Know Your Rights: How to Advocate for Suspended Students

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by J. Parker

The Prince George’s County school system has been in a state of educational change and growth over the past few months with the new interim CEO. Now, with the addition of new incoming school board members, there is a renewed sense of hope for a change within our school system that will continue to push our system towards new educational heights. However there is still much work to be done, with many concerns surrounding the policies and procedures of disciplinary practices within the county.

In the 2016- 2017 school year, a quarter of all elementary school children suspended in Maryland were from Prince George’s County despite current state legislation prohibiting suspension for grades 2 and under. In the 2017-2018 school year, 48 percent of out-of-school suspensions in Prince George’s county were for disruption and disrespect and 1 in 4 children with out-of-school suspensions in Prince George’s county were students with disabilities.

On November 14, 2018, Delegate Erek L. Barron and former School Board Vice Chair Carolyn Boston, hosted a workshop at G. James Gholson Middle School in Landover, Maryland. The presentation by the Maryland Suspension Representation Project (MSRP) focused on informing the public on their rights during the disciplinary process within Maryland, specifically Prince George’s county. The MSRP is a partnership between Disability Rights Maryland, Maryland Office of the Public Defender, the Public Justice Center, and the Youth, Education and Justice Clinic at the Maryland School of Law.  They are “committed to protecting the due process rights of Maryland students who face school push out.”

There were several key points and takeaways from the workshop, the first being that you and your child should be fully aware of various circumstances where your child has been suspended. If your child was physically removed for breaking school rules, kicked out of a regular classroom, told to go to the front office or the in-school-suspension (ISS) room for the rest of the day, told to go home for the day, or told you cannot enter the building, chances are they have been suspended or possibly expelled.

Parents must be notified in writing of all suspensions prior to the suspension start date. If you receive a call from the school or administration asking you to, “Just come pick your child up,” immediately clarify with the school whether or not your child is being suspended. If they are not, there is no requirement for you to pick your child up at that time and they should be allowed to finish the school day. If they are being suspended, then the administrator must provide you with documentation stating as such at or before you pick up your child that day.

If your child is suspended or sent home, do the following:

  1. Immediately document the date your child was sent home. Write it down or screenshot the phone call you received from the school.
  2. Write to the principal confirming that your child was sent home.
  3. Ask the principal for a meeting to explain what evidence they have to support the suspension or expulsion, and request that evidence be provided prior to the meeting so that you may review it. Also at this time, ask for the number of days you and your child are being proposed for suspension or expulsion and the paperwork that shows what code of conduct offense the child is accused of committing. You may ask for this meeting prior to the return of your child to school and this does not have to be the “re-entrance” meeting for your child upon the ending of the suspension. The administration should provide this meeting upon your request.
  4. Save all paperwork being provided to you.
  5. In relation to the offense, note any and all information including witnesses, dates, and times for future reference.

It is also important to note that police do not have to have your permission to question your child. Statements, whether verbal or written, given to school administration or teachers can be given to the authorities and used against your child in a criminal proceeding. It is important to make your child aware that they have the right to remain silent in any situation, whether talking to school administration or police, and to assert this right calmly and respectfully until they speak to you.

A good statement to use is, “I am asserting my right to remain silent in this situation. I will not be providing a statement verbally or written to you or law enforcement at this time. I would like for you to contact my parents immediately.” Practice this or something similar and then make sure your child knows to remain silent other than these phrases until they speak to you. Be mindful of your child speaking to you over the phone about the incident in areas in where they can be overheard. Your child should assert this right with any new individual they are introduced during the time of questioning. Although the police should stop questioning your child once they assert their rights, the school administration can continue to question your child.

The Maryland Suspension Representation Project (MSRP) website provides valuable information for students facing suspension or expulsion, including timelines for a conference with the CEO or designee (by the 10th day) and procedures for appeal. Appeals must be filed within 10 days and the school system has 45 days to make a decision. Students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan have additional rights, including a “manifestation meeting” to determine if the conduct was related to the disability or if the behavior resulted from failure to properly implement the IEP or 504. This information can also be found on their website www.mdsuspensionrep.org. Families facing suspension or expulsion can get help by filling out the MSRP form online or call to 443-873-3531 to speak to an advocate as soon as possible.

Empowering parents with knowledge of rights and information within the school system is one of the main priorities of PGCABS and it is our hope that the information provided in this article will give you the tools needed to properly navigate the disciplinary practices within Prince George’s County to ensure that your child continues to receive a quality education no matter what the situation.

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