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Parents filed a lawsuit against the school district, school administrators, and the school board alleging that their son was deprived of due process at “every level” of his suspension. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, and summary judgment was affirmed on appeal. 

In Dietchweiler v. Lucas, the student was suspended for 10 days for allegedly possessing and consuming prescription drugs. The student underwent a drug test at the direction of his parents, and the test came back negative. Based upon the negative results of the drug test, the student’s parents retained counsel and appealed his suspension.

At the suspension review hearing, the school board voted to uphold the suspension, even after concluding that the student violated school rules by possessing, not consuming drugs at school, and recognizing that the date of the infraction on the notice of suspension was wrong.

On review, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that the student received the constitutionally required minimum due process for a 10 day suspension. However, the court discussed deficiencies in the way administrators handled the pre-suspension meeting.  Specifically, the court was most “troubled” by the idea that the administrators threatened the student with the “specter of expulsion if he failed to admit the charges against him.”

Additionally, the court opined that this case would be much more straightforward, and the court “would feel much more comfortable concluding that he received a fair opportunity to present his side of the story to administrators” if administrators had more fully explained to the student the evidence against him. The court cautioned, “[b]earing in mind the possibility that short-term suspensions may carry lasting consequences, administrators and disciplinarians would do well to ensure that, circumstances permitting, students are given every reasonable opportunity to understand and respond to the charges against them.”

This case illustrates that, as long as the minimum requirements of constitutional due process have been met, other circumstances surrounding the suspension may not be sufficient to overturn the suspension determination by the administration and the school board.  Please contact Vanessa Clohessy or Jeremy Duffy for all of your questions regarding student discipline procedures.