When Noreen’s daughter Johnna was suspended, the school did not provide information about the suspension or the return-to-school plan until she spoke to the principal in person several days later. Noreen was also concerned because the school did not provide schoolwork for Johnna to complete during the suspension and she wasn’t provided with information about the School District’s (the District) appeal process.
Frustrated, Noreen brought her complaint to us.
Our investigation focused on whether the District followed a reasonable process in communicating with Noreen about Johnna’s suspension. In speaking with the District, we learned that staff had not intended to formally suspend Johnna. The District said the school staff required Johnna to be absent to allow them to assemble a complex care team in order to develop a safety plan and a return-to-school schedule, a process that took more time than anticipated. The District also explained that staff had unsuccessfully attempted to reach Noreen on the day of the incident and while schoolwork was not initially provided, it was provided eventually.
We considered the District’s process in light of the requirements in the School Act and identified three concerns:
- The Act provides legal authority to suspend or medically exclude a student, but not to informally remove them as the District had in this case.
- The Act requires that an educational program be provided to any student who is suspended or medically excluded, but it was not clear District staff were aware of this requirement.
- The Act grants parents the right to appeal significant decisions of District staff to the Board of Education.
As a result of our investigation the District began to work on improving its guidance for staff for supporting students who have been suspended as well as developing guidelines for medical exclusions. The District confirmed its guidance documents would include information about the requirement to provide an educational program to students who are suspended or medically excluded and would instruct staff to provide proactive information about the right to appeal such decisions. The District explained that the guidance documents would be finalized and then presented to the Board of Education for consideration. The District also agreed to speak to the staff involved in this case to discuss the fairness concerns identified.