Education Law FAQ’s for Elementary, Middle School and High School Students
1. My kid has been suspended. What do I do?
First off, understand that you and your son or daughter have rights. The school has to inform you of the reason for the suspension, and school officials also have to tell you when your son or daughter may return to school. There is no such thing as an indefinite suspension. Most suspensions will be for one day, three days or five days. The longest a suspension in Colorado can take place without an expulsion is 25 days. After the suspension, you will return with your son or daughter to the school for a reinstatement conference with a school administrator. There’s a good chance that your son or daughter will be given a behavior contract.
2. I don’t agree with the suspension. Can I appeal it?
In many cases, yes. Most schools in the Denver area and Colorado will have a person that you can contact at the district level. That person can handle an appeal.
3. My child is being expelled. What can I do?
First, understand that the school itself does not have the authority to expel your child. Rather, the school can only recommend expulsion. An actual expulsion has to be conducted by the school district. Second, the school cannot expel your child without the opportunity for a hearing. But remember that you’re going to have to request a hearing. The school will give you the option of doing so, but you have to take it. If you don’t properly exercise your right to a hearing, then that right is waived. Third, you may attend the hearing with your son or daughter, and you may bring an attorney to the hearing. Remember, however, that an expulsion hearing is not a courtroom. If you treat it like a courtroom and raise various objections or constitutional issues, it will be a completely unproductive use of the hearing time.
4. The school is seeking expulsion. Can I work out some kind of a deal with them?
Yes, that is possible. It depends on the school district, the underlying facts that led to the recommendation for expulsion, the student’s behavior history and other issues, but it may be possible to work something out with school officials to lessen the consequences that they are seeking. But this needs to be done right. Threatening schools with lawsuits and bullying schools officials will absolutely not get you what you want.
5. My kid has been expelled. Does that mean he or she can’t go to school anymore?
Absolutely not. Expelled kids still have a right to an education like everyone else. They are restricted in what school they can attend, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to school at all. Also, bear in mind that, no matter what the reason for the expulsion, no student may be expelled for a period longer than one calendar year.
6. My son or daughter has special needs. Will the school provide special services?
The school must provide special education services, according to federal law. Students with special needs – whether it is something like attention deficit disorder, a learning disability, an emotional disability, a physical disability or any one of a number of different issues that affects kids – must receive special instruction. If your son or daughter has some type of a diagnosed disability or you suspect they may have a disability, there are protections in place. Most of these protections are found in three laws: the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. All three of those laws – especially the first two – are highly protective of students with special needs. Schools don’t have a choice as to whether they’re going to follow them; they have to follow them.
7. My son or daughter has an IEP. What does that mean?
If your son or daughter has a substantially serious disability that warrants protection from IDEA, then he or she will be placed on an “IEP” – and Individualized Education Program. Students on an IEP receive greater services from the school. The school must work with parents to develop a plan that identifies the student’s needs, creates a framework for addressing those needs and a set of procedures that will ensure that the student’s needs are met.
8. My kid is on an IEP, but the school isn’t listening to what I want and what I think is best? Is there anything I can do?
Absolutely. IDEA is highly protective of students and their parents. It stresses that the IEP process should be collaborative – and collaborative does not mean that school officials decide what is best for your child without your input. If the school is ignoring you, then you have numerous options, ranging from something as mild as an internal appeal with the school district to something as substantial as a complaint to the Colorado Department of Education (“CDE”). Such a complaint is a highly complex mechanism that must be timely and carefully drafted. However, if used properly, it can be very effective.
9. My son or daughter doesn’t qualify for an IEP, but they’re on a 504 plan. What does that mean?
A 504 plan doesn’t provide as many protections as an IEP, but it still is a very effective tool and can be extraordinarily helpful to students. If your child has one of the disabilities, illnesses, disorders or conditions that are covered by federal law and, as a result of that situation, the student’s ability to access learning the education setting is “substantially” reduced, your child may be eligible for the protections of a 504 plan. Like an IEP, a 504 plan directs the school to create specific goals that a student should reach and then requires the school to develop a plan to reach those goals.
10. My kid is on a 504 plan, but the school isn’t handling it properly. Is there anything I can do?
Absolutely. As with the IEP process, the 504 process should be collaborative, as well. If it is not or if the school is not properly addressing it, then you do have options. They can range from internal appeal to complaints with the Federal Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”). Again, such complaints need to be carefully and timely drafted or they will be dismissed.
11. My kid is being bullied at school and school officials aren’t doing anything about it.
Unfortunately, bullying is far too common a problem at American schools. You don’t have to tolerate it, though. First, document all the bullying incidents and be highly specific about doing so. Second, bring the bullying incidents to the attention of school administrators. Don’t simply assume they will do something about it; pressure them. If you still don’t get an appropriate response, take it to the district level. Third, if the school and district are being completely uncooperative, consider filing a restraining order. Finally, if the student being bullied is on an IEP or a 504 plan – and it’s a sad reality that special needs students often experience far too much bullying – then the school must take meaningful steps to protect him or her. Otherwise, the school’s inaction could be construed as discriminatory.
12. The school is threatening me with truancy court. What can I do?
First off, get your kid to school. There’s very rarely a good reason for a student to miss a lot of days of school. Second, if there is a good reason, make sure that it is documented. A school does not have to simply take you at your word that your son or daughter has a lot of medical visits, for example. Provide them with evidence. Third, recognize that schools really do not want to take you to truancy court. This is a last resort when all else has failed.
13. The Colorado High School Activities Association (“CHSAA”) says my kid can’t play sports. What’s going on?
There are many explanations. First, most likely it’s not CHSAA that’s telling your son or daughter that they’re ineligible, but the school district itself. Schools may not allow students to participate in sports if they’re academically ineligible. Schools also may prevent students from doing so if they have various drug or alcohol violations. Second, it’s possible that your son or daughter has violated a transfer rule. In most cases, unless a student has legitimately moved from one school to another, the student will have to sit out for an extended period of time before being allowed to participate at another school.
14. I don’t like the home school I’m supposed to send my kid to. What can I do?
You have options. Colorado has school choice. This means that if you don’t feel comfortable sending your son or daughter to their home school – which is the school that they’re scheduled to attend – then you can go elsewhere. Schools have the following priorities. First, in general, all schools have to take students who are in their district-drawn boundaries. For example, if you live in boundaries of Cherry Creek High School, then that school normally has to take you. Second, schools then hav e to give priorities to students who are not in their school boundaries but are in their district boundaries. For example, let’s say that your son or daughter lives in the boundaries for Ponderosa High School, a Douglas County school. Instead, you would rather have your child attend Highlands Ranch High School, which also is a Douglas County school. If Highlands Ranch has space after taking all of its home students, then it must next give priority to your son or daughter because you live within the district boundaries. Finally, if the school still has space after taking all of its home students and district students who choice in, it can then enroll students from any part of the rest of the state.