School board hearings, sometimes called “tribunals”, take place when a school believes a student violated its student code of conduct and serious disciplinary action is required. Student codes contain basic standards for student behavior, define violations, and set forth appropriate disciplinary actions. Schools must provide these codes to students and their parents each year.
While school officials can discipline students for minor violations, school board hearings are held when the violation warrants serious, long-term disciplinary action such as suspension or expulsion. Under Georgia law, a school cannot expel or suspend a student for more than 10 days without first conducting a hearing.
The hearing process begins when the school sends a notice to the student and his or her parents. This notice contains important information about the time and date of the hearing, any instructions that parents may need, and information about witnesses the school intends to rely on. Parents can (and should) retain an attorney, and must notify the school prior to the hearing date so that the school can bring its own attorney. While it is not required for a student to have a lawyer, it is advisable since attorneys can often negotiate to settle the case without having to conduct a hearing, which often leads to the best outcome.
A hearing officer or panel of officers will conduct the hearing. A hearing officer is someone who has no personal relationship with the student and no prior knowledge of the incident. Similar to a trial in court, each side will have an opportunity to present evidence, including witnesses. After each side has had a chance to explain their case, the hearing officer decides whether the student committed a violation of the student code and the appropriate discipline.
While school board hearings may not seem as serious as juvenile court proceedings, disciplinary action before a school board can have serious consequences for a child’s future and may also lead to a complaint in juvenile court. To understand the similarities and differences of school board hearings and juvenile court hearings, please stay tuned for the next installment of my blog!