If your student is expelled or recommended for expulsion in S.C. public schools, once you get past the shock, you will be faced with paperwork and deadlines for appeal. These opportunities to appeal will come at you quickly, and it will be important to know and understand how the process works, what rules apply, and the rights to which you are entitled.
This blog is based on my experience as general counsel for the Charleston County School District for nine years, and my experience as a private attorney representing students all over the state since 2017. There is a state law on expulsion in S.C. public schools, and school districts must observe the law, but they also must observe their own policies on the expulsion process.
Grounds For Expulsion in S.C. Public Schools
All school districts in South Carolina have a student code of conduct. Frequently they list violations in groups, or levels, in ascending order of severity. Naturally, expulsion in S.C. public schools is reserved for the most serious offenses, but school districts have a tremendous amount of discretion regarding grounds to expel.
State law permits districts to expel for:
“The commission of any crime, gross immorality, gross misbehavior, persistent disobedience, or for violation of written rules and promulgated regulations established by the district board, county board, or the State Board of Education, or when the presence of the pupil is detrimental to the best interest of the school.”
-S.C. Code Ann. § 59-63-210
When a student is reported to have engaged in conduct that might be grounds for expulsion in S.C, public schools, the principal will typically pull the student out of class and undertake some kind of investigation. That may include questioning or searching the student, their belongings, and, possibly, their car. Sometimes these take place in the presence of a police officer. The rules associated with questioning and searching will be the subject of a future blog.
If the principal, or school administrator in charge, believes expulsion may be in order, the student will be suspended with a “recommendation for expulsion.” Increasingly, it appears, principals are recommending expulsion even for lesser offenses, perhaps to avoid the appearance that the school lacks adequate disciplinary practices. Basically, kicking the can down the road.
Right To An Appeal
State law requires school districts to offer a student who has been recommended for expulsion in S.C. public schools a due process hearing, with the right to counsel. The hearing is sometimes scheduled to take place just days after the suspension, with very little advance notice. This initial hearing is critical because it is the only time a parent or guardian is guaranteed the right to submit evidence or testimony and to cross-examine the witnesses.
School districts will require advance notice if you intend to bring an attorney.
Technically, subsequent levels of appeal do not provide those opportunities. State law does not require school districts to notify the parent or guardian of these rights, and some districts simply refer the family to state law.
The hearing can take place before a hearing officer, a hearing panel, or even the Board of Trustees itself. Different school districts do it in different ways but, at the end of the day, a student who has been recommended for expulsion in S.C public schools has the right to review by the Board of Trustees and from there to the circuit court and the state court appeals process.
The law provides that a student who is given expulsion in S.C. public schools will be removed from the school for the remainder of that school year and must apply for readmission to enroll for the next school year. However, state law also provides that a student who brings a firearm onto school property must be expelled for a full calendar year, although the law affords the superintendent some discretion to modify that consequence, on a case-by-case basis.
Call Emerson Law
If your student is threatened with expulsion in S.C. public schools, you have the right to counsel throughout the process. Please call on Emerson Law for advice and representation.