Protecting the Rights of Students Who are Victims of Excessive Discipline in Schools
Going to school is both a right and a privilege in New Jersey. It’s no secret that teachers and administrators have difficult jobs carrying out state-mandated laws and curriculum standards. School discipline is also a necessary, important part of the equation; maintaining order and ensuring student safety are paramount to the educational process.
Anytime there are hundreds of children in one place, there are bound to be discipline issues. However, there are times when the punishment in New Jersey schools just doesn’t fit the crime. Zero tolerance policies and other strict practices often raise concern for parents who feel their children are being treated too harshly. If you feel your child has been suspended or otherwise punished unfairly, contact Davis & Mendelson for a review of your case. Whether you live in Cherry Hill, Marlton, Moorestown, Mt. Laurel or anywhere else in Camden County, NJ, we will protect your child’s rights and deal with the school district on your behalf. Education Attorney Howard Mendelson focuses much of his practice on education law.
What are Zero Tolerance Policies in New Jersey?
Just as the name sounds, a Zero Tolerance Policy covers offenses that the school district deems so severe that the behavior will not be tolerated. Further, the policies are enforced with specific, harsh punitive consequences that leave little discretion for school officials. Some common activities that are covered by Zero Tolerance Policies in NJ schools include:
- Being caught with drugs or alcohol on school property
- Having a gun or knife or other weapon on school property
- Committing an act of physical violence against other students or staff
Penalties range in severity for these types of behaviors. One might warrant an after-school detention or, in the younger grades, “no recess,” to getting suspended for a set period of time to complete school expulsion.
Voorhees, NJ Lawyer Helps Families Dealing with Harsh School Punishments throughout Camden County, New Jersey
Kids will be kids and there needs to be guidelines and repercussions for students who don’t follow school rules. That being said, students have rights. They have the right to an investigation and a just review of the situation by the authorities involved. Children have the right, as well, to be treated with dignity and fairness, regardless of the infraction and punishment. This is true even when a Zero Tolerance Policy is in force.
At the same time, Camden County school districts have wide discretion when it comes to setting many discipline guidelines. The rules are set forth by the local Board of Education and carried out by the building’s administrators. Other laws are set by the NJ State Legislature and having standing penalties; these including HIB laws that protect students against harassment, intimidation and bullying. Additionally, punishment for other laws that require police intervention – criminal offenses, for example – may be out of the purview of the school district.
With regard to district-set policies, two things are true across the board: they must be reasonable and followed consistently. If two kids, for example, are in a food fight in the cafeteria and both are found to have “started it,” both students should face the same punishment. However, if one kid gets a one-day detention and the other kid gets a three-day suspension, both penalties might be reasonable but certainly not consistent.
On the other hand, as was the case in one South Jersey town, a first grader had a water gun in his backpack and was suspended because he brought a “weapon” into school. The circumstance would not be considered reasonable; the first grader inadvertently brought an inappropriate toy to school. There was no malicious intent to brandish a weapon. The punishment lacked common sense that is required in South Jersey school districts.
As a parent, you have an absolute right to dispute any punishment handed down to your child if you believe they are being treated outside of the district policies or if they are being treated inconsistent to other students. If you feel the school policies are too harsh or inappropriate, you can petition the district’s board of education to review the policies. We can help. Contact Davis & Mendelson today for experienced guidance in your case.
Call Today for a Consultation about Your Child’s Camden County, NJ School Punishment
If your child is facing a punishment that you consider unreasonable – whether because it’s too harsh for the infraction or because your kid maintains innocence in the situation – you need to speak with a seasoned education lawyer who understands New Jersey laws and will fight for your child’s rights to a fair review of the circumstances.
Howard Mendelson of Camden County, NJ-based Davis & Mendelson represents the Voorhees, NJ school district in legal matters. He has been on both sides of the table in disciplinary hearings and he will use his knowledge of the law to negotiate the best outcome possible for your child. Call our office today to request a consultation.