Josh, 15, and Dave, 16, have never gotten along. No one knows exactly when their animosity towards one another began, but in Grade 11, everything got out of control. It started a couple months ago when Josh started dating Dave’s ex-girlfriend, Sam. Dave and his friends at school would taunt and tease Josh in the hallways and in the locker rooms where teachers weren’t around. Then, Dave spread rumours around the school that Josh had been cheating on Sam in order to get them to break up. Josh had had enough at that point, but he did not want to go to any teachers because he thought it would would just lead to more taunting and teasing by Dave and his friends. So, he decided to fight Dave. He figured if he won that fight, Dave and the other students would leave him alone. Dave agreed to fight and it was decided that the next day, Friday, at 4pm in the school parking lot, they would settle their dispute physically.
|Fights on campus can lead to serious consequences at school.|
Dave and Josh’s fight happened on school property. What kind of consequences could the boys face at school?
Some of the most serious consequences that a student can face for behaviour at school are suspensions and expulsions. If a student is suspended, that means he or she can’t come to school for the time period of the suspension, which can be up to 20 days. A suspension is also recorded in a student’s Ontario Student Record, so that even if someone transfers schools, the new school may know what happened. Expulsions prevent students from attending school for at least four weeks, and it may mean that they cannot go to their own schools again afterwards. In both suspensions and expulsions, students can’t participate in school-related activities, like sports team practices or clubs.
Because Dave punched Josh in the face and bullied him before the fight, the principal will consider suspending Dave. If Josh made threats to Dave before the fight about seriously hurting him, the principal may consider suspending Josh, too. This is a situation where is a suspension is possible, but not required. The law requires principals to suspend students in certain situations that happen at school or school-related activities; for example, when you physically hurt another person so that the other person needs medical attention. Situations for mandatory suspensions are set out in Ontario’s Education Act, and school boards can also set guidelines for when suspensions are required in their board’s Code of Conduct. Mandatory suspensions also have the potential to lead to an expulsion, so they can be very serious.
When deciding whether to suspend Dave, the principal will have to consider “mitigating circumstances.” These are reasons that the school might not suspend Dave even though he punched Josh and teased him. Mitigating circumstances include issues like whether Dave was able to control his behaviour, whether he understood what would probably happen because of his behaviour, and whether his being at school would pose a risk to Josh’s or anyone else’s safety. Other things can be considered too, like whether Dave has a disability or if he has had any problems at school in the past.
The school must act fairly towards Dave. They must accommodate any disabilities he has, they must tell him what they are suspending him for, and they must give him a chance to tell his side of the story. Since Dave is 16 and lives with his parents, they must also contact his parents to tell them about the suspension. They must inform Dave and his parents of the suspension in writing, explaining why he is suspended and for how long, and telling him which suspended students program he has been assigned to (if he is suspended for more than 5 days). They must also provide information about the right to appeal his suspension and who to contact with his appeal notice. Once the suspension is over, Dave can begin to attend school again.
Appealing a Suspension
If Dave is suspended, he might feel that his punishment is unfair. In this case, his parents can appeal the suspension by notifying the supervisory officer (usually a Superintendent) named in his suspension notice of their intent to appeal. They must do this within ten school days of the start of the suspension. A suspension appeal must then be held within 15 days after the supervisory officer receives the written notice.
At the suspension appeal, school board trustees will listen to evidence from both Dave and the principal. Dave and his parents have rights at the hearing. These include being represented by a lawyer, calling witnesses, presenting Dave’s side of the story, cross-examining witnesses (this means asking questions of the witnesses called by the principal), and explaining mitigating circumstances. The trustees will then decide whether to uphold, change, or end the suspension. If the suspension is ended, Dave can go back to school immediately. Even if the suspension ended before the appeal was held, this is still an important decision because it will be removed from Dave’s record if the board ends it at the appeal.
Although nobody was hurt badly in Dave and Josh's fight, a more serious fight might have led to an expulsion, or to criminal charges. For more information, see JFCY’s pamphlets:
Scenario written by JFCY volunteer and PLE team member Cemone Morlese. Legal info by JFCY.