Massachusetts Legislature Amends Student Discipline Law

Starting November 8, 2022, Massachusetts schools must take additional steps to re-engage students before using suspension and expulsion as disciplinary measures. As part of An Act Addressing Barriers to Care for Mental Health, St. 2022, c. 177, § 29, the Massachusetts Legislature amended M.G.L. c. 71, §37H ¾(b) to include new language relevant to student discipline. Pursuant to those changes, before suspending or expelling students, schools must consider ways to re-engage the student and, in certain circumstances, implement alternative remedies.

Prior to the amendment, subsection (b) only required that the decision-maker “consider ways to re-engage the student in the learning process; and avoid using expulsion as a consequence until other remedies and consequences have been employed.” The amendment expands these requirements. As a result, before suspending or expelling a student, the decision-maker must employ alternative remedies in response to a specific incident and document their use and results. The alternative remedies required by the law include but are not limited to: (1) mediation; (2) conflict resolution; (3) restorative justice; and (4) collaborative problem solving.

The amendment provides for limited exceptions to these requirements where: (1) such remedies are unsuitable to the specific incident or are counter-productive; or (2) the student’s continued presence in school would pose a specific, documentable concern about the infliction of serious bodily injury or other serious harm upon another person while in school. School districts must document the facts which support either of these exceptions.

The school district must also implement school- or district-wide models to re-engage students in the learning process, such as positive behavioral interventions and support models or trauma sensitive learning models.  However, these models may not be considered as a direct response to specific incidents.

Since this amendment will take effect on November 8th, school districts should develop processes of implementing alternative remedies to discipline, prepare ways to re-engage students in the learning process, and assess how to document the use and results of alternative remedies as well as circumstances where alternative remedies may not be employed. School districts should also notify all superintendents, principals, headmasters, and anyone likely to act as a decision-maker in a student discipline hearing of these changes in the law. It should be kept in mind that this amendment does not apply to discipline imposed under G.L. c. 71, §37H or under G.L. c. 71, §37H ½.

If you have any questions on the content of this update, please contact us. We are pleased to assist public and private schools in all matters related to student discipline, as well as provide strategies in documenting new requirements under this law.

This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.