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Public Schools Adapt to Student Violence Issues

From bomb threats to hit-lists, schools have had to make significant changes in policies and procedures to protect our children.

Q: What responsibilities are placed upon school districts to address school violence?
A:
 State law requires boards of education to adopt a “comprehensive school safety plan” for each school building to determine potential safety hazards and propose changes to prevent potentially dangerous circumstances. Schools are directed to involve community law enforcement and safety officials, parents, teachers and other building employees in designing these plans.  Plans must include procedures to address serious safety threats and to respond to emergency situations. School officials are required to act with reasonable care towards students. However, an official generally will not be held responsible for injuries resulting from attempts to deal with school violence unless the official was acting clearly outside the scope of his or her employment or official responsibilities or the actions were malicious, or taken wantonly, recklessly or in bad faith.

Q: What if my child is threatened with violence while attending school?
A:
 Any student who is threatened with violence should report the matter immediately to any school building administrator. Boards of education in each school district must adopt a policy regarding student discipline. This policy must specify the types of misconduct for which a pupil may be suspended, expelled or removed. Such misconduct may occur off school property as long as it is connected to incidents that have occurred on property owned or controlled by the school district. The student conduct policy of each board of education must be posted in a central location in each school and made available to students or parents upon request. In recent years, most school districts have adopted zero tolerance policies, which prohibit any type of threat or taunting of students or employees.

Q: What if my child is wrongfully charged with making threats or performing acts of violence in the school setting?
A:
 No student may be suspended (removed from school for up to ten days) or expelled (removed from school for up to one year) without written notice of the reasons for the discipline. Also, the student must have the opportunity to appear at an informal hearing before a school administrator to challenge the reasons for the discipline or otherwise explain his or her actions. Any administrator’s decision to suspend or expel may be appealed to the board of education or its representative. While legal representation may be engaged, the hearing is not a trial-type proceeding and there is no right to confront or cross-examine witnesses or to call witnesses. Any decision of the board of education may be further appealed to a common pleas court for review. A board of education is not required to admit a student back into class while any appeal is pursued. However, if the parent and student succeed in overturning a decision to discipline, the student will be permitted to make up any lost classroom work or educational opportunity.

Q: We understand that students with identified disabilities may not be removed from school premises even if weapons or violent misconduct has occurred. Is this true?
A:
 Numerous protections exist for students who have been identified with a disability under federal and state law. No disabled student may be disciplined for misconduct that is a manifestation of or results from the student’s disability. However, disabled students may be removed from school for up to ten days. If weapons or drugs are involved or the student is a danger to himself or others, the school district may assign a student covered by an Individual Education Plan (IEP) to an interim alternative educational setting different from the current educational placement, for up to 45 days. A student who does not have an IEP and is not receiving special educational services, even if disabled, may be disciplined in the same manner as any other nondisabled student in the school district. Numerous, complex procedures and rules govern the discipline of students with disabilities. Parents of these students should seek advice from public advocacy agencies or legal counsel when faced with disciplinary issues.

Q: Must our school district allow a student to be enrolled if that student has been expelled from a neighboring district  for committing violent acts?
A:
 No. Any school district, after offering an opportunity for a hearing, may deny admittance to any pupil who has been suspended or expelled from the schools of another district in this state or for discipline imposed by an out-of-state school.

11/21/2013

This "Law You Can Use" consumer legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. This article was originally prepared by Richard W. Ross, and was updated by Nicole Donovsky, both attorneys with the Columbus firm of Means, Bichimer, Burkholder & Baker Co. LPA. 

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Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.

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