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Defending Students in Expulsion Hearings

The attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm are experienced in helping students charged with delinquent acts in juvenile court. In many of these cases, the attorneys also assist the student in navigating the requirements of the school system's disciplinary process, including expulsion hearings with the Hillsborough County Public School System.

In many of these cases, what happens during the disciplinary hearing in front of the school board is just as important as what happens in juvenile court in front of the judge. In some cases, the results of the expulsion hearing or juvenile case can impact each other in unexpected ways. 

The goal in these cases is keeping the child in school and protecting the child's "student disciplinary history report" from having a notation that the child was suspended, expelled, or recommended for change or placement.

Call an attorney at the Sammis Law Firm to find out more about how we protect middle school and high school students who get in trouble either on the school grounds or off campus. Call 813-250-0500 to speak directly with an attorney about the case.

Classification of Violations of the Student Code

The Hillsborough County Public Schools (the school district) established a Code of Conduct that students must follow and school must enforce through disciplinary actions. Each school in Hillsborough County must also develop comprehensive discipline policies as required with the individual plans of the School Advisory Councils.

In determining how different types of violations are classified, the Hillsborough County Public Schools have developed "levels" of offenses with Level One being the most serious and Level Three being the least serious. The school will often take the position that students who are formally charged with an off-campus act that would have been a Zero Tolerance Offense or a Major Offense if the act had occurred on campus may be suspended from school and/or extracurricular activities.

When the act occurred off campus and no formal charges are filed, however, the school cannot usually take any action to expel the student. 

In certain cases, the Principal will proceed with a formal disciplinary action. The school district must make every effort to contact the parent or guardian and describe in writing the alleged violation and the statutory authority that would support such as actions. The student is also required to notify the parent and provide the parent with certain written communications. The student's failure to comply with this provision could result in further disciplinary action.

Zero Tolerance Offenses - Level One

The school district for the Hillsborough County Public School has created a list of "zero tolerance offenses" that trigger mandatory parent conferences. For these offenses that occur on school property, the school is required to report the offense to law enforcement which could result in an arrest or prosecution. The school can take certain actions and impose sanctions including a three to ten-day suspension and/or a recommendation for expulsion unless special circumstances.

Any felony drug-related incident that occurs at school will result in expulsion from the Hillsborough County Public School for one year with permission to attend an alternative placement if the student participates in a drug treatment program.

List of Zero Tolerance Offenses for Expulsion Hearings

The list of Zero Tolerance Offenses can include violent crimes such as:

Property crimes such as:

  • arson;
  • breaking or entering of School Board Property;
  • motor vehicle theft;
  • passing counterfeit money.

Crimes of dishonesty such as misrepresentation of facts resulting in public slander towards School Board employee or school;

  • bomb threats or general threats to the school population;
  • false fire alarm;
  • gang related activities;
  • major disruption of a school function.

Crimes involving contraband:

  • possession, sale, purchase, or use of alcoholic beverages;
  • possession, use, sale, distribution, purchase, or being under the influence of a controlled substance;
  • possession, use or sale of a firearm, bombs, explosives or a weapon;
  • use of a non-weapon as a weapon;
  • sale, distribution or possession of any substance represented by a student as being a controlled substance; or
  • grand theft.

Other Major Offenses or Serious Acts of Misconduct - Level Two

The school district for the Hillsborough County Public School has created a list of "serious acts of misconduct" also known as "major offenses." For these offenses, the school is required to notify the parent or guardian. The school can impose certain sanctions including an in-school suspension or up to ten days out-of school suspension.

For repeat offenses at this level, the principals may consult with their Area Leadership Directory for additional types of sanctions during the disciplinary action which can include a recommendation for change or placement.

For the most common of these offenses, the Hillsborough County Public Schools have outlined additional sanctions that are often imposed.

Minimum Due Process Requirements for Expulsion Hearings

According to the website of the Hillsborough County School District, the student has the following due process rights explained in Florida Statute Section 1006.07, 1006.09, 1001.51, 1002.20. It is important to read each of those statutes. The school district's summary of those rights are very limited and provide:

5611 - Due Process Rights

The Board recognizes the importance of safeguarding a student's constitutional rights particularly when subject to the District's disciplinary procedures. To better ensure appropriate due-process is provided a student, the Board establishes the following regulations:

A. Students subject to suspension

A student must be given both written notice of suspension and the reasons for the action and the opportunity to appear and respond to the charges prior to the suspension. An appeal may be addressed to the principal. Further appeal may be taken pursuant to procedures set forth in the Student Handbook. However, an appeal will not delay the suspension.

B. Students subject to expulsion

A student and a student's parent or legal guardian must be given written notice of the intention to expel, the reasons for the action, and an opportunity to appear with a representative before the Superintendent to answer the charges.

The student and/or parent or legal guardian shall also be provided a brief description of the student's rights and of the hearing procedure. The Board shall act on any appeal to an expulsion.

The Superintendent shall ensure that all members of the staff use the above regulations when dealing with students. In addition, this statement of due process rights is to be placed in all student handbooks in a manner that will facilitate understanding by students and their parents.

F.S. 1006.07, 1006.09, 1001.51, 1002.20

Florida Statute Section 1006.09 for Offenses that Occur Off Campus

Subsection (2) of section 1006.09 discusses the suspension or expulsion of students for certain crimes committed off campus and it applies to being formally charged which is more than an arrest - in juvenile court, it is the filing of a petition which is usually the triggering event. Many of these types of expulsion hearings are classified as a "Code 81."

Most of the time, the criminal defense attorney is fighting to keep the petition from being filed in these types of cases. If the petition is filed, the disciplinary action can only occur if the incident also had an adverse impact on the school or the welfare of a student enrolled in the school.

Fla. Stat. Ann. § 1006.09(2) provides:

(2) Suspension proceedings, pursuant to rules of the State Board of Education, may be initiated against any enrolled student who is formally charged with a felony, or with a delinquent act which would be a felony if committed by an adult, by a proper prosecuting attorney for an incident which allegedly occurred on property other than public school property, if that incident is shown, in an administrative hearing with notice provided to the parents of the student by the principal of the school pursuant to rules adopted by the State Board of Education and to rules developed pursuant to s. 1001.54, to have an adverse impact on the educational program, discipline, or welfare in the school in which the student is enrolled.

Any student who is suspended as the result of such proceedings may be suspended from all classes of instruction on public school grounds during regular classroom hours for a period of time, which may exceed 10 days, as determined by the district school superintendent.

The suspension shall not affect the delivery of educational services to the student, and the student shall be immediately enrolled in a daytime alternative education program, or an evening alternative education program, where appropriate.

If the court determines that the student did commit the felony or delinquent act which would have been a felony if committed by an adult, the district school board may expel the student, provided that expulsion under this subsection shall not affect the delivery of educational services to the student in any residential, nonresidential, alternative, daytime, or evening program outside of the regular school setting…

Fla. Stat. Ann. § 1006.09 (West).

If the conduct occurs on school property, on the school bus, or at a school event, then Florida Statute Section 1006.07 is the statute that applies for district school board duties relating to student discipline and school safety.

Due Process and Essential Fairness in Expulsion Hearings

If you received a notice that your child is subject to expulsion then you should understand the student's rights at these hearings. In Student Alpha Id No. Guja v. Sch. Bd. of Volusia Cty., 616 So. 2d 1011, 1012–13 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1993) the court explained the process as follows:

Any analysis of procedural due process in a school suspension or expulsion case must begin with Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 95 S.Ct. 729, 42 L.Ed.2d 725 (1985) where the Supreme Court held that a student facing suspension from a public school has property and liberty interests that qualify for protection under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Goss, 95 S.Ct. at 736.

In Goss nine students were suspended from high school without a hearing. The suspensions were based upon disruptive or disobedient conduct. The court commented that the fundamental requisite of due process is the opportunity to be heard and declared that at the very minimum, students facing suspension must be given some kind of notice and afforded some kind of hearing (emphasis in original). Goss, 95 S.Ct. at 738.

The court noted, however, that interpretation and application of due process are intensely practical matters which negate any concept of inflexible procedures universally applicable to every imaginable situation. Goss, 95 S.Ct. at 738.

The timing and content of the notice and the nature of the hearing depends upon the appropriate accommodation of the competing interests. Goss, 95 S.Ct. at 738–39.

After Goss, it became clear that due process in student disciplinary proceedings requires adequate notice, an opportunity to be heard, and substantial evidence to support the penalty. There are, however, no hard and fast rules by which to measure meaningful notice. Nash v. Auburn Univ., 812 F.2d 655 (11th Cir.1987).

It is equally clear that disciplinary proceedings do not require the same safeguards afforded criminal defendants.

  • See e.g., Gordon v. Savage, 383 So.2d 646 (Fla. 5th DCA 1980), rev. denied 389 So.2d 1110 (1980) (an administrative accusation is not a criminal proceeding; therefore, criminal procedures are not applicable to an inquiry into fitness to practice dentistry);
  • Jaska v. Regents of Univ. of Michigan, 597 F.Supp. 1245 (E.D.Mich.1984), aff'd 787 F.2d 590 (6th Cir.1986) (school disciplinary proceedings are not criminal trials);
  • Norton v. Discipline Comm. of East Tennessee State Univ., 419 F.2d 195 (6th Cir.1969), cert. denied 399 U.S. 906, 90 S.Ct. 2191, 26 L.Ed.2d 562 (1970) (there is not a good analogy between student discipline and criminal procedure);
  • Esteban v. Central Missouri State College, 415 F.2d 1077 (8th Cir.1969), cert. denied 398 U.S. 965, 90 S.Ct. 2169, 26 L.Ed.2d 548 (1970) (school regulations are not measured by standards of criminal law).

The due process requirement of an administrative proceeding is that the proceeding must be “essentially fair”. See Gordon v. Savage, 383 So.2d 646 (Fla. 5th DCA 1980).

Finding an Attorney for Expulsion Hearings in Hillsborough County

If your child needs the services of a criminal defense attorney after an arrest or notice to appear on criminal charges, contact the attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm. Call 813-250-0500. We also represent students in the Hillsborough County School System who are referred for an expulsion hearing.

Read more about the bylaws and procedures for expulsion hearings used by the Hillsborough County School District.

This article was last updated on Friday, July 21, 2017.