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Protecting Students’ Rights: The Nuts and Bolts of a School Tribunal Hearing

At PhyllisLaw.com, we fight for students facing a school suspension and the possible legal consequences that may follow. The legal process can be difficult for a student to go through, but their rights deserve protection.

Georgia law dictates that public school students of any age who are suspended for 10 days or more are entitled to dispute their suspension before a “tribunal.” This hearing must be set within 10 days of the beginning of a suspension that exceeds 10 days. The first part of this two-fold process requires the tribunal to decide whether a rule the school has put in place has been violated by the student, and the second part requires the tribunal to determine whether the suspension is consistent with the behavior.

A student’s rights in this tribunal are backed up by the U.S. Constitution. This gives students the right to a notice, right to representation by an attorney of their choosing, and an opportunity to present witnesses and evidence while disputing their suspension.

Georgia schools are also required to have progressive levels of discipline that depend on the circumstances of the rule violation. This requirement gives an attorney plenty of leverage at the tribunal. At PhyllisLaw.com, we have learned that the best chance a student has at relief is to convince the tribunal that the punishment recommended by the school is too harsh. However, it can be difficult to get the school administrator to discuss how they came to the decision of the student’s punishment. The moderator typically will not allow the attorney to probe into what punishment other students have received for similar violations. Instead, schools often hide behind “privacy issues.”

Legally, local school boards are also required to adopt codes of conduct for their students, and at the beginning of each school year, students and their parents must acknowledge receiving information by signing a document. If the school is unable to produce that document at the hearing, the student will prevail at the tribunal.

However, students may have more dire issues to consider beyond a school suspension. School resource officers will often refer these matters to the local police, and while this is sometimes discretionary, other times the referral is mandatory under state law. Because of this, I often caution my clients in these situations to be mindful that anything said at the tribunal may be used against them at a later criminal trial or juvenile court proceeding. In certain circumstances, it may be in the student’s best interest to exercise their right to remain silent. I often work with students and their parents to determine what would be the best course of action for the student while still offering them a fair opportunity at their tribunal hearing.

If the student is unhappy with the tribunal, the decision can be appealed to the local school board, and the subsequent decision from that board can then be appealed to the Georgia Board of Education. Decisions from the Georgia Board of Education can be appealed to the superior court in the county of the local school board.

These hearings can be intimidating for students and their parents. At PhyllisLaw.com, we are experienced in guiding students and their families through these hearings, as well as the potential criminal cases that could follow. The law gives students the right to protect their education, and we fight to protect that right.

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