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What should I know about school discipline issues during Covid-19?

Authored By: Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc., Georgia Legal Services Program

School Discipline in Georgia during Covid-19

Contents


Can my school discipline me for staying home during a pandemic when the school is not offering distance learning or its distance learning program does not have space for me?

Compulsory attendance

Yes, Georgia does have a compulsory school attendance law.  It has not been waived. If the school you are enrolled in does not offer a virtual option and is open for in-person school then you must attend.  Georgia students between the ages of 6 and 16 are required to be enrolled in and attend school.  But, you do not have to attend your zoned school. You can:

  • enroll in a private school,

  • attend a charter school,

  • attend a state virtual school, or

  • homeschool.

 

Students with IEPs

You can try to work with the school on options that might work to keep you and your family safe. If you have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) then you can have an IEP meeting to discuss the option of school from home. This is true even if your school system does not offer virtual school.  But it will be a decision for the IEP team to make together; the parent and child are members of this team. Students with IEPs can get a special scholarship called the Special Needs Scholarship Program.  Find information on the Department of Education website.

 

Online Schools in Georgia

You can enroll in an online school. Some school systems have their own virtual schools, but there are also statewide virtual schools.  The following is not an endorsement of these schools. This is only information about these virtual options.  Here are the virtual schools available to all students in Georgia:

 

Georgia Connections Academy

Connections Academy only has openings for its 12th grade class as of August 6, 2020.  It might open up more classes if there is a demand.

 

Georgia Cyber Academy 

Georgia Cyber Academy has openings for all grades as of August 6, 2020. Enrollment is open through August 30, 2020. 

 

Georgia Virtual School 

Georgia  Virtual School’s enrollment is open through September 10, 2020.  Virtual School is a new online school, and it is also not clear if all grade levels have openings.

 

Hospital Homebound

If you are vulnerable to Covid-19 exposure, you can ask the school for Hospital Homebound Services. These are often supposed to be temporary (ten days or less). Find information on the Department of Education website.

 

Home Schooling

You can consider asking your parents to file paperwork to homeschool you. Find information on the Department of Education website.

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What if the hallways are crowded and full of students without masks?  How can I keep safe? 

You can talk to your school to get better policies in place like:

  • less students in the building at a time,

  • staggering time in the hallways,

  • giving more time to get between classes,

  • having students go outside instead of through crowded main halls,

  • requiring masks,

  • requiring everyone to wear pool noodles to show how far apart they need to be even in the halls, or

  • whatever else you think might help. 

 

You can hang back in an empty area until the hallway is clear if the school will not modify its policies. If you are disciplined, explain that your school failed to keep you safe, so you waited to keep yourself safe.

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Can my school discipline me for telling others about the conditions at my school?

No, but this does not mean that your school won’t attempt to discipline you for such actions.  You have a right to speak about what happens at school. But, you may be disciplined if you start naming minor children or taking photographs. 

  • Do not share the names of other children and be very careful before taking any photographs at school. 
  • Do not post to social media or share photos while on school property.

 

Tell someone if your school tells you that you cannot speak about the conditions at your school. You have the right to freedom of speech.  You can speak to a parent or guardian. You can contact Georgia Legal Services Program (GLSP) or Atlanta Legal Aid Society (ALAS) to help you figure out your options.

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Can my school discipline me for taking photos or posting to social media at school?

Maybe. You need to read your student code of conduct.  It should be online on your school and school system’s website. Schools should provide you with a copy at the beginning of each school year. If nothing in the student code of conduct prohibits you from taking photographs, then you can take photographs. 

 

Read the code of conduct carefully. Often schools prohibit the use of telephones during school or during certain times at school. If you are using your cell phone to take a photograph or posting to social media, the school might try to discipline you for using your cell phone during a time it is not allowed. You might be able to defend yourself if the school does not usually enforce this rule, but the school can still go forward with a school disciplinary action.

 

The amount of discipline should also be determined by the code of conduct and must use a progressive discipline policy. This means that the school should not discipline you the same for a first offense as it would if you violated this part of the code of conduct in the past.

 

If you are using a school camera or taking photos for the yearbook, then you should not provide those photos to anyone outside of the school. Sometimes there are laws that regulate the way that photos of children can be released when they are school property.

 

If you are using your own camera, there is not a law in Georgia that prohibits a student from taking photographs of children or others at school and sharing them as long as you are not bullying or threatening others.  But again, check your local ordinances and school code of conduct.

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Can my school discipline me without providing me with a school disciplinary hearing?

Yes, it can.  The school only has to provide you with a hearing when it gives you more than ten days of out of school suspension.  Your school can:

  • suspend you for less than that without a hearing or

  • give you in school suspension or detention without providing you with a hearing. 

However, you can ask to have a meeting to discuss what happened with your school to ask to clear your record if you did not violate the school code of conduct. 

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What if the school code of conduct does not seem fair to me?

You can tell people about it and talk about why you do not think it’s fair.  You can go to school board meetings and ask to change the policy.  You can join or start a group to ask the school system to change the policy. Gwinnett County has a group called Gwinnett STOPP that works to improve the code of conduct for Gwinnett students.

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Can I get help if I am being disciplined at school for any of these reasons?

Yes, GLSP (outside of metro Atlanta) and ALAS (Fulton, Clayton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, and Cobb counties) take applications to represent students in school discipline and IEP cases. 

 

If you are a foster child, then you can ask GLSP, ALAS, or Georgia Appleseed for representation in a school disciplinary hearing. 

 

Georgia Appleseed has a network of volunteer attorneys to represent foster youths in these hearings. All of these services are free, but you can also hire a private attorney by checking the Georgia Bar Directory or a local bar directory.

 

If you cannot get an attorney to represent you in a school disciplinary hearing, you should look at information on this website and on Georgia Appleseed’s website for advice on how to represent yourself.

 

For help in Fulton, Clayton, Cobb, Gwinnett, or DeKalb County, contact Atlanta Legal Aid. Fill out the Atlanta Legal Aid online intake application or call 404-524-5811 (main line), 404-657-9915 (GA Senior Legal Hotline), to see if you qualify for legal assistance.

 

If you live in any other Georgia county, contact the Georgia Legal Services Program for help. Access the GLSP online intake application or call 1-833-457-7529 to see if you qualify for legal assistance.

 

Contact Georgia Appleseed online or at (678) 426-4640.

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Last Review and Update: Aug 10, 2020