By Alex Kornfeld

What Standard of Proof Should Public School Students Be Afforded

            Deciding whether to discipline a student when a student is charged with a crime is a daunting task of which most people would not relish.  There are many factors a school board may consider at an expulsion hearing.  Unlike a criminal case, where the State must prove all the elements of a particular crime beyond a reasonable doubt most county school boards abide by a much looser set of standards in which they generally weigh several factors and make a discretionary decision that will be in the best interest of the school district.  This decision must weigh any given number of factors including the threat the student may present to the school, safety of the student body and employees, parent concerns, any disruption caused by the student being re-enrolled in the school, the severity of the crime, the student’s past behavior, gpa and general rights.

Innocent until proven guilty.  Should this threshold be used in public schools?

Most Americans know amendments to the constitution as well as statements from the Constitution.  You will not find any language that verbatim states a defendant has a presumption of innocence and the burden of proof is on the defendant but since 1895 this has been the law of the land.  In Coffin v. United States, 156 U.S. 432, the Supreme Court held a defendant is presumed innocent and the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a Defendant is guilty of the alleged crime.

On the other hand, the right to an education is not part of the United States Constitution.  It is part of several state constitutions.  In any event, this is a decision of which must weigh constitutional factors with one’s ability to continue to be enrolled in school before a criminal hearing.   A parent will most likely be of the belief that the student who is now a criminal defendant should be suspended or expelled until the matter is resolved.  On the other hand, the student will likely be discriminated against if he is not afforded a traditional education or worse yet, expelled.

A person may be considered innocent until proven guilty but that is clearly not the case in matters that are beyond the courts eyes.  The question is whether it should be?   Should a juvenile attending public school be afforded a public education while his case is pending or should the school weigh factors and make the decision that it believes is in the best interest of the greater good?

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