Wednesday, January 19, 2022

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Student Responsibilities

All students that attend state-operated schools are considered to be "persons" under the federal constitution, and thus are considered to possess fundamental rights that the state, and the state agencies such as the school districts and school boards, must recognize. As one court has noted, if a state voluntarily provides public education, then it cannot deprive a persons of that education without providing sufficient procedural due process to those persons while they are attending the schools. At the same time, however, these students rights are balanced by the authority of the school districts and school boards to enact and enforce all lawful rules and regulations that are necessary for the protection of the students and the school personnel, and that are also necessary for the schools' smooth and efficient operation. In this regard, the superintendent, principal, and school board members stand in loco parentis in regard to the students over whom they have authority and supervisory capacities.

The term "in loco parentis" means, literally, "in the place of the parents." This term has often been utilized to define a school system's obligation to properly supervise its student population, and to demand that the school premises provide sufficient security for the students' daily classroom and related activities. The in loco parentis theory has been extended to a school system's supervision and other responsibilities at school sponsored activities that may be physically removed from the school premises. The term also encompasses the obligations of teachers, staff, personnel, and even the school board and related officials in their official capacities as school system representatives. With the breadth of the theory in mind, it should follow that the school officials, staff members, and the school board may be held liable for their purported negligence in improperly supervising or safeguarding, or failing to supervise and safeguard school children against foreseeable dangers that might occur on the school premises, or at school sponsored activities. Another court has noted that the loco parentis or in loco parentis situation exists when a person or party undertakes the care and control of another, in the absence of such supervision by the other party's natural parents, and in the absence of formal legal approval. As to those students attending the schools, these officials may exercise those powers of control, restraint, enforcement, and "correction" over the students as may be reasonable and necessary to enable the teachers to perform their instructional duties, and for the school system to effect the general purposes of the educational processes. So long as there has been no abuse of this discretion and power on the part of the school officials, the courts will generally not interfere with the school officials' activities and decisions related to the schools' operations and management. It seems that so long as the schools' regulations and rules are definite—that is, so long as these rules and regulations provide reasonable and sufficient notice to the students so that the students may conform their conduct to the rules, and the students do not have to guess at the rules' meaning or ramifications—then the rules may be enforced by the school administrators, and their enforcement procedures and decisions will not be overturned by the courts. A reasonable rule, regulation, or requirement is one that is understandable, is necessary for the maintenance of order and discipline on school premises, and reasonably contributes to the maintenance of order and decorum within the subject educational system.

As an adjunct to the due process notice rights that are guaranteed to all persons, including students, under the provisions of the state and federal constitutions, the separate school boards and districts are bound to provide the students with a full complement of policies, procedures, and regulations that are in effect and govern the student's daily school related activities; all such rules and regulations are to be followed whenever a student is involved in a school activity of any sort. The place of such activities is not limited to the school premises, but includes virtually any place where a student might be engaged in a school related or school sponsored activity, and places tangential to the school premises, for example, when the students are attending a school sponsored event, athletic activity, and the like. The activities themselves might include any activity planned or supervised by school personnel (e.g., a homecoming dance or soccer game), school sponsored parties or gatherings at a house or private residence, and any school function attended by at least one school staff member. "Activities" has also been taken to encompass a student's being transported to and from school or a school sponsored activity, and whenever the student is otherwise under the supervision of any school employee. Because the school personnel, especially the school teachers, stand in loco parentis to pupils under that persons' charge, the teachers may exercise such power, control, restraint, and correction over the students as may be necessary and reasonable for the teachers to properly perform their duties, and to preserve the order and maintain discipline throughout the school premises. Moreover, the teachers and school officials may continue in their supervisory roles outside of the school day and outside the school premises, if the students under their charge are engaged in activities that are sponsored by the school, or the students' disciplinary measures or enforcement directly affect the good order and welfare of the students and the school as a whole.

The students' attendance at school is necessarily conditioned upon the students' compliance with all reasonable rules, regulations, laws, and requirements that are imposed by the school authorities. Any breach of these rules and regulations expose the students to disciplinary action, including suspension and expulsion from the school system. The school officials and administrators therefore have the authority to set conduct standards and define offenses for which the punishment of expulsion may be imposed and may determine whether the named offense has in fact been committed, and what the resulting punishment for the offense might be thereafter. These standards, offenses, rules, regulations, and punishments, usually called the code of student conduct or student disciplinary code, are normally provided to the students at the start of classes each school year. The student's receipt of these rules and regulations is generally considered to be prima facie evidence that the rules and regulations have been read, understood, and will be abided by during the student's tenure in that school environment for the school year. These school policies and regulations segue with the state statutes, which determine that each student is subject to the control and direction of the school personnel (including bus drivers) and the school board during the time: 1) that the student is being transported to and from school; 2) that the student is attending school; 3) that the student is present on the school premises and participating in a school sponsored or authorized activity; and 4) for a reasonable time before and after classes, or these same school sponsored or authorized activities. In keeping with this general policy of direction and control of students, and in the students' adherence to the school and school board's rules of conduct, the students understand that they are to attend classes regularly, demonstrate respect for and show obedience to their teachers, and respect the rights and property of other students. It also seems likely that the students' responsibilities would encompass their not being involved in any criminal act while they attend school or are involved in any school sponsored activity. Such "zero-tolerance" policies are enforceable in many such contexts, and usually without judicial obstacle.

It is also presumed that the students will be responsible school citizens, and that they will not possess any implements or other things that are disallowed on the school property (i.e., contraband, weapons, and the like); that they will respect the privacy, opinions, and beliefs of their teachers and classmates; that they will not interfere with the school's educational or learning environment; that they will do nothing to endanger their classmates or the school personnel; that they will attend classes regularly and meet reasonable academic standards; and that they will conduct themselves (including in their dress, manners, and grooming) in a way that is appropriate for their school surroundings.

The in loco parentis rationale also demands that the students will obey their instructors' decisions and instructions, including those of the teachers, administrators, resource officers, aides, bus and lunchroom personnel, and even the volunteers that might be a part of the normal school activities or school sponsored programs. In this regard, the state statutes again support the school policies, those policies and statutes of which make plain that, for instance, teachers and all instructional personnel have the authority to control and discipline the students that they oversee, and these instructional personnel are in fact mandated to maintain good order and discipline in their classrooms, and throughout the school premises. In this regard, the instructional personnel have the authority to:

• Establish classroom rules of conduct

• Enforce those rules

• Have violent, abusive, uncontrollable, or disruptive students removed from the classroom environment

• Enforce school rules at all school sponsored events, on school sponsored transportation, and during all school sponsored activities

• Receive immediate assistance in classroom management if a student becomes ungovernable

• Press charges against a student if a crime has been committed against any instructional personnel or administrators

• Use reasonable force to protect themselves from injury

• Use corporal punishment, if necessary

• Permanently remove from the classroom any student who has continually interfered with the teacher's ability to communicate with the other students, or with the other students' ability to learn.

In their enforcement of the school policies, and the code of student conduct, and as long as they do not utilize excessive force, or cruel and unusual punishment, teachers and all members of the instructional staff are normally protected from civil and criminal liability for any action that they engage in that is itself in conformity with the state board of education and the school district's rules and regulations in regard to the control, discipline, suspension, and expulsion of students enrolled in the district's educational programs.

The code of student conduct will likewise inform all of the students, and the school personnel, what types of activities are particularly proscribed, and what the general punishment, penalty, or consequences of a violation of that expected conduct might entail. It is not unusual for the code of student conduct to track a state's common laws and criminal statutes, and for the code to particularly proscribe arson, assault and battery, kidnapping, breaking and entering, trespass, computer crimes, drug and alcohol violations, robbery, extortion, fighting, forgery, gambling, harassment, obscene acts, lying, trespass, insubordination, sexual assault, threats, and vandalism.

 

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