School Suspension in Massachusetts wrongfully imposed, student seeks recovery in court

Regardless of whether or not criminal behavior takes place on school grounds, students may be susceptible to facing  punishment a school opts to impose even if the charge has not be litigated to completion in court.  For example, students charged with OUI and attending Mass Amherst will often be suspended for one year based on the charge even if the client is ultimately found not guilty after trial.  A client of mine was suspended for one year for being charged with OUI even though a jury ultimately found him not guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol.   This is based on UMass Amherst’s Code of conduct, which I have attached here.  

In the case of Goodwin v. Lee Public Schools decided on August 23, 2016, the student, a public high school senior at the time, was suspended from school in December of 2011.

The suspension was based off of the understanding that student had been charged with a felony, when in fact, no charges had actually been filed at the time of her suspension.

– – – What You Should Know About the Case – – – 

  1. In April of 2012, only a few months after the imposition of the sentence, it was deemed that student was only facing misdemeanor charges in relation to the crime. At no point was she charged with a felony.
  2. Per the student’s request, a meeting was held in May of 2012, and the original suspension was lifted as she was “not currently charged with a felony”.
  3. Regardless of the lifted suspension, it was made clear that the student would be unable to attend the graduation ceremony with the rest of her classmates. She rejected the schools offer to hold an isolated graduation ceremony for her alone.

 

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The plaintiff took the matter to the Superior Court for further determination. Her primary complaint was that because at no point was she charged with a felony, the suspension was therefore unlawful and she felt as though she deserved compensation. She was unable to complete her degree and walk at graduation with her class, and subsequently suffered from grief and stigmatization from being excluded from such events. The defendants primary argument was that the student did not exhaust all administrative remedies and a motion to dismiss should be granted. The Judge upheld the motion to dismiss, stating that the plaintiff did in fact fail to utilize all administrative options before filing a complaint.

The plaintiff maintains that, because she was not charged with a felony, either before the suspension or at any point thereafter, … she was not required to exhaust administrative remedies under a statute that did not authorize her suspension… ” (Mass Legal Resources, 2016).

Both the Lee Public School District and the student were not in dispute over the mishap regarding the suspension- it is undisputed that when the student was temporarily and then later indefinitely suspended, there were no felony charges issued. Therefore, the student was not legally required to exhaust the administrative remedies provided under the statute. The judge in the case ultimately was overturned by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court when allowing the motion to dismiss put forward by the defendant. The judgment allowing the defendant’s motion to dismiss was reversed, and the matter has been remanded  back to the Superior Court.

If you face a criminal case or issue with your school, feel free to contact Attorney DelSignore to discuss your case.  

 

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and remember to check back weekly on my website for new blog posts and information.  The student should be permitted to seek recovery against the school for depriving her of the opportunity to finish her senior year, attend graduation without the wrongful stigma that was imposed.

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