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Principal's Authority to Suspend

by
Bob Fitzpatrick, NBTA Executive Director and
Robin Roe, Assistant Deputy Minister of Education

Introduction

We have been asked by two NBTA committees to clarify the positions of NBTA and the Department of Education related to the authority of principals to suspend students. Since there is no difference in position, we thought that the easiest way to do this is through a joint statement.

The Act

Principals have been given authority in Section 24 of the Education Act to suspend students for "cause".

24(1) "A principal may for cause suspend

a) a pupil from attendance at school

( i) for a fixed period of time not exceeding five consecutive days, or (ii) pending a review of the matter and decision under subsection (2) by the superintendent concerned, or

b) any other school privilege of a pupil

( i) for such period of time as is determined by the principal, or (ii) pending a review of the matter and decision under subsection (2) by the superintendent concerned.

24(2) "The superintendent concerned may for cause suspend any or all school privileges of a pupil for such period of time as is determined by the superintendent.

The remaining subsections of Section 24 relate to other issues such as appeal from suspension and transfer of a suspended student. In the interests of space and time, we will paraphrase these sections but encourage the reader to refer to the complete text in the Education Act.

24(3) The principal shall immediately report, in writing, any suspension under 24(1)(a) to the superintendent.

24(4) The parent of a pupil or an independent pupil may, where the pupil has been suspended from school for more than five days in a school year, appeal the most recent suspension.

24(5) A pupil is required to provide assurance of his or her reform before being reinstated after suspension.

24(6) A principal may designate a vice-principal to act on behalf of the principal.

24(7) Where a pupil under suspension transfers to another school district, the superintendent of that school district may, on review of the circumstances, uphold, shorten the period, or waive the suspension.

Application

It is clear that the legislation intends principals to have two options at their disposal when suspending a student from school. A principal may either i) suspend for up to five days, or ii) suspend a student pending a review and decision by the superintendent. The Act does not impose upon the principal a duty to have the superintendent review the suspension unless the suspension is levied under Section 24(1)(a)(ii) or (b)(ii) this usually occurs when the principal is recommending a suspension of longer than five days for any specific incident.

The five consecutive day limit described in Section 24(1)(a)(i) is not cumulative when it comes to limiting the principal's authority to suspend for another incident by the same student. In other words, a principal may suspend a student for cause for up to five days for an incident this week and will have the same undiminished authority to suspend the same pupil for up to five days in a couple of weeks time if it is for a new incident.

The only situation where the cumulative number of days in a school year is an issue under this section of the Act relates to appeal. After a student has been suspended for more than five cumulative days in a school year, the parent or independent pupil have a right to appeal in accordance with the regulations.

Summary

For each transgression by a pupil, the principal of a school has authority to suspend the student for up to five consecutive days "for cause". Where a principal feels that a suspension of a period longer than five consecutive days is warranted, the principal must then seek to have the suspension imposed by the superintendent. And, parents/guardians or independent pupils must be made aware of their right of appeal when any suspension takes them past five days in a school year.

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