It is a myth that private and parochial schools have absolute and complete autonomy with regard to student discipline. Courts are required to show deference to the inner workings of a private/parochial school’s disciplinary process, but that deference is not absolute. Under Louisiana law, a student may make a successful legal challenge to disciplinary action by demonstrating that the procedures employed and/or the evidence relied upon by the school were so deficient as to make the disciplinary action “arbitrary and capricious.” Relief obtained against the school may be in the form of an injunction, monetary damages, or both.
The student’s right to minimum due process is tantamount to a right to procedural fairness. Adhering to the following policies can help to minimize the risk of a legal challenge to disciplinary action:
- The school should strictly follow its own written policies in connection with imposing disciplinary action.
- Disciplinary action should be preceded by an adequate investigation.
- The student should be given an opportunity to defend himself (e.g., via oral or written statement and presenting witnesses/evidence).
- The decision to discipline should be supported by the evidence gathered through the investigation.
Naturally, investigations will often yield conflicting statements and/or a lack of clear evidence. In order to impose disciplinary action, a private/parochial school is not required to conclude that the offense/violation occurred “beyond a reasonable doubt” (like in a criminal trial). Rather, the administration has discretion to weigh the evidence and make a reasonable determination as to whether said evidence supports a finding of an offense/violation based on a “preponderance of the evidence” (i.e., it is “more probable than not” that the offense/violation occurred). Consistency in the application of disciplinary policies is strongly encouraged.
Allen & Gooch is providing this legal update for informational purposes only. This article should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion as to any specific facts or circumstances. You should consult your own attorney concerning your particular situation and any specific legal questions you may have.