Education Law – The Hearing Process At the Superintendant’s Designee Level

Once the school Principal has decided that a student should be suspended for more than 10 days, the matter must be referred to an administrator designated by the Superintendant of schools, hence the name Superintendant’s Designee. In Baltimore County there are usually a half dozen of these hearing officers who divide the county up geographically. These hearings are informal but witness testimony is allowed. The hearings, however, are not under oath and not recorded. The principal or often a vice principal reads from a packet of information and statements created by their investigation. This usually includes witness statements from the accused, other students, the SRO (school resource officer–generally an on duty Baltimore County police officer) and any other administrators involved. Students are not told that they have a right not to give a statement and if they do not they are often charged with refusing to cooperate, a category one offense. Lawyers for the accused student are allowed to cross examine the school administrator and this is where many cases can be won. Issues regarding illegal search and seizure, improper statements and the school’s scope of authority can be developed through cross examination. Additionally, inconsistencies in the statements can also be brought to the attention of the Designee. Once the school has put on its case the student has the opportunity to respond. Be sure to use caution before letting a student testify. Although the proceedings are not recorded, students still have an absolute right not to testify. If there are pending criminal charges beware of letting your client implicate herself.