State law encourages districts to use alternatives to out-of-school suspension or expulsion, such as in-school suspension, behavioral interventions, or restorative practices.
603 Code of Massachusetts Regulations 53.05 Alternatives to Suspension under M.G.L. c. 71 § 37H¾
In every case of student misconduct for which suspension may be imposed, a principal shall exercise discretion in deciding the consequence for the offense; consider ways to reengage the student in learning; and avoid using long-term suspension from school as a consequence until alternatives have been tried. Alternatives may include the use of evidence-based strategies and programs such as mediation, conflict resolution, restorative justice, and positive interventions and supports.
603 Code of Massachusetts Regulations 53.08 Principal's Hearing under M.G.L. c. 71, § 37H 3/4
(1) The principal shall determine the extent of the rights to be afforded the student at a disciplinary hearing based on the anticipated consequences for the disciplinary offense. If the consequence may be long-term suspension from school, the principal shall afford the student, at a minimum, all the rights set forth in 603 CMR 53.08(3) in addition to those rights afforded to students who may face a short-term suspension from school. (2) Principal Hearing - Short-term Suspension. (a) The purpose of the hearing with the principal is to hear and consider information regarding the alleged incident for which the student may be suspended, provide the student an opportunity to dispute the charges and explain the circumstances surrounding the alleged incident, determine if the student committed the disciplinary offense, and if so, the consequences for the infraction. At a minimum, the principal shall discuss the disciplinary offense, the basis for the charge, and any other pertinent information. The student also shall have an opportunity to present information, including mitigating facts, that the principal should consider in determining whether other remedies and consequences may be appropriate as set forth in 603 CMR 53.05. The principal shall provide the parent, if present, an opportunity to discuss the student's conduct and offer information, including mitigating circumstances, that the principal should consider in determining consequences for the student. (b) Based on the available information, including mitigating circumstances, the principal shall determine whether the student committed the disciplinary offense, and, if so, what remedy or consequence will be imposed. (c) The principal shall notify the student and parent of the determination and the reasons for it, and, if the student is suspended, the type and duration of suspension and the opportunity to make up assignments and such other school work as needed to make academic progress during the period of removal, as provided in 603 CMR 53.13(1). The determination shall be in writing and may be in the form of an update to the original written notice. (d) If the student is in a preschool program or in grades K through 3, the principal shall send a copy of the written determination to the superintendent and explain the reasons for imposing an out-of-school suspension, before the short-term suspension takes effect. (3) Principal Hearing - Long-term Suspension. (a) The purpose of the hearing is the same as the purpose of a short-term suspension hearing. (b) At a minimum, in addition to the rights afforded a student in a short-term suspension hearing, the student shall have the following rights:
- In advance of the hearing, the opportunity to review the student's record and the documents upon which the principal may rely in making a determination to suspend the student or not;
- the right to be represented by counsel or a lay person of the student's choice, at the student's/parent's expense;
- the right to produce witnesses on his or her behalf and to present the student's explanation of the alleged incident, but the student may not be compelled to do so; and
- the right to cross-examine witnesses presented by the school district; and
- the right to request that the hearing be recorded by the principal, and to receive a copy of the audio recording provided to the student or parent upon request. If the student or parent requests an audio recording, the principal shall inform all participants before the hearing that an audio record will be made and a copy will be provided to the student and parent upon request. (c) The principal shall provide the parent, if present, an opportunity to discuss the student's conduct and offer information, including mitigating circumstances, that the principal should consider in determining consequences for the student. (d) Based on the evidence, the principal shall determine whether the student committed the disciplinary offense, and, if so, after considering mitigating circumstances and alternatives to suspension as set forth in 603 CMR 53.05, what remedy or consequence will be imposed, in place of or in addition to a long-term suspension. The principal shall send the written determination to the student and parent by hand-delivery, certified mail, first-class mail, email to an address provided by the parent for school communications, or other method of delivery agreed to by the principal and the parent. If the principal decides to suspend the student, the written determination shall:
- Identify the disciplinary offense, the date on which the hearing took place, and the participants at the hearing;
- Set out the key facts and conclusions reached by the principal;
- Identify the length and effective date of the suspension, as well as a date of return to school;
- Include notice of the student's opportunity to receive education services to make academic progress during the period of removal from school as provided in 603 CMR 53.13(4)(a);
- Inform the student of the right to appeal the principal's decision to the superintendent or designee, but only if the principal has imposed a long-term suspension. Notice of the right of appeal shall be in English and the primary language of the home if other than English, or other means of communication, where appropriate, and shall include the following stated in plain language: a. the process for appealing the decision, including that the student or parent must file a written notice of appeal with the superintendent within five calendar days of the effective date of the long-term suspension; provided that within the five calendar days, the student or parent may request and receive from the superintendent an extension of time for filing the written notice for up to seven additional calendar days; and that, b. the long-term suspension will remain in effect unless and until the superintendent decides to reverse the principal's determination on appeal. (e) If the student is in a public preschool program or in grades K through 3, the principal shall send a copy of the written determination to the superintendent and explain the reasons for imposing an out-of-school suspension, whether short-term or long-term, before the suspension takes effect.
Advisory on Student Discipline under Chapter 222 of the Acts of 2012
Provides clarity on alternatives to suspension
General Laws of Massachusetts 69.1N Alternative education grant program
(a) The department of education, hereinafter referred to as the department, shall establish a grant program, subject to appropriation, to be known as the alternative education grant program for the purpose of providing grants to assist school districts and Horace Mann and commonwealth charter schools with the development and establishment of alternative education programs and services to students suspended or expelled from school. The grants shall support the development of alternative education programs which would: (1) allow school districts to coordinate efforts to establish interdistrict regional alternative education collaboratives to provide educational services to suspended or expelled students; or (2) establish a district based alternative education program for those students. The grants may also be used to encourage the use of technology in alternative education programs. The grants shall also encourage voluntary expansion of existing alternative education programs in the commonwealth, and shall be used to provide alternative education programs for students who are at risk of educational failure due to truancy, or dropping out of school. Grants may also be used to assist in developing programs that provide a range of approaches to address behavior issues, such as behavior specialists, in–school suspension rooms and crisis centers, in addition to out–of–school alternative settings. Programs designed under the grants shall be developed at the middle and high school levels and shall afford students the opportunity to earn a high school diploma in accordance with section 1D, and to be taught to the same academic Standard and curriculum frameworks established for all students in accordance with sections 1D and 1E. The programs shall make use of existing resources in school districts, educational collaboratives, community colleges, and other agencies, service providers, and organizations. Programs shall be designed as placements that, at a minimum, educate students to the same academic Standard and curriculum frameworks as taught to all students, address behavioral problems, utilize small class size, address individual needs and learning styles, provide engaging instruction and a supportive environment, and, where appropriate, utilize flexible scheduling. The programs shall also provide a comprehensive array of social services to support a student’s remediation of issues that cause school failure, excessive absenteeism, truancy and school dropout. Grant recipients shall develop remediation plans for students that address both academic and behavioral issues. Grants may also be made available for in–school regular education programs that include self–improvement, behavior management and life skills training to help provide students with tools to better manage their lives and attitudes, to support programs that use family–based approaches, and to assist students and teachers during the transition of students back into regular education classrooms. A grant awarded pursuant to this subsection, shall require that recipients undertake ongoing program evaluations that document the effectiveness of the program in helping students to achieve academically to the same academic Standard and curriculum frameworks required for all students, to develop self–management skills, and to reintegrate and remain in regular education classrooms. In awarding grants, priority shall be given to programs that employ interventions that have been empirically validated. The department shall establish guidelines governing the alternative education grant program. The guidelines shall include, but not be limited to, a requirement that when a student is transferred to an alternative education program a representative of the school district shall meet with the student and the student’s parents or legal guardian to develop an agreement that specifies the responsibilities of the school, the student and the student’s parents or legal guardian. The agreement shall, at a minimum, include: (1) a remediation plan to address both academic and behavioral issues; (2) a plan for frequent evaluations and assessments of the student’s adjustment, and academic achievement and progress; (3) a requirement that the parents or legal guardian of the student attend specified meetings or conferences with teachers, or utilize such other means of communication as determined necessary to facilitate communication, to review and assist in the student’s progress; (4) a timetable for reintegrating the student into a regular education classroom; (5) the student’s and the parents’ or legal guardian’s acknowledgement that they understand and accept the responsibilities imposed by the agreement. (b) The department shall establish a grant program, subject to appropriation, to assist school districts with the development and establishment of in–school regular education programs and services to address within the regular education school program the educational and psycho–social needs of children whose behavior interferes with learning, particularly those who are suffering from the traumatic effects of exposure to violence. As used in this subsection, students suffering from the traumatic effects of exposure to violence shall include, but not be limited to, those exposed to abuse, family or community violence, war, homelessness or any combination thereof. The grants shall support the development of school based teams with community ties that: (1) collaborate with broadly recognized experts in the fields of trauma and family and community violence and with battered women shelters; (2) provide ongoing training to inform and train teachers, administrators, and other school personnel to understand and identify the symptoms and trauma; and (3) evaluate school policy and existing school and community programs and services to determine whether and to what extent students identified as suffering from exposure to trauma can receive effective supports and interventions that can help them to succeed in their public school programs, and where necessary be referred quickly and confidentially to appropriate services. Grants may also be awarded to assist school districts in developing comprehensive programs to help prevent violence in schools, from whatever causes, and to promote school safety. The programs shall be designed to meet the following objectives: creating a school environment where students feel safe and that prevents problems from starting; helping students to take the lead in keeping the school safe; ensuring that school personnel have the skills and resources to identify and intervene with at–risk students; equipping students and teachers with the skills needed to avoid conflict and violence; and helping schools and individuals to reconnect with the community and share resources. The department shall develop guidelines governing the implementation of the grant program authorized by this subsection. A grant awarded pursuant to this subsection shall require that recipients undertake ongoing evaluations of the effectiveness of the program. In awarding grants, priority shall be given to programs that are based on empirically validated interventions. The department of education, in consultation with the department of public health and the department of mental health, shall establish an advisory committee to assist in implementing the grant program and in assisting public schools in addressing the learning and behavior problems of students who manifest trauma–related symptoms or classroom behavior that interferes with learning. Members of the advisory committee shall include but not be limited to: 3 educators, 1 of whom shall serve as the chair, appointed by the commissioner of the department of education; 2 leaders in the field of trauma and its relationship to school learning and behavior appointed by the commissioner of the department of public health; 2 leaders in mental health with expertise in family and/or community violence appointed by the commissioner of mental health; 1 leader in battered women’s services appointed by the commissioner of public health; 1 leader in the area of homelessness and its impact on children appointed by commissioner of mental health; and 3 parents, 1 each appointed by the commissioner of education, the commissioner of public health, the commissioner of mental health. The advisory committee, at its discretion, may select additional members with relevant experience including but not limited to child advocates, medical doctors and representatives of juvenile and probate court. (c) The commissioner shall evaluate annually the effectiveness of programs established under this section including the potential for replicating such programs throughout the commonwealth. The annual evaluation shall also examine whether students in alternative education programs funded under this section are being taught to the same academic Standard required for all students, how much time students are spending in the programs, the racial profile of expelled or suspended students and the percentages of the students who are in special education or bilingual education. The commissioner shall also provide technical assistance to school districts seeking to replicate programs funded under this section, and shall provide training for teachers in the development of effective remediation plans for students in alternative education, and in the development of skills, techniques, and innovative strategies to assist the students. In evaluating programs funded under subsection (b), the commissioner shall consult with the department of public health, the department of mental health, and the advisory committee established pursuant to said subsection (b).
General Laws of Massachusetts 71.37H Policies relative to conduct of teachers or students; student handbooks
(a) Any student who is found on school premises or at school–sponsored or school–related events, including athletic games, in possession of a dangerous weapon, including, but not limited to, a gun or a knife; or a controlled substance as defined in chapter ninety–four C, including, but not limited to, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, may be subject to expulsion from the school or school district by the principal.
(b) Any student who assaults a principal, assistant principal, teacher, teacher’s aide or other educational staff on school premises or at school–sponsored or school–related events, including athletic games, may be subject to expulsion from the school or school district by the principal.
(c) Any student who is charged with a violation of either paragraph (a) or (b) shall be notified in writing of an opportunity for a hearing; provided, however, that the student may have representation, along with the opportunity to present evidence and witnesses at said hearing before the principal.
After said hearing, a principal may, in his discretion, decide to suspend rather than expel a student who has been determined by the principal to have violated either paragraph (a) or (b).
(d) Any student who has been expelled from a school district pursuant to these provisions shall have the right to appeal to the superintendent. The expelled student shall have ten days from the date of the expulsion in which to notify the superintendent of his appeal. The student has the right to counsel at a hearing before the superintendent. The subject matter of the appeal shall not be limited solely to a factual determination of whether the student has violated any provisions of this section.
(e) Any school district that suspends or expels a student under this section shall continue to provide educational services to the student during the period of suspension or expulsion, under section 21 of chapter 76. If the student moves to another district during the period of suspension or expulsion, the new district of residence shall either admit the student to its schools or provide educational services to the student in an education service plan, under section 21 of chapter 76.