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Fighting school disciplinary actions

Perspective affects how school conduct is interpreted. A teacher might view something as rude and incendiary, while a student sees it as an accident. Who is correct and why does it matter?

The consequences are innumerable and may even include a juvenile court referral. An honors student excelling in an International Baccalaureate Program might lose a coveted spot or an incident could prompt a referral to a Houston-area Discipline Alternative Education Program.

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You don't need to look far for recent examples

A local ABC affiliate station reported on a situation where a Pasadena Memorial High School fainted in school. The response drew two principals, a school nurse and two police officers. They treated her like a criminal and accused her of being under the influence of an unidentified substance. Then the school expelled her.

She is fighting back with medical records, but must go through an appeal process.

Last fall, the Houston school district expelled a 17-year-old student who refused to stand during the pledge of allegiance. It was not the first time, she had been sitting since ninth grade. While the school allowed her return to school, the incident made her feel uncomfortable. She sued the district on constitutional grounds.

A tipping point and downward trajectory

ProPublica followed one family documenting what can quickly happen. A 15-year-old boy was accused by his social studies teacher of belligerent conduct that he characterized as being spit on. The student said it was an accident as he finished drinking at a water fountain.

The school district sent the boy to an "alternative" school where he languished and complained about not learning anything. Eventually, he tried to return to school. He was so far behind from the stint at the alternative school, he ended up dropping out.

ProPublica's analysis found that while very few regular schools have graduation rates lower than 50 percent, nearly half of alternative schools do. The quality of education changes between the systems. And more minor offenses are being cited for expulsion, such as disrespectful behavior. Students with disabilities are particularly susceptible.

Administrative hearings: Win early and often

School board hearings have a looser standard for evidence and testimony. The burden of proof is also lower than in criminal court. These administrative agencies are also given deference to determine what happened, the facts.

While you can appeal from a ruling, in these types of proceedings it's crucial to present the strongest possible case right away to win early.

Protecting a child's future may depend on what the school board believes. This is where bringing in a criminal defense trial attorney can be beneficial. At Mingledorff Law, our attorneys were prosecutors before devoting the last several decades to defending those accused of crimes. They see both sides and know how to frame a case in the strongest possible light to protect a student's future. Find out how our team can help.

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