severe than that recommended by the hearing examiner.
Parents or guardians have seven days upon receipt of the superintendent's decision to appeal the matter. A hearing will be conducted by the local school board or NBE officials within ten school days after it is requested.
Manifestation Determination Review in Nebraska 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) in alignment 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—also referred to as a Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) Report—is conducted within ten school days of the suspension. The MDT, consisting of school faculty and staff with knowledge of the student, 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. Disabilities warranting an IEP include:
- Emotional trauma
- Hearing impairment
- Intellectual disabilities
- Learning disabilities
- Orthopedic disabilities
- Speech or language impairment
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Visual impairment
If the MDT 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 MDT doesn't discover a disability.
Challenging the MDR Process
A student, parent, or guardian may pursue an expedited hearing if they refuse the MDT's findings. The student and their parent or guardian can file a due process complaint. The Office of Dispute Resolution (ODR) will hold the hearing within the Nebraska Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC).
The expedited process requires:
- In-person hearing with student and parent or guardian
- Decision made by the mediation or an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) within ten to 25 days after initial contact
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.
Nebraska Student Rights and Program Requirements
Students placed in an AEP have rights. Students placed in a temporary program must:
- Continue to receive educational services to participate in the general education curriculum, aligned with the NBE's standards of mathematics, writing, social studies, reading, and science.
- The work or instruction can't be “busy work” or assignments below their academic progress or grade level.
- Academic counseling required before entrance into the program must continue throughout the duration of the AEP.
- A student will receive a behavioral assessment or behavioral intervention services designed to address recurrent violations.
- If necessary, academic, career, and personal guidance counseling should be provided during the program.
The Downside of Nebraska's Discipline Through AEPs
Remediation through an AEP can enormously impact a child's future. In fact, it can restrict their academic progress, create additional behavioral problems, and persuade students to drop out and fail to obtain their high school diplomas. Isolation from friends and teachers can also affect emotional health, further impacting 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
- Likely causes adverse effects on child development
- Intensifies racial disparities
- Refers otherwise well-behaved students to the juvenile justice system
Nebraska 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 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 Nebraska 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:
- Ensure that your child is emotional and physically stable. 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.
- Contact the school and transcribe as much information as possible they give about the incident.
- 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.
- Collect any evidence available to you, including emails, texts, social media posts, and photos describing the incident.
- 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.
- Record your contacts with school officials and anyone else. Note the date, time, and length of conversations.
- 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 Nebraska 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, MDT members, and other disciplinary officials aren't law enforcement authorities, so you can get by without representation, right? The rules governing school discipline in Nebraska 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 Nebraska state legislation 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 an AEP
Novice attorneys usually begin their defense of a student's academic career by threatening expensive lawsuits against the school or the NBE 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 MDT hearings and what you need to do to ensure your student child can remain in school where they belong. He has also negotiated 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 Nebraska 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 Nebraska 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.