Primary and Secondary students have Constitutional rights that protect them against unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious discipline and punishment from school administrators. These protections are not as strong or exhaustive as they are concerning our criminal justice system, but nevertheless, a student – and sometimes that student’s parent(s) or guardian(s) – have a right to challenge or at least question discipline before it is imposed.
In a seminal United States Supreme Court decision, Goss v. Lopez, the Court directed that when a student is faced with certain disciplinary action, he or she must be (1) “be given oral or written notice of the charges and, if [s]he denies them. (2) an explanation of the evidence the authorities have and (3) an opportunity to present h[er] side of the story.” 419 U.S. 565, 581 (1975). There is not a right to an attorney these circumstances, but some school administrators may allow it upon request.
Post-secondary students in state schools similarly have constitutional rights against unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious discipline and punishment from university officials. This can take the form of academic (plagiarism, for example) or student conduct discipline. While here, again, a student’s civil rights are not as robust as a defendant in a criminal matter, they are more protective in a university-setting than in a primary or secondary school-setting.
In addition to what is set forth in Goss v. Lopez, university students are afforded informal hearings in which they are entitled the opportunity to challenge evidence and cross-examine adverse witnesses. Under certain circumstances where the discipline may carry parallel criminal felony charges, the student is afforded legal counsel and must be advised of the same.
If you are a student or a parent of a student who has suffered unfair, arbitrary, or unreasonable discipline without the proper opportunity to challenge it, contact a civil rights lawyer for a consultation: