Key questions about suspension and stand-downs

Stand-downs and suspensions are formal processes which are defined in The Education Act 1989 sections 13-18. As these are legal processes, the board and principal are required to ensure correct procedures are followed. The processes followed are required to be fair, flexible and follow the laws of natural justice.

The purpose of the provisions of this Act concerning the standing-down, suspension, exclusion, or expulsion of a student from a State school is to—

a) provide a range of responses for cases of varying degrees of seriousness; and

b) minimise the disruption to a student’s attendance at school and facilitate the return of the student to school when that is appropriate; and

c) ensure that individual cases are dealt with in accordance with the principles of natural justice.

Board of trustees should use the Ministry of Education Guide documents:

What is the difference between a stand down and a suspension?

Stand-down means the formal removal of a student from school for a specified period. Stand-downs of a particular student can total no more than five school days in a term or ten school days in a year. 

Suspension means the formal removal of a student from school until the board of trustees decides the outcome at a suspension meeting.

Who has the authority to stand down or suspend a student?

The principal of the school (or a person with the delegated authority of the board of trustees to act as principal) is the only person who can make the decision to stand-down or suspend a student from the school (Section 14(1)).

The principal of a state school may stand-down or suspend a student if satisfied on reasonable grounds that:

a) The student's gross misconduct or continual disobedience is a harmful or dangerous example to other students at the school; or

b) Because of the student's behaviour, it is likely that the student or other students at the school, will be seriously harmed if the student is not stood-down or suspended.

If the incident does not fit into one of the three categories (gross misconduct, continual disobedience or behaviour risking serious harm) then the principal may not stand-down or suspend.

What are the principal's obligations in both of these processes?

Boards of trustees should have knowledge of, and expectations that principals’ obligations in these processes are followed.

The duties and overall obligations on the principal are defined in The Education Act section 17A. These state that:

  • The principal must take all reasonable steps to ensure that the student has guidance and counselling
  • If a student’s suspension is subject to conditions, the principal must take all reasonable steps to ensure that an appropriate educational programme is provided to the student:
    • to facilitate the student's return to school and 
    • to minimise disruption to their education due to being away from school

 

The Ministry of Education (MoE) Guidelines Part 1 - Legal options and duties pages 5 - 11 provide an outline of what a principal should do in the case of a stand down.

In the initial part of the process of a stand down a principal must (but not limited to):

  • Send the student home, or, if it is not advisable to do so, they should be supervised at school until the end of the school day
  • Give the student a copy of the MoE pamphlet "I've been stood down"
  • Inform the parents immediately that the student has been stood-down, the reasons for standing-down and the period of stand-down. The principal should follow this up with a written letter and MoE pamphlet
  • Immediately notify Ministry of Education on ENROL (MOE Form SDS1a) that a student has been stood-down, reasons for stand-down and period of stand-down
  • Ensure reasonable and practicable guidance and counselling is given to the student, and keep records of this.
  • Allow the student to attend school if they or their parents make a reasonable request, the student needs to fulfill course requirements, or the student needs to receive guidance and counselling. 

 

The Ministry of Education (MoE) Guidelines Part 1 - Legal options and duties pages 12-15 provides an outline of what a principal should do in the case of a suspension.

In the initial part of the process of a suspension a principal must (but not limited to):

  • Immediately notify student, parent, MoE and board (MOE Form SDS1b) that student is suspended, of the reason for suspension and prior interventions.
  • Provide the MoE's information pamphlet "I've been stood down" to the student and parent
  • Provide full report for board of trustees.  This includes what happened; when and where it happened; and why it constitutes grounds for suspension under the Education Act 1989. At the same time, send a copy to the student and parent. This report and notice of the suspension hearing meeting must reach the student and parent at least 48 hours before the meeting
  • Take all reasonable steps to ensure reasonable and practicable guidance and counselling is provided, as well as an appropriate educational programme and keep records of this.
  • Allow the student to attend school if they or their parents make a reasonable request, the student needs to fulfill course requirements, or the student needs to receive guidance and counselling. 

What are the board’s legal responsibilities following a suspension?

Suspension must be followed by a meeting of the board (or its delegated student behaviour management committee as set out in the board's procedures) to decide what the outcome will be.

The board must meet to hold a suspension meeting prior to:

a) the close of the seventh school day after the day of the suspension; or

b) if the suspension occurs within 7 school days before the end of a term, at the close of the tenth calendar day after the day of the suspension.

At a suspension meeting, the principal has a completely different role from the rest of the board. The board independently reviews the principal’s decision. While the board may end up agreeing with the principal, it must be sure itself that the incident was fairly investigated, and was of a nature where suspension was an option (i.e it amounted to gross misconduct, continual disobedience or behaviour risking serious harm).

The board of trustees must also act fairly and impartially, or without bias. This means the board must:

  • receive the principal's report and consider it
  • listen with an open mind to what the student or their parent or representative has to say

The board must make its decision without the recommendation or vote of the principal. The principal must leave the meeting at the same time as the student and family while the board makes its decision, or all must remain. 

Following a suspension, the board may decide to:

  • lift the suspension without conditions
  • lift the suspension with reasonable conditions
  • extend the suspension with reasonable conditions for a reasonable period; or
  • exclude or expel the student

What can parents/caregivers do if they disagree with an outcome from a suspension hearing?

The board (without the principal) has full authority under the Education Act 1989 to make decisions at a suspension meeting.

 If the board receives a letter from a parent asking it to review its decision, then it should follow its own policy guidance in this matter. The board may choose to take into account new information and/or review its own process in the decision-making process, however, is not obliged to.

Parent complaints about a board's decision at a suspension meeting may also be directed to The Office of the Ombudsman.

How does the board monitor and receive data on student behaviour management?

The board receives information and data via the principal's reporting to the board. This report will include aggregated data on stand-downs and suspensions. (The principal also reports stand-down and suspensions to Ministry of Education). The reporting should not be able to identify any individual student.

Having current reported data allows the board to monitor trends and make informed governance decisions.

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