How important are schools?
The Commonwealth of Virginia places great emphasis and importance on public education. In fact, the Virginia Constitution says, “[t]hat free government rests, as does all progress, upon the broadest possible diffusion of knowledge, and that the Commonwealth should avail itself of those talents which nature has sown so liberally among its people by assuring the opportunity for their fullest development by an effective system of education throughout the Commonwealth.” (Va. Const. Art. I, §15)
The Code of Virginia § 22.1-253.13:1(A) says, “The General Assembly and the Board of Education believe that the fundamental goal of the public schools of this Commonwealth must be to enable each student to develop the skills that are necessary for success in school, preparation for life and reaching their full potential.”
Responsibilities at school
Schools have an important place in a community. In many ways, schools are special communities within the larger community of the city or county. Students are not only part of their cities or counties, but also of their school communities.
What are my responsibilities as a student?
In general, at school you are expected to do the following:
- attend school and get to class on time:
- follow school conduct expectations and rules set forth in the school division’s Student Code
of Conduct (remember: these apply on the bus to and from school and at school-sponsored
activities – even away from school and outside school hours);
- follow individual school and classroom rules that are typically in school handbooks and
posted in classrooms;
- show respect to other students and school staff;
- not bring to school, use, or possess drugs, alcohol, or tobacco products;
- not bring to school, use, or possess any weapon or other banned object;
- not participate in any gang or gang-related activity; and
- not participate in fights or other forms of violence.
Are there laws about school attendance?
Yes. Education is very important, and laws about
school attendance may be found in several sections of
the Code of Virginia. Virginia law:
- requires parents to send children to school;
- requires students to attend school;
- requires schools to take specific action when
children are not enrolled or students fail
- authorizes law enforcement officers to pick up students who are skipping school; and
- authorizes juvenile courts to take action against parents and/or children for failure to attend.
Do I have to attend school?
In Virginia, every child between the ages of five and 17 is required by law to attend school. Parents may choose to send their children to a public, private, denominational, or parochial school. If certain requirements are met, parents may also teach their children at home. (Code of Virginia § 22.1-254)
What happens if someone does not attend school?
Virginia law requires schools to closely monitor and keep accurate records of student attendance. When a student is absent, the school is required to make contact with his or her parent to learn the reason for the absence. When there are questionable absences or a pattern of unexcused absences, the school is required to investigate the situation and work with the parent and the student to improve attendance.
School boards are required by law to appoint one or more attendance officers who are responsible for enforcing attendance laws. If efforts to resolve the non-attendance problem are not successful, the attendance officer may file complaints in the juvenile court. Depending on the circumstances, complaints may be filed against the parent for failure to send the child to school and/or against the student for failure to attend. (Code of Virginia §§ 22.1-258 and 22.1-262)
Law enforcement officers and attendance officers are authorized to pick up any student who is reported to be truant from school and deliver the child to school. (Code of Virginia § 22.1-266)
Do laws apply at school?
Yes. Schools are communities within the broader city or county community. Both laws and school rules apply at school. Laws that apply while you are at school include:
- federal laws that apply throughout the United States and its territories,
- state laws that apply throughout Virginia, and
- city, county, or town ordinances that apply in the city, county, or town in which the school is located.
What if I do something that breaks a school rule and a law?
School officials are required by Virginia law to report the following offenses to law enforcement agencies if these offenses occur on school property, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored activity:
- Assault or assault and battery;
- Sexual assault, death, shooting, stabbing, cutting, or wounding of any person;
- Stalking of any person;
- Any conduct involving alcohol, marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids, a controlled substance,
an imitation controlled substance, or an anabolic steroid, including theft of prescription
- Any threats against school personnel;
- Illegal carrying of a firearm onto school property;
- Illegal conduct involving firebombs, explosive materials or devices, hoax explosive devices,
explosive or incendiary devices, or chemical bombs;
- Any threats or false threats to bomb; or
- Any incident that would be a felony if committed by an adult.
(Code of Virginia § 22.1-279.3:1 (A))
The offenses listed above are only those required to be reported to law enforcement authorities. (Code of Virginia § 22.1-279.3:1 (D))
Many school personnel make it a practice to report any act they believe may be a violation of law. Schools and law enforcement agencies work closely to ensure safety; therefore, calling the police or reporting incidents to the police is a well-established practice in Virginia schools.
A student who commits a crime is not only subject to the school’s disciplinary process, but also may be charged and required to go through the criminal process. This is a particularly powerful reason for making sure you understand and abide by school rules.
Which rules am I expected to follow at school?
In addition to federal and state laws and city, county, or town ordinances, you are expected to follow:
- school division codes of student conduct that apply to all public schools in your city
- school rules that apply at your particular school; and
- classroom rules that apply in a particular classroom.
There may also be other rules to follow, such as parking rules if you have the privilege of parking at school or rules that apply if you participate in sports or clubs.
It is important to understand that your code of student conduct applies not only when you are on school grounds but also when you are on the bus going to and from school and at schools-ponsored activities, even when the activity is away from school or at another school.
How will I know about the rules?
At the beginning of each school year, you will receive a written copy of the code of student conduct approved by your local school board. If you enroll after the beginning of the school year, you will receive the copy of the code of student conduct as part of the enrollment process.
Schools carefully review the rules and consequences with students as part of student orientations, in assemblies, and/or in classrooms. Some schools even have quizzes to test student understanding of the rules.
In communities with many non-English-speaking families, codes of conduct may be available in several languages.
School rules are typically listed in your school handbook. Classroom rules are typically posted in classrooms and will be reviewed by teachers on the first day of school.
Other rules associated with participating in clubs or sports will be given to you as part of signing up for the activity.
It is extremely important for you to understand all rules. If you have any questions, ask the person in charge to clarify or give examples. Remember, “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
The specific consequences will depend on the student conduct policy. In general, the more serious the offense, the more serious the consequence.
It is important to remember that disciplinary actions in school are intended to correct behavior. Corrective disciplinary action may range from a verbal warning to expulsion from school.
School administrators consider many factors in determining consequences, including the particular circumstances of an incident and whether it is a first or repeat offense.
Some examples of corrective disciplinary actions a school administrator may take are listed below. These are examples only; some disciplinary actions listed may not be used at your school and your school may use actions not listed here.
- Warning and counseling;
- Parent/pupil conference;
- Adjustment to student classroom assignment or schedule;
- Student behavior contract;
- Referral to student support services;
- After-school or in-school detention;
- Suspension of student privileges for a specified period;
- Removal from class;
- Initiation of an assessment process;
- Referral to in-school intervention, mediation, or community service programs;
- Short-term suspension;
- Long-term suspension; and
Even after a suspension from school, some consequences may continue after a student returns to school. For example, there may be limitations of privileges, such as participation in sports, or requirements for community service or restitution.
What is the difference between suspension and expulsion?
Virginia law defines short-term suspension, long-term suspension, and expulsion in Code of Virginia § 22.1-276.01.
Short-term suspension is defined as disciplinary action which mandates that a student is not permitted to attend school for up to 10 days.
Long-term suspension is defined as disciplinary action which mandates that a student is not permitted to attend school for more than 10 school days but fewer than 365 calendar days.
Expulsion is defined as disciplinary action imposed by a school board which mandates that a student is not permitted to attend school within the school division and is ineligible for readmission for 365 calendar days after the date of the expulsion.
After expulsion, a student may apply or reapply for readmission in accordance with school board policy. (Code of Virginia § 22.1-277.06 (B))
Although the overwhelming majority of suspensions and expulsions result from acts at school or school-sponsored activities, a student may also be suspended or expelled for acts off school property when the acts lead to a court judgment of delinquency, a conviction for very serious crimes, or a charge that would be a felony if committed by an adult. These laws were enacted by the Virginia General Assembly with the intent of protecting students from others who have committed violent or other serious crimes. (Code of Virginia § 22.1-277)
Which offenses can result in expulsion?
School boards may expel students who commit these two offenses:
- Bringing to school firearms or other destructive devices defined in the federal Gun-Free
Schools Act of 1994. (Code of Virginia § 22.1-277.07 (A))
- Bringing drugs, imitation drugs, or marijuana onto school property or to a school-sponsored event. (Code of Virginia § 22.1-277.08 (A))
Expulsions for other types of offenses are based on consideration of the following:
- The nature and seriousness of the violation;
- The degree of danger to the school community;
- The student’s disciplinary history;
- The appropriateness and availability of an alternative education placement or program;
- The student’s age and grade level;
- The results of any mental health, substance abuse, or special education assessments;
- The student’s attendance and academic records; and
- Such other matters as deemed to be appropriate.
Code of Virginia § 22.1-277.06 (C))
A school board may determine, based on the facts of a particular case, that special circumstances exist and another disciplinary action is appropriate.
Does a teacher have the authority to kick me out of class if I misbehave?
Virginia law gives teachers the authority to remove a student from a classroom for disruptive behavior in accordance with local school board policy. Disruptive behavior is defined as“conduct that interrupts or obstructs the learning environment.” (Code of Virginia §§ 22.1-276.01 and 22.1-276.2)
When a student is removed from class, parents will be offered the opportunity to meet with the teacher and school administrators to address problems and prevent it from happening again. (Code of Virginia § 22.1-276.2 (B)(3))
Can teachers or principals open my school locker and search it? Can they search my car?
The answer to both questions may be yes, depending on the situation and on individual school board policies.
Code of Virginia § 22.1-277.01:2 states that “The Board of Education shall develop, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, guidelines for school boards for the conduct of student searches, including random locker searches and strip searches, consistent with relevant state and federal laws and constitutional principles.” The Virginia School Search Resource Guide was written in 2000 to address these issues.
Locker searches are usually permitted if your local school board has a policy that allows it, and publicizes that policy to the students and their parents. Through policy and practice, the school retains ownership to certain areas of the school including student lockers. ("Guide," Appendix B, Section 4.3)
Generally, school officials may search automobiles when they have reasonable suspicion that the search will yield evidence that the student broke the law. Searches must be carried out in such a way as to discover the forbidden item or other evidence using reasonable strategies. ("Guide," Appendix B, Section 4.5)
The law also permits schools to use metal detectors and detection dogs. ("Guide," Appendix B, Section 5.1 and 5.2)
If the search produces an illegal weapon or substance or evidence of criminal activity, the administrator will then contact the school resource officer (SRO) or local law enforcement.
Can I be spanked at school for misbehaving?
No. Virginia law states, “No teacher, principal or other person employed by a school board or employed in a school operated by the Commonwealth shall subject a student to corporal punishment.” (Code of Virginia § 22.1-279.1) Corporal punishment means inflicting physical pain on a student as a means of discipline.
It is important to understand that the law against corporal punishment does not prevent:
(i) the use of incidental, minor, or reasonable physical contact or other actions designed to maintain order and control;
(ii) use of reasonable and necessary force to quell a disturbance or remove a student from the scene of a disturbance which threatens physical injury to persons or damage to property;
(iii) the use of reasonable and necessary force to prevent a student from inflicting physical harm on himself;
(iv) the use of reasonable and necessary force for self-defense or the defense of others; or
(v) the use of reasonable and necessary force to obtain possession of weapons or other dangerous objects or controlled substances or paraphernalia which are upon the person of the student or within his or her control.
The definition of corporal punishment also does not include physical pain, injury, or discomfort caused by participation in practice or competition in an interscholastic sport, or participation in physical education or an extracurricular activity.
Ensuring that schools are safe and conducive to learning is an important responsibility of school boards and school administrators. Virginia laws require school boards to:
• establish policies “designed to provide that public education be conducted in an atmosphere free of disruption and threat to persons or property and supportive of individual rights” (Code of Virginia § 22.1-253.13: 7 (C)(3));
• adopt codes of student conduct and procedures for suspension and expulsion (Code of Virginia § 22.1-279.6 (B)); and
• develop programs to prevent violence and crime on school property and at school sponsored
events. (Code of Virginia § 22.1-279.9)
Additional state regulations say school principals are responsible for effective school management that promotes “a safe and secure environment in which to teach and learn.” (Virginia Administrative Code 8 VAC 20-131-210 (A))
Principals must “ensure that the school division’s student code of conduct is enforced and seek to maintain a safe and secure school environment.” (Virginia Administrative Code 8 VAC 20-131-210 (B)(2))
School administrators must also ensure “a written procedure . . . for responding to violent, disruptive or illegal activities by students on school property or during a school sponsored activity.” (Virginia Administrative Code 8 VAC 20-131-260 (C)(3))
What is a school resource officer?
A “school resource officer” is a certified law enforcement officer hired by the local law enforcement agency to provide law enforcement and security services to Virginia public elementary and secondary schools. (Code of Virginia § 9.1-101)
What is a school security officer?
A “school security officer” is an individual employed by the local school board to maintain order and discipline, prevent crime, investigate violations of school board policies, and detain students violating the law or school board policies on school property or at school-sponsored events. They are also responsible for ensuring the safety, security, and welfare of all students, faculty, staff, and visitors in the assigned school. (Code of Virginia § 9.1-101)
Do parents have responsibilities related to school?
Virginia law states that parents have responsibilities to “assist the school in enforcing the standards of student conduct and compulsory school attendance.” (Code of Virginia § 22.1-279.3 (A))