School Discipline: What to Do if You Don't Agree

Authored By: MLSA


I don’t agree with the way my child was disciplined at a public school.  What can I do?

            The first step is to talk to the person who disciplined your child.  If that was a teacher, talk to the teacher.  If it was an administrator, talk to that administrator.  Many issues can be resolved through an informal conversation. 

Can I appeal the decision to discipline my child?

            Yes.  In most cases it is possible to appeal the decision to discipline a student.  If the disciplinary action was made by a teacher and talking to the teacher did not resolve the issue, you should try speaking with the principal.  If the disciplinary action was taken by the principal, you would speak to the superintendant of the school district.  If you are unable to resolve the situation by talking to school administrators, you can ask for the issue to be placed on the agenda at a school board meeting and ask the school board to review the decision.  Some cases can be appealed to the county superintendant of public instruction and even to the Montana Superintendant of Public Instruction. 

How do I know who to talk to?

            Your school should have a handbook that includes the discipline policy and student due process rights.  Ask in the school office if you did not receive a copy of the handbook.  The handbook should tell you what steps to take and who handles appeals.  Local school boards set most of the policies and procedures.  The exact procedure you follow varies from district to district.

Usually to appeal you go up one level from the person who made the disciplinary decision.  If a teacher disciplined your child, you talk to principal or vice-principal.  If the principal disciplined your child, you talk to the superintendent of the district.  Your district may not have a superintendant.  If there is no district superintendant you talk to the school board. 

To talk to the school board you need to be on the agenda for the next meeting.  Ask in the school district office to have the issue put on the agenda.  You may need to make the request to be on the agenda in writing.  Make sure you keep a copy of the request and any written response.

What do I ask for?

            Review the discipline procedure or policy in the handbook to see if it tells you how to appeal.  Follow any written procedures. 

·         Ask to be given decisions in writing. 

·         Ask to appeal the decision or to make a grievance about the discipline.

·         Ask what rule, policy or law the decision was based on.

·         Ask to be present at any meeting to discuss the issue.

What  are the limits on what the school can do to discipline my child?

·         Montana law says that it is illegal for teacher to administer corporal punishment.  This means that a teacher is not supposed to use physical pain as a way to discipline a student.  You can read the law  -- Section 20-4-302, MCA – at your local public library or online at  “MCA” stands for Montana Code Annotated.

·         The law specifies who may suspend or expel a student.  A teacher may only suspend a student if there is no principal for the school.  If the school district has a principal or superintendant, the power to suspend a student is with the principal or superintendant.  The power to expel a student is granted to the school board, but Section 20-5-202, MCA says that the school board may have a policy that allows a principal or superintendant to expel a student.  You may request a copy of the policy on expulsion from the school district office.

·         The law puts limits on how long a student may be suspended.  A student may not be suspended for more than 10 days.  However, if a school administrator finds that it “would be detrimental to the health, welfare, or safety of others or would be disruptive of the educational process” and the school administrator holds an informal conference with the student beforehand, the student may be suspended for up to an additional 10 days. 

Are there different rules if my child has a disability?

Yes.  Some of the rules are the same and some may be different.  If discipline has an impact on your child’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) there may be a different rule that applies to your child.  For example, if your child is suspended from riding the bus, and riding the bus is part of your child’s IEP, the school may need to provide alternative transportation services to meet the IEP. 

If your child has an IEP and is suspended or moved to a different placement, the school should hold a Manifestation Determination within 10 days.  The Manifestation Determination is a meeting to figure out if the behavior that led to the suspension was caused by your child’s disability.  Whether the behavior was caused by the disability will determine what services and rights your child is entitled to. 

Where can I get more information?

The Montana Office of Public Instruction website:          

The Parents Let’s Unite for Kids (PLUK) website:

Last Review and Update: Jan 30, 2015

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