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School suspension, exclusion or expulsion

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Part of growing up for children is to accept the consequences of their behaviour. Suspension is a consequence of serious problem behaviour.

Contents

If your child is suspended or expelled from school, you are likely to be very worried about how this might affect his or her schooling in the future, and wondering what to do next.

Part of growing up for children is to accept the consequences of their behaviour. Suspension is a consequence of serious problem behaviour. After the end of the suspension time, your child will be able to go back to the school, and will be given the chance to learn how to behave in a more acceptable way. A child may be expelled after very serious misbehaviour, and it can be a long time before the child will be accepted back to school.

Note: Much of the information in this topic is based on procedures within the public and private school systems in South Australia. If you do not live in South Australia, you will need to check on the specific policies and guidelines that apply to schools where you live.

Suspension, exclusion and expulsion

  • Suspension is a form of discipline. A student is not allowed to attend school or go to school activities for a set length of time. This length of time can vary from a few days to many weeks, depending on how bad the problem behaviour is.
  • Exclusion refers to longer periods of suspension (within the public (government) school system).
  • As well as suspension and exclusion, a more extreme form of discipline that is sometimes used is expulsion. This refers to the exclusion of a student from a school or school system for a period ranging from 6 months to a number of years.

Why would a child be suspended or expelled?

Generally, the reasons why a child may be suspended or expelled are:

  • Disobedience: when a student breaks or ignores school rules that he or she knows and understands, or refuses to cooperate with teachers.
  • Misconduct: when a student behaves inappropriately or irresponsibly. Such behaviour includes breaking the Law, being violent or threatening towards other students or teachers, bringing drugs or alcohol to school, significant damage to property and stealing.
  • Other Behaviour: This refers to any behaviour that does not fit into the other two categories, but that threatens the 'good order' of the school. This can mean a lot of different things, for example behaving in a way that prevents other students from learning. However, it does not generally refer to minor things such as being untidy or talking too much (unless this behaviour is extreme and has been going on for a long time).

Your child's school will be able to tell you about the rules they have about what sort of behaviour is unacceptable and how they deal with it.

When would a child be suspended, excluded or expelled?

Suspension or expulsion is part of a behaviour management process in schools. Unless a child's behaviour is out of control on a particular day, and threatens the safety of other children, teachers or school or private property, suspension is probably not the first step that teachers will use to help a child to control his behaviour.

The decision about whether or not to suspend a child, how long the child will be suspended, or about whether or not to expel the child will generally be made after thinking about:

  • how serious the misbehaviour is
  • how often the misbehaviour has happened
  • how the student has behaved in the past
  • how the student has reacted to other discipline
  • any other information thought to be important and relevant.

Because the Principal is taking all of these things into account when making a decision about how to deal with a student's misbehaviour, two students may receive different punishments for doing the same thing. Although they may appear to have behaved in the same way, other factors may mean that it is fairer to treat them differently.

During the period of suspension or exclusion the student will still be required to continue his or her education. This could be done through a school provided external program, Open Access school or attendance at another school.

What rights does a child have at school?

The decision to suspend or expel a student needs to be made very carefully because it can seriously affect the student’s future. For this reason, an area of law called ‘procedural fairness’ applies. 

There are 2 main principles:

  1. The 'hearing rule' which means that a child has the right to tell his or her side of the story.
  2. The 'bias rule' which means that your child has the right to have a fair decision made by someone who does not have an interest in the outcome of the decision (is impartial).

In practice, this means that your child has the right to a fair hearing, which includes:

  • The right to be told what the allegations are (what someone says happened) and what evidence there is in support of them.
  • The right to respond to allegations and tell her side of the story.
  • The right to talk to other people who were involved and ask them what they saw.
  • The right to have you (the parent or guardian) or another support person come to any formal meetings or interviews with her.
  • The right to have a decision made that is based only on facts that are relevant to the situation.

What happens next?

  • If your child is to be suspended, ask to be notified in writing. Make sure that this notification includes the reasons for, and length of suspension so that everyone is clear about what is happening and why.
  • Find out what needs to happen while your child is suspended. There may be some changes that have to happen before your child can go back to school. You need to know who you talk with about this.
  • Students who are suspended cannot attend classes again until a student development plan has been designed to help them change their behaviour and to improve their learning opportunities.
  • You and your child will need to talk with the principal or a teacher to negotiate this development plan before your child goes back to school.
    • This can be very difficult for both of you if you feel angry or upset.
    • It will not be useful to attack either the teacher or your child.
    • Take a friend or social worker (or interpreter) along if you think this will help you manage the interview calmly (let the principal know beforehand who will be there).

Ask for an independent opinion about the problem if the situation has reached boiling point and you don't think that you can work collaboratively with the school.

How parents feel

When their child is suspended, many parents feel disappointed and worried about what this means for their child's future. Some parents also feel angry with their child or feel guilty because they blame themselves and think they haven’t been a good enough parent. Some of the things parents say include:

  • "My child is messing up her life"
  • "I'm scared about my child's future"
  • "My child is throwing away opportunities"
  • "I feel so angry"
  • "I feel that I can't trust my child"
  • "I don't know what to do"
  • "Where did I go wrong?"
  • "People will think I'm a bad parent"

Working with the school

When working with staff at your child’s school, it may be helpful to:

  • Try not to take it as a criticism of you, when you are told that your child is misbehaving.
  • Be realistic about what you expect from the school – they are juggling the needs of lots of students. They cannot give a very large amount of time and energy to your child because that would mean other students will miss out.
  • Try to be calm and cooperative rather than angry, even if you think a staff member is doing something wrong. If you cooperate with them, they are more likely to listen to you and cooperate with you.
  • Avoid challenging school rules in front of your child. If your child thinks that you do not respect school policies and rules then she may feel that it is okay for her not to either. If you strongly disagree with any of the rules, discuss this with the school principal, but it is better not to have your child there when you do this.
  • Try not to overreact or jump to conclusions. Gather as much information as you can about what actually happened and try to see things from both your child’s and the school's point of view – remember, children sometimes leave bits out and bend the truth because they want to avoid getting into trouble!
  • Let the school know if there have been any recent changes or problems for your child outside of school, as this may explain your child’s behaviour and may convince the school to deal with the situation differently.

Be aware that there are many different reasons why a child might develop behaviour problems at school.

  • There may be problems that are happening outside school.
  • Your child may have a health problem, be on medication, have hearing or vision problems.
  • Behaviour problems may be occurring because the level of school work that the child is expected to do is too easy (he might be bored) or too hard making him anxious and scared.
  • He may have a learning problem such as dyslexia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder which has not been recognised.

If you think your child may be misbehaving for one of these reasons, talk to the school about having her assessed by a DECS Guidance Officer or a psychologist, and see your family doctor.

  • It may also be useful to ask the school about other resources such as special classes for children with behaviour difficulties, for children with learning difficulties, or for whatever you, and they, think the problem might be.
  • Ask for an assessment from the school counsellor if you think your child may be misbehaving because she has a problem with a teacher, and then speak to the Principal.

Responding to the child

Suspension is the result of problems that happen at school. It is a serious punishment for serious problems. It is important that you take it seriously (the days away from school should not be fun days) but adding extra punishment at home may mean that your child feels angry and resentful with you, and feels that he cannot trust you to help him work out what is causing problems at school, and to find out ways of managing better.

  • Suspension and exclusion are generally only used after other forms of discipline have been tried, so usually there has been a long history of problems. Try to work out why the misbehaviour is happening and develop a plan to deal with it with the help of the school.
  • If the misbehaviour is serious enough (for example, extreme violence), sometimes a suspension may occur immediately. If this is the case, it is a good idea to seek help immediately from a counsellor or psychologist. It may be helpful to involve the whole family in this.
  • Spend some time talking to her and make sure that she understands why she is being suspended, and how the troublesome behaviour may affect her future if it continues (eg. fewer career choices available if education is seriously interrupted).

Avoid trying to protect or shield your child - it is important for children, particularly older children and teenagers, to learn to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

  • You can support your child through the consequences, but try not to help her avoid them. (For example, don't write 'fake' notes to the teacher to explain absences from school). Your child is more likely to keep misbehaving if she thinks she can get away with it.
  • Talk to your child about her problems and what is going on for her. However, try not to be too bossy and tell her what to do! Encourage your child to come up with her own ideas about how to deal with things and help her to find her own solutions, while letting her know that she has your support.
  • Accept that you cannot make your child go to school and perform well there. You need to trust your child to make the right decisions for herself. Let her know that you believe she can make the right choices for her life. Remember that you have put a lot of effort into parenting – have faith that this will pay off.

If you are concerned that your child's behaviour is being influenced by her friends (peer group) and that she is hanging out with the 'wrong crowd', it is better not to be openly critical – children are often very sensitive about their choice of friends.

  • Talk to your child about the behaviour that bothers you, not the friends.
  • Take comfort from knowing that she is still likely to be influenced by the example that you set as well. Children expect their parents to set rules, even though they may deny this! (Have a look at the topic 'Peer pressure' for some ideas about this.)

If you are unhappy with how your child is behaving at home, although you cannot make your child behave in the way that you would like, this may be a good time to be clear about what is and is not acceptable behaviour at home, and consequences of bad behaviour at home.

  • You need to be careful with this. If your child is very upset and angry, it may be best to allow the first day or so to be 'time out' (calm down time). Talking to an angry child about bad behaviour usually causes more anger.

You do not have to handle everything on your own. If you don't know how to handle the situation, speak to the school counsellor or seek outside professional help and advice (see Resources below).

Resources - South Australia

Counselling for your child:

Family Counselling:

General

  • Children, Youth and Women's Health Service  Parent Helpline
    1300 364 100 
  • Doctors
  • Private counsellors, psychologists (check in Yellow Pages telephone directory)
  • Community Health Centres

Legal

For information about your child's legal rights:

References

Bayard, R. T. & Bayard, J. (1983). 'How to deal with your acting-up teenager: practical self-help for desperate parents'. New York: M. Evans & Company, Inc.

Elliott, J. & Place, M. (1998). 'Children in difficulty: a guide to understanding and helping'. New York: Routledge.

Irvine, J., Irvine, W. & Wallace, I. (1992). 'Coping with school: a problem-solving guide to help you and your children survive the crucial early years at school'. Australia: Simon & Schuster.

Rey, J. (1995). 'Is my teenager in trouble? A parent’s guide to serious adolescent problems'. Australia: Simon & Schuster.

Rogers B, 'Behaviour management: a whole school approach'. Paul Chapman Publishing, 2000.

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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