Q. Are schools required to include non-core academic subjects among the education services provided under the education service plan for students who are expelled or on long-term suspension?
A. A student who has been expelled or suspended for more than ten consecutive days must be provided an opportunity to receive education services identified in a school-wide education service plan. The education services must allow the student "the opportunity… to make academic progress toward meeting state and local requirements." If non-core academic subjects are included in local requirements, they must be included in the education service plan so the student has the opportunity to make academic progress.
Q. What does a district do if the student refuses to accept the education services offered under the education service plan during the suspension or expulsion?
A. The school should meet with the student and parent to encourage the student to continue his or her education by accepting the services. Depending on the student's circumstances, resources available on the Department's website that discuss risks of leaving school may be helpful in that discussion: Student Discipline Resources and Information webpage.
Ultimately, if the student fails or refuses to engage, the school should document its efforts. The school has met its legal obligations because it has provided the student an opportunity to make academic progress during the period of exclusion from school. If the student subsequently changes his or her mind and requests education services, the school should provide the opportunity to make academic progress.
Q. If a student is placed in ISS, does the school have to provide a tutor?
A. Students who are suspended short-term, whether in or out-of-school, must be provided an opportunity to make academic progress during their suspension. As a general rule, a school will fulfill its responsibility if school personnel provide make-up assignments, tests, papers, homework, and other school work to a student who is suspended short-term. If the ISS is more than ten consecutive days, the school would be required to provide education service options, such as tutoring and instructional materials. The interests of the student and the school are served by keeping the student engaged in learning.
Q. Must the school provide transportation services to a suspended or expelled student if the student would not otherwise be able to access the opportunity to make academic progress?
A. For those students who receive services under the school-wide education service plan, the school must provide transportation services if the student received transportation services before the suspension or expulsion and the student would be unable to access the selected education service(s) without transportation.
Q. If a student is expelled from a charter school, does the charter school have to provide education services to the student?
A. Yes; the charter school is responsible for having a school-wide education service plan, and for providing education services to any student it expels or suspends for more than ten consecutive days. Similarly, students who are suspended short-term (for ten days or less, cumulatively or consecutively) must have an opportunity to make academic progress during the period of suspension. This means the charter school, as any other public school, must provide an opportunity for the students to make up assignments, tests, papers, and other school work.
Q. Does the requirement to provide education services under a school-wide education service plan apply to educational collaborative programs?
A. A student who attends an educational collaborative program must be provided an opportunity to make academic progress during any period of suspension or expulsion. Students who are expelled or suspended for more than ten consecutive days must be provided an opportunity to receive education services through the school-wide education service plan. The responsibility for education services ultimately rests with the student's school district, not the educational collaborative, since the student continues to be enrolled in the district while attending the collaborative program. However, an educational collaborative and the student's sending district may agree to other arrangements as long as the student has an opportunity to make academic progress as provided under 603 CMR 53.00 and other applicable laws and regulations.
Q. G.L. c. 76, §21 states that "[p]rincipals shall develop a school-wide education service plan" that identifies a list of education services available to students expelled or suspended for more than ten consecutive days. Must the plan be done school-by-school or could it be a district-wide education service plan?
A. Yes, the plan could be a district-wide education service plan as long as it includes a list of education services that will provide the student an opportunity to make academic progress toward meeting state and local requirements, and is based on the academic standards and curriculum frameworks established for all students in the district.
Q. Can a school or district have a list of education service options and limit the options based on the school's understanding of the student's academic needs? For example, can a principal inform the student and parent that the student can choose between only two of three education service options?
A. G.L. c. 76, §21, which requires school-wide education service plans, states in relevant part:
Any school or school district that expels or suspended a student for more than 10 consecutive days shall provide the student and the parent or guardian of the student with a list of alternative education services. Upon selection of an alternative educational service by the student and the parent or guardian of the student, the school or district shall facilitate and verify enrollment in the service.
Since the statute refers to a "list of alternative educational services" from which the student/parent may choose, as long as the school or district offers at least two education service options that are available on an equitable basis to all students, that will provide them an opportunity to make academic progress and meet other requirements set out in §53.13, it would be permissible to limit the options for educational reasons.
Q. Must a school provide a student with disabilities the opportunity to make academic progress while the student is suspended or expelled?
A. Yes. A student with disabilities has all the rights that a typical student has under state law and regulations, in addition to the procedural and other rights afforded to students with disabilities under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This means that if a student with disabilities is suspended for ten days or less,8 in school or out-of-school, the notice and hearing process outlined in the regulations is applicable. Additionally, the student has the right to make up tests and other assignments, and do such other work as necessary to make academic progress during that period.
If a student with disabilities is suspended for more than ten days, the parties may want to review the following federal and state-issued guidance, respectively, Questions and Answers on Discipline Procedures before determining next steps. School administrators are also encouraged to consult with legal counsel.
Q. The law requires that schools provide a student an opportunity to make academic progress during the time that he or she is suspended or expelled. Career vocational technical education schools and programs provide academic and vocational education. Are these schools required to provide services so that students can make progress in their vocational training as well as academic courses?
A. No. G.L. c. 76, §21 requires only that schools provide an opportunity to make academic progress during suspension or expulsion. It does not address providing services so that a student can continue progress in a vocational program.
The Department encourages vocational schools and programs to provide vocational support to the extent possible, particularly to those students who are suspended for relatively short periods of time.
Some suspended or expelled students in regional vocational technical schools may opt to withdraw from the school and return to their home district. In such cases, the home district has the obligation to provide the student the opportunity to make academic progress during the period of suspension or expulsion.
Q. In some districts, a student who accumulates a certain number of unexcused absences in the course over a trimester receives reduced course credit. For example, if the student has 7 unexcused absences in a 5-credit course, the student might still earn an A in the class but would only be awarded 4.5 credits. Out-of-school suspensions are considered unexcused absences. A suspended student can make up work/tests, but may still lose partial credit in the course. Does this policy violate the student's "opportunity to earn credits, as applicable" and "make academic progress during the period of his or her removal" under 603 CMR 53.13?
A. The policy would violate 603 CMR 53.13 if it would prohibit a suspended student who did the required work and earned a passing grade from getting full credit.
Q. My district expelled a student in May 2014. Do we have an obligation to provide education services to him?
A. No. G.L c. 76, §21, which requires public schools to provide students who are expelled or suspended an opportunity to make academic progress9 during the suspension or expulsion, became effective on July 1, 2014. The regulations took effect at the same time and apply only to suspensions and expulsions imposed after that date. Thus, schools are not required to provide education services to students who were suspended or expelled before July 1, 2014, though schools may choose to do so.