Education Law

Education Law

We have been practicing education law for more than ten years, providing services for faculty members, staff, and students of universities, and public, charter, and private schools.

We also help clients with the following K-12 school issues: school policies, employment, student clubs, enrollment, grades, student discipline, special education, and student speech.We help clients with the following higher education issues: institutional liability, academic freedom, employment contracts, tenure disputes & issues, discrimination, athletics, student organizations, admissions, grades, and student discipline.





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Utah School District Discipline Policies

In Utah, the responsibility to create and enforce a public school disciplinary policy falls upon each local school district. Utah Code Ann. 53A-11-901. The statute provides that "each local school board . . . shall adopt conduct and discipline policies for the public schools." In addition, "[t]he local superintendent . . . shall enforce the policies so that students demonstrating unacceptable behavior and their parents or guardians understand that such behavior . . . will be dealt with in accordance with the district's conduct and discipline policies." The state superintendent is required to provide model disciplinary policies, which local districts may follow in developing their own.

District policies must include, among other things, "procedures for the imposition of disciplinary sanctions, including suspension and expulsion." Utah Code Ann. 53A-11-902. These procedures must be written and must afford students due process of law, including notice to parents Id. 903, 905.

The statute provides grounds for which a student may be suspended or expelled, and a separate list of reasons for which a student must be suspended or expelled. Id. 904.

Local school boards are required to prepare annual reports for the state board of education of each violation and the accompanying district action. Id. Local boards may delegate to school principals the power to suspend students for up to ten days. Id. 905.

The local board itself is given the power to suspend students for up to one year. Id. This power may be delegated to the district superintendent. Id. Before any suspension may extend beyond ten days, the student and parent must be given reasonable opportunity to meet with school officials. Id.

Each of Utah's forty school districts and all of its charter schools are required to have policies and procedures governing student discipline and due process. Thirty-one of those districts have their policies posted on their web sites in an easy to find location. Some district policies are nearly identical (compare Weber and Cache, for example), but many are original to the district.

A comparison of these policies shows certain commonalities in the due process rights of students and the procedures for securing those rights. Most of these commonalities come from state law requirements.


A. Prohibited Conduct

Behavior warranting discipline is divided into two categories in most districts:
(1) that for which students MAY be suspended or expelled. This typically includes such acts as disobedience, defiance of authority, disruptive behavior, abusive language, destroying school property, possession or use of drugs or alcohol, hazing, and other threatening behavior.

(2) that for which students SHALL be suspended or expelled. This typically includes those acts involving weapons, whether real or imitation.

B. Disciplinary Measures

Suspension and Expulsion are the two types of disciplinary measures requiring some type of due process. The two terms are defined differently by different districts. Both involve the disciplinary removal of a student from school.

Suspension is a shorter term removal, and expulsion is more long term.

Many districts interpret suspension to be removal for up to one year, based on Utah Code Annotated 53A-11-905(2), which provides that a local board or its designee may suspend a student for up to one school year. These districts then interpret expulsion to mean removal for anything more than one school year. However they are defined, both actions require due process procedures.

C. Due Process

While procedures for imposing disciplinary measures vary among school districts, most follow roughly the same format.

When a student is believed to have committed an act for which he may be suspended or expelled, the principal makes an initial determination as to which disciplinary measure is appropriate.

The principal usually meets with the student immediately to allow the student to respond to the evidence against him. Some districts call this meeting an informal due process hearing.

Following this meeting, if the principal is still convinced the student should be suspended or expelled, the student is immediately removed from school grounds.

In all cases at this point, Utah law requires that the school notify the parent or guardian
(1) that the student has been suspended,
(2) the grounds for the suspension,
(3) the period of time for which the student is suspended, and
(4) the time and place for the parent or guardian to meet with a designated school official to review the suspension." Utah Code Ann. 53A-11-905(4).

In cases of long term suspension or expulsion, this meeting will be a designated due process hearing before the district superintendent or a hearing officer. Students are usually allowed to be represented by counsel, present witnesses and other evidence, and cross examine opposing witnesses.

In cases of short term suspension, the meeting will usually be with the school principal or other administrator. Most districts do not provide appealable, formal due process hearings for suspensions of less than ten days.

Following formal hearings, the principal or superintendent makes a final determination which can be appealed to the school board.

As the legislature has recognized, students in Utah schools should be able to learn in a safe environment. To this end, policies are adopted by districts to prevent and deal with unsafe and disruptive behavior. However, these policies must afford students appropriate due process of law.

Links to Utah School District Discipline Policies






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