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Courtroom Rules Don’t Apply In Expulsion Hearings

Connecticut Law Tribune

August 9, 2010

Authors: Linda L. Yoder, Peter J. Murphy

A 2007 amendment to Connecticut General Statutes 10-233d requires a notice of a student expulsion hearing to include information about how to access free or low-cost legal services. As a result, several legal organizations, such as the Appleseed Project and various local bar association programs, have recruited attorneys to provide such services pro bono.

The resulting proliferation of attorneys has led to a concomitant increase in challenges to hearing procedures, as attorneys skilled in criminal and civil trial practice seek to impose more of that structure on expulsion hearings. It is well settled, however, that student disciplinary hearings do not need to mirror court trials. Indeed, most student expulsion hearings are noticed and held within three weeks of the alleged disciplinary infraction, and expulsion hearings typically are completed in less than two hours.

Some practices that may surprise attorneys new to the expulsion process include the small number of witnesses called to testify, the lack of a formal pre-hearing discovery process, and the limited amount of information available about other students who may have witnessed or participated in the offense.

In an expulsion hearing, the school administration generally presents its case through an administrator or police officer, who testifies about the investigation that was conducted, the information gathered, and the results. Such testimony frequently will include references to statements made by witnesses to – or victims of – the alleged misconduct. Indeed, expulsions routinely proceed without direct testimony from any student other than the one being considered for expulsion.

All students, including potential witnesses, victims and those students subject to the expulsion process, retain the right to confidentiality of their student records under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1232g. The unique legal protections applicable to student under FERPA may make it difficult to prepare a defense in an expulsion case that involves claims made by other students.

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