MINNESOTA’S PUPIL FAIR DISMISSAL ACT
Recently, I was asked some questions about issues related to suspensions, exclusions and expulsions. Part of the questions involved differentiation of the types of disciplinary actions but also questions about the long-term application of enforcement.
These issues are all addressed in Minnesota Statute. The statutory provisions are referred to as the Pupil Fair Dismissal Act. Because of the questions, I thought it might be a good topic to cover in this space as an effort to share information on a broader basis.
PUPIL FAIR DISMISSAL ACT
Because education is viewed as a human right in our state and because state law requires attendance at school (compulsory attendance laws), Minnesota statute governs the processes of removing students from a school setting. The Pupil Fair Dismissal Act (PFDA), which is Minnesota Statute 121A.40 through 121A.56 defines what is permissible regarding removal of students.
The issue of removing a student from school or the classroom is not a decision or action to be taken lightly. Students have an expectation that the right to an education also means that actions limiting the educational opportunities are governed by due process—or that proper and appropriate procedures are applied before placing limits on the student.
There are particular disciplinary actions outlined in the statutes. The word “dismissal” from school is the broadest term indicating actions that deny the current educational program to any student. This doesn’t include the most basic action of removal of a student from class, but it does apply to all of the longer, more stringent restrictions on school attendance.
DEFINITIONS IN THE PFDA
The Pupil Fair Dismissal Act, as noted, includes statutory provision 121A.41. This section is titled, “Definitions.” Here are the provisions:
“Subdivision 1. Applicability. As used in sections 121A.40 to 121A.56, the terms defined in this section shall have the meanings assigned them.
Subd. 2. Dismissal. ‘Dismissal’ means the denial of the current educational program to any pupil, including exclusion, expulsion, and suspension. It does not include removal from class.
Subd. 3. District. ‘District’ means any school district.
Subd. 4. Exclusion. ‘Exclusion means an action taken by the school board to prevent enrollment or reenrollment of a pupil for a period that shall not extend beyond the school year.
Subd. 5. Expulsion. ‘Expulsion’ means a school board action to prohibit an enrolled pupil from further attendance for up to 12 months from the date the pupil is expelled.”
The term, suspension, is defined in subdivision 10. Because of the length of the definition, I will review suspension in its own section of the article! It is clear, however, that Minnesota statute defines many of the elements of discipline related to students.
Subdivision 10 of the Pupil Fair Dismissal Act defines issues related to student suspensions. According to the statute, “’suspension’ means an action by the school administration, under rules promulgated by the school board, prohibiting a pupil from attending school for a period of no more than ten school days. If a suspension is longer than five days, the suspending administrator must provide the superintendent with a reason for the longer suspension.
“This definition does not apply to dismissal from school for one school day or less, except as provided in federal law for a student with a disability. Each suspension action may include a readmission plan. The readmission plan shall include, where appropriate, a provision for implementing alternative educational services upon readmission and may not be used to extend the current suspension. Consistent with section 125A.091, subdivision 5, the readmission plan must not obligate a parent to provide a sympathomimetic medication for the parent’s child as a condition of readmission.
“The school administration may not impose consecutive suspensions against the same pupil for the same course of conduct, or incident of misconduct, except where the pupil will create an immediate and substantial danger to self or to surrounding persons or property, or where the district is in the process of initiating an expulsion, in which case the school administration may extend the suspension to a total of 15 school days.”
GROUNDS FOR DISMISSAL
The Pupil Fair Dismissal Act offers an explanation of when the dismissal (suspension, exclusion or expulsion) actions may be applied. The Act explains:
“A pupil may be dismissed on any of the following grounds:
(a) Willful violation of any reasonable school board regulation. Such regulation must be clear and definite to provide notice to pupils that they must conform their conduct to its requirements;
(b) Willful conduct that significantly disrupts the rights of others to an education, or the ability of school personnel to perform their duties, or school sponsored extracurricular activities; or
(c) Willful conduct that endangers the pupil or other pupils, or surrounding persons, including school district employees, or property of the school.”
Clearly, issues related to suspensions, exclusions or expulsions are serious actions. Each of the phrases starts with “willful” action on the part of the student/pupil.
The issue of expulsion is one that is typically not one that is well understood. Expulsion is not a disciplinary action applied very often in the ROCORI School District.
Expulsion is not an immediate process nor is it a permanent process. Minnesota law outlines a number of steps that must be taken to invoke an expulsion but it also limits the length of an expulsion. School administrators can recommend that a student be expelled, but the actual application of expulsion (and exclusion) is only through action by the school board.
Most people believe that an expulsion is a permanent action against a student. An expulsion is not permanent action. Remember the definition offered in the Pupil Fair Dismissal Act. An expulsion is school board action to prohibit an enrolled pupil from attending school for a period of up to 12 months—one year. In no case, under Minnesota law, can a student be removed from the school setting by school board action for more than a one-year period.
After the period of expulsion whether it is a month, six months or a year, a student is free and able to return to the school setting. This is true of any of the acts of dismissal including exclusion and suspension.
Generally, at least in my professional experience, the return to the same school setting after an expulsion is a rare occurrence. Usually what happens during the year that the student is not permitted to be in the particular school, the student finds another school setting and, a year later, has no interest or desire to return to the original school. But it does happen that after an expulsion the student returns to the same school—and the student has the right and ability to do so.
As you can see through the Pupil Fair Dismissal Act, issues related to suspension, exclusion and expulsion, are governed by Minnesota statute. Suspensions are shorter in nature. By law, suspensions are acts removing a student from school for up to ten days—but must have an extraordinary reason to go beyond five days.
An exclusion is defined as removing the student for the remainder of the school year. The interesting thing is that an exclusion in September is the same disciplinary action as an exclusion in April—even though the time period is clearly different. The common factor is that it is greater than a suspension but only extends to the end of the school year.
Expulsion is the act of removing a student from the school setting for a period of up to one year. Expulsion cannot, under Minnesota law, be longer than one year. An interesting fact in Minnesota law is that an expulsion for a weapons violation must be for a one year period—but it cannot be longer than one year.
As a district, we would prefer not to use any of the disciplinary tools of dismissal. They are, however, measures provided within the Pupil Fair Dismissal Act as disciplinary steps that may be taken and sometimes are necessary to apply.