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Massachusetts law about student discipline

A compilation of laws, regulations, and web sources on suspending or expelling students, and other forms of student discipline.

Table of Contents

Massachusetts laws

MGL c.71, § 37G Corporal punishment prohibited. Teachers and school employees may not hit a student, except they can use "such reasonable force as is necessary to protect pupils, other persons, and themselves from an assault by a pupil."

MGL c.71, § 37H  Schools must have policies about student discipline, and students must get a handbook that explains the rules. A student who brings a weapon or drugs to school, or assaults a staff member may be expelled.

MGL c.71, § 37H-1/2  If a student is charged with a felony, they may be suspended. If they are convicted of a felony, they may be expelled. The student can appeal the decision.

MGL c.71, § 37H-3/4  Rules for schools to follow if they suspend or expel a student for any other reason

MGL c.76, § 21  Helping a student who is suspended or expelled continue their education

Massachusetts regulations

603 CMR 53: Student discipline. Sets out in detail the specific rules a school must follow when suspending or expelling a student. The purpose of this regulation includes:

limit the use of long-term suspension as a consequence for student misconduct until other consequences have been considered and tried as appropriate

Agency

Selected cases

Mahanoy Area School District v. B. L., 594 U.S. ___ , 141 S.Ct. 2038
While public schools may have a special interest in regulating some off-campus student speech, the special interests offered by the school are not sufficient to overcome B. L.’s interest in free expression in this case.

Doe v. Worcester Public Schools, 484 Mass. 598 (2020)
The school "superintendent lacked authority to delegate responsibility for hearing and deciding the appeal, given that the initial suspension exceeded ninety days and therefore constituted an expulsion."

Web sources

Massachusetts school discipline laws & regulations by category, US Dept. of Education, March 31, 2021
"For each of the states or jurisdictions, discipline related laws and regulations are categorized by the type of specific discipline issue they address. Resources from government-sponsored websites and other sources are also included for each jurisdiction where available."

Parent guide to school discipline: when my child is disciplined at school: a guide for Massachusetts families, Appleseed Center, 2015.
Great information to help parents when their child has been disciplined at school. Explains some of the common consequences for misbehavior, from missing recess to expulsion. Includes a lot of information on appealing a school discipline decision.

Protections for students with disabilities who are being disciplined by school officials, Children's Law Center, June 2019
Explains the unique legal requirements for disciplining special needs students

School discipline, Mass. Advocates for Children
Links to many sources of valuable information. "The underlying principle of the law and regulations is to make exclusion from school a last resort, especially for all but the most serious offenses. Central to the new law and regulations is the requirement that for all offenses, if a student is to be excluded for more than 10 consecutive school days, the school district must offer the student alternative education services. In addition, for all offenses, during the first 10 days of exclusion, schools are required to provide education services so that the student can make academic progress despite absence from classes."

Student discipline resources and information, Mass. Dept. of Education, February 19, 2021
This web page outlines a number of Massachusetts specific and federal resources related to school climate and alternatives to discipline.

Print sources

Disciplining students with behavioral issues, NBI, 2016.
Includes helpful information on MGL c.71, § 37H-3/4: Suspension or expulsion on grounds other than those in 37H and 37H 1/2.

Municipal law and practice, 5th ed. (Mass. practice v.18B), Thomson West, 2006 with 2021 supplement. Section 22.38, Discipline.

School law in Massachusetts, MCLE, 2020, looseleaf, Chapter 7, Student Safety and Discipline in Public Schools.

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Last updated: September 9, 2021
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