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Duffy Law

Understanding the Difference Between Expulsion and Dismissal

What does it mean if a student has been dismissed from a school? Is it the same as being expelled? Parents and students considering the consequences of violations of Title IX or a college code of conduct often find the terms used by school officials to have ambiguous meanings.

As a legal team dedicated to protecting the rights of students, we know that the choice of words used in a particular proceeding carries great weight. Any disciplinary action can have a profound effect on a student’s future prospects, but expulsion and dismissal are among the most critical, so it is important to understand the full meaning and ramifications.

Expulsion is a Permanent Severance

When a student is expelled from a school, it usually means that the student has permanently lost the ability to attend that school. Certain schools, particularly primary and secondary schools, may have procedures to allow a student to re-acquire attendance rights. For some schools, the reason for an expulsion determines whether readmission may be possible. In most cases, however, expulsion severs a student from a school permanently.

Not only will the student not be allowed to register or attend classes after being expelled, but they are also frequently not allowed to enter school property for any reason. Violating this prohibition could subject that student to arrest.

Appealing an Expulsion

Although a student may be expelled based on a violation of criminal law, the expulsion process is governed by school policies rather than any state or local laws. Because expulsion is the most extreme punishment a school can hand down, policies usually specify that the school must conduct an investigation before expelling a student, and the policy may require a hearing to be held. Most policies also allow a student to appeal an expulsion decision, but the grounds for an appeal may be very limited. 

For instance, the rules may specify that an appeal will only be allowed if the student can point to an error during the investigation. A student accused of wrongdoing that subjects them to expulsion is not entitled to the same due process rights as an individual facing criminal charges in court. Attorneys for students know that they have to work very hard to assert and protect the student’s rights and to ensure that their side of the story gets full consideration.

Dismissal May Be Temporary

As with expulsion, it is important to consider the details of a school’s policies closely to determine the full ramifications of a dismissal. In many usages, a dismissal simply indicates an end to something, such as when students are dismissed from school at the end of the day. When used in a disciplinary sense, however, the meaning usually refers to an action where the school discontinues a student’s eligibility to register for or take classes. That type of dismissal is usually the result of some finding of wrongdoing, very often linked to poor grades. Academic dismissal is sometimes referred to as flunking out of college.

However, school policies often specify procedures a student can follow to reapply for admission after a dismissal. That can make a dismissal a temporary action compared with expulsion as a permanent move. Again, however, the definitions and policies in school rules determine exactly what each term means and the official consequences and abilities to reverse the outcomes.

Academic Dismissal

When poor academic performance causes a student to fail to meet a school’s minimum standards, the school may issue an academic dismissal. Generally, the school will not dismiss a student for a single failing grade or even an entire semester of failing grades. Rather, the pattern of low achievement will need to continue for several semesters. The school policy guide should explain the standards that apply.

A student will usually be given a warning and placed on a special status such as academic probation or academic suspension before the school finally dismisses the student. This type of dismissal can usually be appealed if a student can explain why the school should offer another chance to demonstrate better performance.

Reasons for Expulsion

School policy guides should specify the types of actions that can result in expulsion. However, the guides are also likely to include some general language to give administrators an outlet to expel a student for any type of conduct they feel deserves such a reaction. Actions that are dishonest, disruptive, or dangerous often trigger expulsion, but academic failure can also lead to expulsion. Schools typically expel students for actions such as:

School policies will generally require an investigation by a campus disciplinary agency, and very often a student will go before a board for a hearing before penalties are handed down. In cases such as sexual misconduct in violation of Title IX, federal law sets requirements for school policies for handling the investigation and hearing.

The school policies may not allow a student to be represented by an attorney during a hearing, but it is still helpful to consult an attorney for assistance in protecting the student’s rights. An experienced student defense lawyer can ensure that an investigation follows proper procedures, that the student’s due process rights are protected, and the student is prepared to defend their actions and explain their conduct. In many situations, an attorney may be able to negotiate a withdrawal instead of an expulsion, which looks much more favorable on a student’s record.

Students Facing Expulsion or Dismissal Need to Protect Their Reputation and Future Opportunities

Both dismissal and expulsion are extremely serious measures that reflect poorly on a student’s integrity and ability. While a student who has been dismissed or expelled may have the opportunity to complete their education in some form, they will have far fewer options available, and the taint of failure on their academic record can prevent them from enjoying certain job opportunities and further academic benefits in the future. In the case of Title IX violations and other causes, the loss of reputation often carries over into personal life for years into the future. It is impossible to underestimate the damage this type of expulsion can have on a student’s future.

If you or a student in your family is facing the possibility of dismissal or expulsion, it is wise to get legal advice right away to protect your rights and potential for the future. To discuss your case confidentially with an experienced attorney at Duffy Law, contact us today. 

Felice Duffy

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Attorney At Duffy Law

Attorney Felice Duffy served as an Assistant United States Attorney for ten years after beginning her legal career at two prestigious firms (one in CT and one in NY) and then clerking for two federal judges. A life-long Title IX advocate, she brought a legal action under the then-new Title IX statute against UCONN while an undergraduate to compel the creation of its women’s varsity soccer program. She went on to become a first-team Division I All-American, was selected to be on the first U.S. National Women’s Team, and spent 10 years as Head Coach of the Yale women's soccer team. Attorney Duffy has Ph.D. in Education/Sports Psychology and has spoken to, and conducted trainings for, over 50 schools and organizations on a wide range of topics involving athletics, the law, and social justice. You can reach Felice at (203) 946-2000.