Suspending a Student
A member contacts the Counselling and Member Services Department regarding a student's behaviour that he believes requires at least a one-day suspension according to the Safe Schools Act (Bill 81). He has reported the behaviour to the principal, who has done nothing, and he therefore intends to suspend the student himself.
The counsellor strongly advises the teacher not to suspend the student, even if he believes it is justified under the provisions of Bill 81. The counsellor recommends that the teacher try again to work on this case with the principal. If he has not already done so, the teacher should put in writing his reasons for thinking the student should be suspended. Once the teacher has done that, it is the principal's responsibility to act on the recommendation. The counsellor advises the teacher not to proceed further if the principal decides not to suspend the student. If the student again behaves in a way that the teacher believes merits suspension, the teacher should once again make a written report to the principal.
As a rule, teachers should report any students committing offenses warranting suspension, as outlined in the provincial Code of Conduct and/or School Board Code, to the school principal. The report should be in a written format so that the details of the behaviour are clear and to ensure that the teacher has proof of his/her compliance with the act. Section 306 of the Safe Schools Act identifies a list of "infractions" that require suspension of students. It also permits additional infractions to be included in the school board protocol. Section 306(3) gives teachers who observe a pupil committing an infraction a choice: they MAY suspend the pupil or they may refer the matter to the principal. Under Section 306(4), the principal has the duty to suspend the pupil.
Nevertheless, principals do have some discretion under the Act. Suspension is not mandatory if the principal judges that:
- The pupil does not have the ability to control behaviour;
- The pupil does not have the ability to understand the foreseeable consequences of the behaviour
- The pupil's continuing presence in the school does not create an unacceptable risk to the safety or well-being of any person
The legislation governing suspensions is complex. Although a one-day suspension cannot be appealed, a teacher could face potential problems from school board discipline if there were some impropriety in the process followed in suspending a student. Members may also be subject to a complaint to the Ontario College of Teachers, to a civil suit or a human rights complaint. Legal difficulties arising from teachers suspending students can be expensive. Although OECTA may provide assistance on a case-by-case basis, members are cautioned that they should not suspend students. All these problems can be avoided by leaving suspensions up to the principal.