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School Disciplinary Council: the interest of being assisted by a lawyer

As our culture and our schools becomes more judicial, resulting disciplinary procedures against students have encouraged plaintiffs to seek the services of a lawyer. While some believe that this gives an unfair advantage to students with such access, others believe that it is both the right of the students, and in their best interests, especially when the student is faced with “impressive” disciplinary charges.

What is the Disciplinary Council of a school?

The disciplinary council within an educational institution, whether high school or college, is a council in charge of enacting punitive measures against a student who has broken important rules. The head of the school always oversees these decisions.

These punitive measures must follow the correct procedure dictated by the school and the school must establish a competent council. In the case of overly serious events, a city council will be utilized.

The disciplinary council consists of 14 members:

• the head of the establishment,

• the assistant to the head of the establishment,

• a senior education advisor,

• the manager of the establishment,

• 5 elected staff representatives

• 3 representatives of parents of students in colleges and 2 in high schools;

• 2 representatives of students in colleges and 3 in high schools.

The Procedure used by the Disciplinary Board?

The head of the school decides whether or not the meeting of the disciplinary council is necessary (R 511-27 of the Education Code), but such a meeting is compulsive in the event of physical violence committed at the school against a staff member. At least eight days before the meeting, registered letter must be sent to relevant staff members.

The pupil is summoned alone if they are of age or with their legal representative if they are a minor. The student may be accompanied by a person to assist them in their defense, and the person who requested that counsel may also be summoned to the Disciplinary Board as well as witnesses or persons who may offer relevant insight (Article D 511 -32 of the Code of Education).

The following shall, in particular, be heard during disciplinary proceedings: two teachers from the pupil's class, who will be designated by the head of the school, as well as the two class delegates and any person likely to provide information.

Each party presents its arguments and the ensuing vote is decided by secret ballot by a majority of the votes cast.

The student is then immediately notified of the decision of the Disciplinary Board by a registered letter specifying the possible deadlines and resolutions.

Thus, the student can be sanctioned by means of a warning, a reprimand, or a temporary exclusion of up to 8 days or a definitive exclusion (to be charged then for the establishment of find another facility that can immediately accommodate the excluded student).

In case of dispute the appeal is made before the rector of the Academy within eight days after the written notification of the decision, either by the legal representative of the student or by the student themselves if they are of age.

Can a lawyer be used in disciplinary proceedings?

Since a decree of 1985, the assistance of a lawyer in schools disciplinary cases is allowed (Decree No. 85-1348 of 18 December 1985 amended by Decrees Nos. 91-173 of 18 February 1991 and 2000-633 of 6 July 2000).

The decree of July 2000 introduced into the school grounds the main principles of common law, such as the individualization of the sentence, the contradictory debate or the possibility of having one's defense protected.

Why should you have a lawyer during a disciplinary procedure?

The disciplinary procedure very often represents for the student in question the first contact with a system of "justice".

The procedure can be unclear and subjective; the head of the school has complete control over incrimination and judgment. Here there is no contradictory principle or equity.

On the other hand, it is sometimes the gravity of the situation that pushes a pupil, or his parents to contact a lawyer and when it is indeed the case, very often, the disciplinary procedure is part of a criminal procedure already. This phenomenon tends to develop especially in the city centers, but much less in the areas of priority education.

Another very important aspect that encourages the reliance on a lawyer is that of the impartiality of the members of the council as well as the issue of a conflict of interest. As we have seen earlier, the composition of the disciplinary council, whether at the college, at the high school or in any school, is done with the presence of people who already know the student involved. Whether they are teachers, class representatives or parents' representatives, all are likely to know the student in question and this can corrupt their testimony in front of the disciplinary council. The presence of a lawyer thus corrects this imbalance of power. In practice, the institutions want to avoid any subsequent confrontation before the courts, and therefore are more inclined to negotiate.

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