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Stand-Downs, Suspensions, and Being Kicked Out of School

Stand down, suspensions, and being kicked out of school

In 2016, 2459 students faced suspension and a possibility of being kicked out of school. Out of those students, a little over 1000 were kicked out of their school – this is the formal statistics and does not include those students who have been asked to leave “voluntarily” by their school. Many feel ashamed, angry, or powerless. Most are also unaware of their legal rights.

This section outlines the law relating to the more serious disciplinary measures a school can take including stand-downs, suspensions, exclusions and expulsions. It tells you about your rights and explains how they can help you if you are about to be kicked out of school.

What is a stand-down and when can I be stood-down?

A stand-down is like a time out from school but longer. This is usually to target inappropriate behaviour – either continuous or a serious one off incident. It can last for up to 5 school days at a time, and can’t be for more than 10 school days a year. The days start counting from the first full school day. The school can’t put any conditions on your return.

The point is to provide time for you, your family and the school to think about the problems that have happened and to work out how to prevent them happening again in the future. Only the principal or acting principal can stand you down – your teacher doesn’t have that power.

How do I know I’ve been stood-down?

When the principal stands you down, they have to tell your parents immediately that you have been stood down, the reason, and how long. You or your parents can ask for a meeting with the principal to talk about the decision and what can be done to prevent more problems in the future. Sometimes, but not often, you might be allowed to attend school for certain classes or activities even though you’ve been stood down, but this is up to the principal to decide.

What is the stand-down process?

  1. Behaviour or incident
  2. Your principal (or other staff) investigates, looks at what happened, your explanation, and any other relevant information.
  3. The principal decides to stand you down after investigation.
  4. You and your caregivers will be told you have been stood-down. You may stay at school for the rest of the day or your caregivers could be asked to pick you up right away.
  5. A letter is sent home to say that you have been stood-down and the legal reasons.
  6. You may be at home or away from school for up to 5 school days. The days start counting from the first whole day off. You return to school after the stand-down period.
  7. You may be asked to go back to school and have a meeting with your parents and the principal to discuss what happened and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
  8. The school may provide you with counselling and guidance during the time you’re away.

When can my school legally kick me out?

Normally your school can only permanently kick you out if you’ve been excluded (under 16 years) OR expelled (16 years and older) by your school Board of Trustees after being suspended. The school can’t force you to withdraw from the school or force you to sign a leaving form.

You can also be removed from the school roll if you’re away from school without good reason for 20 days in a row. If you live in zone, you can enrol again back into your school.

If you attend a private school, the rules around being kicked out could be different.


Can my school send me home as a punishment?

Your school can only send you home as a punishment if you’re stood-down or suspended. You shouldn’t be asked or made to go home for things like wearing the wrong uniform, being late, or bad behaviour unless you have also been stood-down or suspended. Stand-down and suspensions should also be a last resort after all other options – like a warning or a detention has been considered.

Can the school ask me to leave or withdraw?

Sometimes a principal might ask you or your parents to withdraw you from the school, and tell you that you won’t get expelled or excluded if you withdraw. This is illegal and is called a kiwi suspension. It may be an easy way for the school to get rid of you when there are no or little legal reasons. E.g. they think you get bad grades.

Withdrawing voluntarily may sometimes leave you in a worse position than if you are formally excluded as it can be difficult to make complaints. The Ministry of Education doesn’t have to help you find a new school like they would if you’re formally excluded. However, there should not be a record of you being kicked out of school if you withdrew. Other schools are likely to realise what has happened, and may refuse to enrol you, although this is illegal too.

If you have questions relating to kiwi suspensions, feel free to contact us at YouthLaw.

What happens if I withdraw from school?

If you’re under 16, you’ll need to find another school, unless you get an exemption from the Ministry of Education.

If you’re at least 16 and decide you want to withdraw from school, you will need to consider what you want to do after leaving school. You can enrol in another school if you’re not expelled. You may also choose to do a course, work, train or go to university.

If you want to get into a course or university, you’ll need to make sure you have the credits you need to get into the course. You’ll need to check if there are any fees for the course, and how you will pay those. If it’s a registered course, you may be able to get some financial help from studylink.

What is a suspension?

A suspension is the most serious formal disciplinary step a school can take and can lead to you being kicked out of school permanently.
During suspension, you will be required to stay home whilst the principal investigates the incident and writes a report about what has happened. The report will be provided to your family and the Board of Trustees of the school.

The Board must hold a suspension meeting within 7 school days of you being suspended. At the meeting, they have to decide if you go back to school (and on what conditions, if any) or extend your suspension with conditions or be kicked out of the school.

What can I be suspended for?

Like stand-downs, you can be suspended for getting into trouble for lots of smaller incidents (like constantly being naughty), OR if you do something big (like having a fight), OR if the school needs to suspend you to make sure you or someone else at school is safe. The law doesn’t give specific examples of when someone can be suspended either, and individual circumstances must be considered.

But a suspension is the most serious type of discipline a principal can give a student, and should only be used as a last resort when other methods haven’t worked.

How do I know I’ve been suspended?

You can only be suspended by the principal or acting principal. The principal will let you know if you’ve been suspended. They also have to tell your parents/caregivers immediately, and usually ask your parents/caregivers to take you home. Your parents will also receive information regarding the reason you’ve been suspended. The Board of Trustees and the Ministry of Education will also be informed that you have been suspended and why.

What happens at the Board of Trustees suspension meeting?

The principal, Board members, you and your support people will have to attend the meeting. New law now also allows parents to request for attendance at a suspension meeting via a telephone conference or a video link.

Often the Chair of the Board opens the meeting, after which the principal may summarise the reasons you have been suspended. The reasons should already be available in the principal’s report provided to the board and the family. The board may then give you and your support people a chance to speak as well as ask you some questions. After this, the Board can either ask you to step out of the room while they make a decision, or might get back to you the next day on their decision. The Board makes the decision, not the principal, so the principal should not be in the room or influence the board’s decision when the Board makes the decision.

What is the suspension process?

  1. Behaviour or incident.
  2. Your principal (or staff on behalf of the principal) investigates, looks at what happened, your explanation, and any other relevant background.
  3. After investigation, the principal decides to suspend you.
  4. You and your caregivers will be told you have been suspended, the reasons, and when the suspension meeting is. You may stay at school for the rest of the day or your caregivers could be asked to pick you up right away.
  5. A letter is sent home to say that you have been suspended and the legal reasons.
  6. The school will call a meeting with the Board of Trustees and give you a report detailing the reasons you have been suspended. The meeting happens within 7 school days (or 10 calendar days if it goes into the end of the school term) of the suspension and you must receive the principal’s report within 48 hours of the meeting.
  7. At the Board meeting, the principal will present their report, you and your support people will be able to respond and the Board will decide what to do from there (return you to school, keep you on with conditions, extend the suspension or kick you out).

Can I bring a support person to the BOT meeting with me?

Yes. You can bring your parents, caregivers, family, kaumatua, a lawyer, a social worker, an advocate and anyone who you think will help (as long as there is no good reason for the school to say they shouldn’t attend, and there is enough space in the room for everyone).

What decisions can the Board of Trustees make after the suspension meeting?

  1. To lift your suspension without conditions (let you go back to school with no conditions); or
  2. To lift your suspension with conditions (let you go back with some conditions that depend on what you did and what is relevant); or
  3. Extend your suspension for a reasonable time to allow you to meet reasonable conditions (to aim to get you back to school after you have met the conditions); or
  4. Exclude or Expel you (kick you out of your school permanently).

I was suspended, but the Board decided to let me back in, with some conditions. What happens if I break the conditions?

The conditions set must be reasonable, attainable and should be achievable by you and within your control.

If you do not think you can meet the conditions set, you and your parents should discuss this with the Board before your return.

Otherwise, if you don’t meet those conditions, you could go before the Board again in a reconsideration meeting and the same options will be open to them to either lift the suspension with or without conditions (possibly extend it to meet conditions) or they could decide to kick you out. Generally, the Board are less sympathetic in the reconsideration meeting.

What is an extended suspension?

You will have conditions that you have to meet before you can start back at school. Once you meet them, you should show the school. The conditions should be ones that you can meet, relevant to what you did and help return you to school. The time period for achieving them needs to be reasonable as well and aimed at you coming back to school.

I’ve been kicked out of school and excluded, what happens now?

Excluded is the legal word for being kicked out of school when you’re 15 or younger.

If your school excludes you, the principal needs to try and find you a new school, but they are often unsuccessful as other schools don’t have to take you. After 10 school days, your file will be passed to the Ministry of Education if the principal is unsuccessful.

Someone from the Ministry of Education will then meet with you and try to place you in a new school. They will usually try to:

  1. Make another school take you; or
  2. Ask you to do correspondence or homeschooling; or
  3. Ask your original school to take you (this does not happen often); or
  4. Suggest that you attend Alternative Education.

Always discuss with them your wishes.

I’ve been kicked out of school and expelled, what happens now?

Expelled is the legal word for being kicked out of school when you are 16 or older.

After you turn 16, it isn’t compulsory for you to go to school anymore. If you are expelled, the school that kicks you out doesn’t have to look for another school for you. The Ministry of Education may (but usually doesn’t) help you to get into any school, correspondence or Alternative Education.

You will generally have to try and see if another school will take you (but they don’t have to if you are expelled) or look into correspondence school, work, a course or other options.

Can I voluntarily withdraw from school before the board meeting?

You can try to do this, but there are risks in making that decision:

  • The school can still go ahead with the board meeting without you attending, they have the same options available and you will not get a chance to respond
    (if you choose to take this option, you should discuss with the school to understand whether they’ll still go ahead with the suspension after you withdraw);
  • If there are no other in-zone schools, you will have difficulty enrolling in another school, and the Ministry of Education wouldn’t have to help you find a new school even if you’re under 16.

Can I appeal the Board’s decision if I am not happy with it?

There isn’t a set appeal process for an unsatisfied Board hearing result.

You can write to the Board if you have new information that would help your case, and ask for a rehearing. However, there is no specific law that requires the school to take you back or to have a rehearing.

If you think the process (not just the outcome) they followed in reaching their decision wasn’t fair, you could complain to the Ombudsman, but the process is extremely lengthy, and the Ombudsman can only give a recommendation. If you think you have been discriminated against under the Human Rights Act, you can contact the Human Rights Commission. The other option is to hire a private lawyer and to bring a case called a judicial review through the High Court, but this is an extremely expensive and lengthy process.

The other options are to lay a complaint with the Ministry of Education and/or the Education Review Office. However, they may not actively do anything to resolve your complaint unless there is an extremely clear breach of the process.

What is a kiwi suspension?

A kiwi suspension is when you’re told to go home (when you’re meant to be at school) but haven’t been stood down, suspended, or asked to voluntarily withdraw from the school, but have not been excluded, expelled. This does not include if you’ve been told home for medical reasons.

Examples include: being told to leave school early, being told to not come back to school until you’ve fixed your uniform or cut your hair, being told to only attend for part of the school day, being told to stay home for a few days, or being told to withdraw when you don’t want to.

This is illegal and you should call YouthLaw if you have questions.

What can I do to prepare for a suspension meeting?

For the meeting, you should:

  • read the suspension report and note any explanations or inconsistencies;
  • prepare your explanation (if you have one);
  • apologise if you should, or bring an apology letter;
  • bring support people (if you have any);
  • tell them why you want to stay at school and what you can offer the school (bring any character references you have);
  • show them that you accept responsibility and are willing to address what you did, and that it will be safe and ok for them to return you to school;
  • be polite and answer questions as best you can.

If you have any questions about the suspension or parts of the report, or just want an opinion about your case, you can call YouthLaw.

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