Stand-downs, suspensions, exclusions and expulsions

Suspensions

What is a suspension?

A suspension is when you’re removed from school for a week or more following a formal process. This is done by the principal, and then the school board meets to decide what to do next.

If the situation is very serious, the board can decide to permanently “exclude” or “expel” you after a suspension.

What can I be suspended for?

Education and Training Act 2020, s 80(1)

You can be suspended for the same reasons as for a stand down, which is anything that falls into any of the following categories:

  • “gross misconduct” that’s harmful or dangerous to other students
  • “continual disobedience” that’s harmful or dangerous to other students
  • behaviour that is likely to cause serious harm to you or to other students.

Suspensions are usually used instead of a stand-down if the behaviour is more serious.

For information on stand-downs, see “What can I be stood down for?”

The Principal’s decision

The principal’s decision and “natural justice”

Education and Training Act 2020, s 78

When the principal makes the decision to suspend you, they must follow the rules of natural justice (see “Natural justice”). Basically, this means they must:

  • act fairly
  • listen to what you have to say
  • try to understand what happened by looking at any relevant information the school has or that your parents, guardians and whānau could provide
  • have an open mind.

The principal must not “prejudge” the situation, like by deciding to suspend you without hearing your side of the story.

Can the principal suspend one student involved in an incident, but not another?

Yes. Although two students may have done the same thing, it might be appropriate to treat each student differently.

If you’ve been suspended but another student who was also involved wasn’t suspended, you can raise this issue with the school board at the suspension meeting (see “The suspension meeting” below).

Be prepared to give reasons why you should be treated the same as the other student and be allowed to return to school. You could suggest other ways to deal with the situation for the board to consider, like an in-school punishment for example.

The suspension process and disability rights

Education and Training Act, ss 34,127; Human Rights Act 1993

If you have a disability, you have legal rights to:

  • Be free from discrimination – the principal and the school board can’t treat you unfairly because you have a disability. It could be discrimination if you are suspended for behaviour that is related to your disability.
  • Access education – you have the same right to education as others. The school board has an obligation to do everything it reasonably can to meet your needs so that you can stay at school. See the chapter “Learning support”

The principal (and later the school board) needs to consider your rights, and their obligation to maintain a safe environment for you and other students. A stand-down or suspension should be the last resort.

What if I’m suspended for behaviour that is a symptom of my health or behavioural needs?

Education and Training Act 2020, s 80

It could be illegal discrimination if you’re suspended or stood-down for behaviour that is a symptom of your health or behavioural needs. For example, if you have Tourette’s, you shouldn’t be suspended for movements in class that you can’t control.

The school board must be able to show it has taken all reasonable steps to address your behaviour before standing-down or suspending you. Like by having an appropriate behavioural plan in place.

“For more information, see “Discrimination” in the chapter “Health, safety and wellbeing

After you’re suspended

What happens after I’ve been suspended?

The principal immediately has to:

  • tell your parents or guardian(s), the school board, and the Ministry of Education that you have been suspended, and
  • explain how your behaviour met one of the three reasons (“grounds”) for a suspension

The principal must also send a letter to your parents or guardians about the suspension.

Next, the school board must meet to review the principal’s decision to suspend you. You’re suspended until the meeting happens.

The board has different options about what to do. They can lift, end or extend the suspension, or exclude or expel you. See “What options does the board have?” below

When does the school board have to meet?

Education and Training Act 2020, s 81(5); Education (Stand-Down, Suspension, Exclusion, and Expulsion) Rules 1999, rule 15(3)

The meeting has to happen within seven school days of the suspension. The day that you were suspended isn’t counted.

If you were suspended less than seven school days before the end of term, the meeting must happen within 10 calendar days.

If the board doesn’t meet within the seven (or 10) day time limit, the suspension is over and you can go back to school.

The meeting and decision can’t be delayed, even if everyone agrees to put it off. The meeting can go ahead without you and your family being there, as long as your family were told about it 48 hours’ beforehand.

For example, if you’re told on a Tuesday afternoon that you’re suspended, the Wednesday is the first day that’s counted – even if you don’t get the letter formally notifying you and your family for another few days.

Does the school have to tell me and my whānau about the suspension meeting?

Education (Stand-Down, Suspension, Exclusion, and Expulsion) Rules 1999, rule 15

Yes. The board must tell you and your parents or guardians about the time and place of the meeting, as soon as possible. This needs to be in writing.

The board must also give you other information at least 48 hours before the meeting. This must include:

  • information about how the suspension meeting will run
  • a copy of the principal’s report to the board giving the reasons for the suspension
  • any other information about the suspension that will be shown at the meeting
  • the possible outcomes the board can choose.

What if I think someone on the board is biased against me?

Bias is when someone might not act fairly towards you. If you know that a board member might be biased, your parents or guardians should contact the board’s chairperson as soon as possible. Let them know and suggest that the board member shouldn’t be part of the meeting (and the board’s decision).

This is part of your right to a fair hearing.

For example, there could be bias if someone on the board is related to another person who was involved in the incident.

What happens if I choose to leave the school before the board meeting?

Choosing to leave the school (withdrawing) before the meeting might stop you from getting help from the principal, or the Ministry of Education, to find a new school.

If you are younger than 16 and excluded, the principal and the Ministry of Education have some obligations to help you find a new school. Even if you’re 16 or older and have been expelled, the Ministry has the power to direct another state school to you. See “What are my rights after I’ve been excluded or expelled?”

Suspension meeting

The suspension meeting is an independent review of the principal’s decision to suspend you.

Who goes to the suspension meeting?

Education and Training Act 2020, s 85

At least half of the school board must be there (not counting the principal). If not, the meeting isn’t valid and cannot go ahead. The principal can go to the meeting because they are a member of the board, but they are not allowed to be involved in the decision.

You can attend the meeting, along with your parents or guardians. You can also take other support, like other whānau members, a lawyer, youth worker, or advocate. A support person can help you explain your side of things to the board.

It’s usually a good idea for you to go to the meeting because the board will want to hear your side of the story. If you can’t make it, your parents, guardians or support person could read out a letter from you.

What you can do to prepare for the suspension meeting

Before the meeting, you should plan what you’re going to say and organise any letters or other documents that will support what you want to say. Here are some suggestions:

Respond to questions – Plan some potential answers for any questions the board might ask. See below, “What sorts of questions will the board ask?”

Mitigating factors – “mitigating factors” are reasons why you shouldn’t be punished as harshly. For example:

  • you immediately tried to put right the harm or damage you caused
  • you have apologised
  • what happened was out of character for you.

You should explore the reasons behind what happened, and back up your explanation with other information (e.g. a doctor’s note or report from a counsellor).

Witnesses – If anyone saw what happened, they can give their version of events in writing. They can also come to the meeting if the board’s chairperson agrees.

Character references – Bring along any character references that might help you. For example, from guidance counsellors, sports coaches or teacher aides.

Admit the wrongdoing – Acknowledge that what you did was wrong if you should. The board will want to know if you want to stay at the school, and that you will take practical, pro-active steps to prevent the same thing happening again.

Apology – Apologise if you should. Write a letter of apology to the board. You can also write a verbal apology to read to the board when it’s your turn to speak at the meeting.

Conditions – The board might give you conditions as part of its decision. For example, that you need to attend counselling or follow a behavioural management plan. Think about what you are willing to accept.

Give the board any written information (like character references, doctors notes and witness statements) before the meeting. If you haven’t, bring hard copies to the meeting and hand them out.

How the suspension meeting will run

There are no legal rules or regulations dealing with the process at suspension meetings. The format and process for the meeting will be decided by the board, but usually:

  • the meeting will begin with the principal reading out their report for the board to think about
  • then you, your parents or guardians, or your representative will share your side, and give any reasons why you should be allowed to stay in school
  • the board will make its decision.

Principal’s role at the suspension meeting

Education (Stand-Down, Suspension, Exclusion, and Expulsion) Rules 1999, rules 16, 17; Bettison v Melloy [2014] NZHC 1462

The Education and Training Act doesn’t give the principal any power to say what the board should do. The board’s decision must be independent.

If the principal has said what the board should do in their report, contact the principal and ask them to take out those recommendations. You will have been sent a copy of the principal’s report before the meeting.

If the principal makes a recommendation that’s not in their report at the meeting, bring this up. Remind the board that they have to make their own decision.

The law requires the board to take all the relevant circumstances into account, to consider all of the options available to it, and to then make an independent decision.

Regardless of the principal’s view that a school rule has been broken, the board should consider whether you, in fact, did break a rule.

Although they’re a member of the board, the principal shouldn’t be with the board when it’s making its decision. The principal should leave the board meeting at the same time as you, your whānau and representatives.

If the board wants to call the principal back into the meeting to provide any other information, then you, your whānau and representatives should also be called back in and given a chance to ask questions.

New information at the meeting

If the principal (or any board member) brings up new information or issues that you or your whānau haven’t heard about before, you can ask for the meeting to be put off to a later date. This is so you can think about the new information and get advice from a lawyer or advocate if you want to.

If the meeting is put off, you should find a new time to meet with the board as soon as possible, as the board must make their decision within the seven-day (or 10-day) time limit.

Sharing your side of the story at the meeting

Education and Training Act 2020, s 78(c) (“natural justice”)

You have the right to tell your side of the story. You and your whānau or representative will have an opportunity tell your version of what happened.

If you don’t agree with the principal’s report and any other information the board is looking at, it’s important that you and your family put forward your version of the facts and explain why you disagree. This can make a difference to the board in deciding whether you’ll stay in school.

You may choose not to say anything about what happened. The board might make conclusions if you don’t say anything – for example, they might think that you agree with what the principal has said.

If the board does draw conclusions, they should let you know and give you a chance to comment, without pressuring you to provide answers or explanations.

What sorts of questions will the board ask?

  • When you tell your side of the story at the suspension meeting, the school board is likely to ask the following types of questions:
  • Do you agree with what the principal has said?
  • Do you admit that what you did was wrong and not acceptable?
  • Are you sorry for what you did?
  • Can you explain your behaviour?
  • What effects do you think your behaviour has had on others?
  • Why do you want to come back to school?
  • Why should the board allow you to come back to school?
  • How would you change your behaviour if you were allowed to return to school?
  • How can the board be confident that you will change your behaviour?
  • Why should the board believe the things you have to say?

A good way to prepare for the suspension meeting is to role-play and answer each of these questions.

The board’s decision

After hearing from your side, the school board will usually ask you to leave the room so they can discuss the issues and make a decision. However, the board might decide to ask you all to stay so that everyone can try to reach agreement about what should happen together.

What options does the board have?

Education and Training Act 2020, ss 81, 83, 88(3)

The school board has the following options:

  • Lift the suspension without conditions – You go back to school full-time. The formal disciplinary process is over and the board is no longer involved.
  • Lift the suspension with conditions – You go back to school full-time but with some conditions. Any conditions must be reasonable. For example, if you were suspended for bullying, conditions could include doing a behaviour management course and having counselling.
  • Extend the suspension with conditions – You aren’t allowed to go back to school for a set time (unless the principal allows you to), and you must meet some conditions. The length of the extended suspension must be reasonable. The conditions must be reasonable and aimed at getting you back to school. Once the conditions are met or the extended suspension comes to an end (whichever happens first), you can return to school.
  • Exclude you from the school (if you’re under 16) – If you’re excluded, the principal must try to arrange for you to be enrolled in another reasonably convenient school. If the principal hasn’t been able to do this after 10 school days, they have to tell the Ministry of Education. See Exclusions and expulsions below
  • Expel you (if you’re 16 or older) – The principal and the Ministry don’t have to help you find a new school if you’ve been expelled. See Exclusions and expulsion below

In making its decisions and setting any conditions, the board has to try to minimise the disruption to your education.

Can the board consider alternatives to a suspension, exclusion and expulsion?

Education and Training Act 2020, ss 78, 81,83; D v M and Board of Trustees of Auckland Grammar School (1998)

Yes. Suspensions, exclusions and expulsions are for only the most serious cases. The rules in the Education and Training Act give a range of responses for different situations. The board can stop the suspension and give you things you must do instead (“conditions”).

At the board meeting, you should be prepared to put forward things for the board to consider as possible conditions – for example:

  • in-school punishments such as detention or daily reports
  • counselling courses for things like anger management or quitting smoking
  • education courses on drugs or alcohol
  • a plan for you to use your particular skill set to assist teachers – for example, helping to coach a junior sports team, or helping an art teacher after school
  • a restorative justice approach – for example, holding a conference with all parties involved in the incident so that everyone can move forward. See “Restorative justice” earlier in this guide

Key principles that guide the board’s decision-making

X v Bovey [2014] NZHC 1103

At a suspension meeting, the school board must:

  • listen to both sides
  • not follow an inflexible rule or policy – the board has to consider your particular circumstances, weigh up all the factors, and consider all the options available to it, including the option of lifting the suspension subject to conditions
  • take into account relevant factors only – this means they must ignore any irrelevant information that was brought to the meeting
  • make their decision in good faith, without any personal malice towards you or other improper motives
  • The board must approach their decision with open minds, without pre-conceived decisions. A case is not “pre-determined” just because:
  • the board puts importance on school traditions and setting high standards
  • the board makes a quick decision, so long as the decision was made carefully
  • the board is consistent in how it deals with particular disciplinary issues.

The board must give written decision and reasons

Education and Training Act 2020, s 88(3); Bovaird and the Board of Trustees of Lyndfield College v J (2008) (Court of Appeal)

After it makes its decision, the board must write to your parents or guardians and the Ministry of Education, stating the decision and the reasons for it. The board has to explain the reason for your suspension (on what ground), and how they made their decision.

The board should keep a good record of the issues they discussed and their conclusions.

Rights and responsibilities during a suspension

Will I stay on the school roll while I’m suspended?

Education and Training Act 2020, s 86

Yes. If you are suspended, you’ll stay on your current school’s roll. You must be enrolled in school from your sixth birthday until you turn 16.

If you are 16 or older, you won’t be removed from your current school’s roll unless you’re enrolled at another school (or if in the event you’re expelled from the school).

What does the school have to do during a suspension?

Education and Training Act, s 86; Education (Stand-Down, Suspension, Exclusion, and Expulsion) Rules 1999, rule 18

If you’ve been suspended, the principal must make sure you get guidance and counselling.

If you’re out of school because your suspension was extended by the board, the principal must also make sure you have appropriate schoolwork to do at home. This is to help you get back to school.

If the board has extended your suspension for four weeks or more, it must monitor your progress by making sure it gets written reports from your teacher. You and your guardian(s) must be given copies of these reports.

Can I go to school during a suspension if necessary?

Yes. The same rules apply as for a stand-down. See “Can I go to school while I’m stood-down if I need to?” earlier in this chapter

What if I don’t follow the conditions of the suspension?

Education and Training Act 2020, s 81(3); Education (Stand-Down, Suspension, Exclusion, and Expulsion) Rules 1999, rule 20

If you don’t comply with the conditions the board has set (or that the board set if it lifted the suspension), the principal can ask the board to reconsider its decision.

The boards’ reconsideration meeting will follow the same process as the original suspension meeting, starting with the board having to notify you and your parents or guardians of the meeting 48 hours in advance.

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Stand-downs, suspensions, exclusions and expulsions

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