In North Carolina, as well as across the country, school discipline is imposed by suspending students from school. Although there is no social science evidence supporting the efficacy of suspension as a tool for maintaining appropriate student behavior, and despite compulsory attendance laws, school principals everywhere remove children from school in response to rule violations.
Students may be represented by an attorney in the school discipline process. This right was secured in the case of In re Roberts, 563 S.E.2d 37 (N.C. App. 2002) and has since been codified at N.C.G.S. §115C-390.8(a)(5). As most students do not have skill in producing and presenting evidence on their own behalf, representation by an attorney can considerably enhance their chances of having the period of suspension reduced or the penalty revoked. Even if the student has represented him or herself at the initial hearing, an attorney can be involved in various levels of appeal, again, offering the student the real chance of having the suspension reversed or reduced.
This manual will provide guidance for an attorney representing a student in the disciplinary process. Because each school district has the authority to develop its own discipline procedures, the manual is necessarily general. Nevertheless, it offers guidance that should be helpful in most any process. Attorneys should consult the specific district policies as soon as possible in the process. In addition, attorneys should consult the state statute governing school discipline, N.C.G.S. §115C-390.1 et seq., and the manuscript entitled, “School Discipline Law Affecting North Carolina Public School Students.”