Orange text on blue background reads: Education Spotlight. Illustrations of young people gathered are below. On a blackboard, text in chalk reads: M.G. v. Yakima School District

Youth have a Right of Return after School Discipline Ends – M.G. v. Yakima School District, No. 38165-0-III (Dec. 2022)

What happens after a student is suspended from school and serves their full suspension? This was a question in a case TeamChild litigated up through the Court of Appeals, out of our Yakima office. We argued that students have a right to return to their regular school after their suspension ends unless specific exceptions apply.

M.G. was suspended in the first few weeks of his freshman year of high school. When his suspension ended 12 days later, he wasn’t allowed to return to school. Instead, he was pushed out to an online school program. For many youth, including M.G., online school doesn’t work. Some don’t have the right technology to meaningfully access online school or a quiet place at home to focus. For others, their learning style doesn’t match with the way online curriculum is presented.

In a decision that was issued in December and published this month, the Court held that, under state law, students have a right of return after a suspension ends. State law prohibits indefinite suspension and expulsion and requires procedural protections before the right of education is taken away from a student.

The Court also held that courts can give relief when general education rights are violated. That means students can get court awards that make up for lost education when their rights are violated. We still have to go back to the trial court for consideration of what that means for M.G., but it’s important for all students that schools can be required to “make up” for missed education when it was wrongfully denied.

What does this mean for youth?

TeamChild is proud of this case outcome: it establishes precedent that schools have to follow the law and not indefinitely suspend students. We are already using this case to negotiate remedies for students who were wrongfully suspended. However, we continue to see similar circumstances as those in this case, including that:

  • Students of color and students with disabilities are disproportionately suspended and expelled from school;
  • Students are pushed into juvenile court systems from school;
  • Students are pushed out of school in ways besides discipline. They are transferred to online or alternative programs without monitoring or accountability. If those programs are not a good fit, students often drop out and are not offered other educational services;
  • Students are experiencing discrimination in schools that prevents them from being able to receive an education;
  • Students are experiencing bullying in schools with insufficient school-based strategies to address the problems; and
  • Students are not receiving the special education services or accommodations they need to succeed and learn in school.

There is still a lot of work to do to achieve equity in schools. TeamChild will keep working with youth to uphold their rights to education. We will keep working with youth and community to increase equitable practices in schools, including strategies for addressing harm through positive behavior interventions and restorative practices so that students are supported, not excluded.

How can youth and families get help accessing school?

Students and families can call any of our offices for advice, referral, or representation in school matters. We are also part of the Youth Law Education Collaborative – a collaboration of several legal aid organizations providing legal services to address education rights. Call the collaborative’s Intake Line at 1-206-707-0877 or TOLL FREE 1-844-435-7676 to benefit from an increased range of services, including for younger students than we typically serve.

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