ATLANTA, Ga. – The Gwinnett County Superior Court has reversed the unlawful school expulsion of a 14-year-old Gwinnett County Public Schools student based on an off-campus misdemeanor charge in juvenile court in 2019 that was later dismissed, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which represented the student in their appeal, announced today.
In August 2020, the SPLC appealed the school district’s decision to permanently expel the student for an incident that happened off campus. Today, the Court reversed the expulsion and ordered the Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) to immediately reenroll the student and expunge his student records of the disciplinary action.
In this case of first impression in Georgia, the Court recognized the limited authority of public school districts to discipline students for off-campus conduct and found that GCPS abused its discretion and acted contrary to Georgia law when it expelled the student for behavior that happened at his home. The Court also found that any school district policy that attempts to extend the district’s authority to discipline students beyond what is explicitly allowed by Georgia law is invalid and unenforceable.
“Spending millions of taxpayer dollars each year to prop up the school-to-prison pipeline, GCPS conducts thousands of disciplinary hearings each year where students rarely have legal representation and are often suspended and expelled in violation of Georgia law,” said SPLC Attorney Clarie Sherburne. “This practice is ineffective, costly, and disproportionately impacts Black students and other students of color. As it did in this case, GCPS has historically taken the position that it possesses unlimited authority to discipline students for behavior at home. We are grateful that the Court rejected the district’s unlawful position which causes serious harm to students.”
This is the fourth exclusionary school discipline decision in Gwinnett County challenged by the SPLC that has been overturned in the past 12 months.
In December 2020, 11-year-old E.G. (initials used to protect the minor’s identity) was suspended from Gwinnett County Public Schools after the student was accused of engaging in terroristic threats for allegedly failing to report that a fellow student had a kitchen knife in their backpack. E.G. was not alleged to have possessed a weapon or to have presented any threat to the school. Yet, the school district referred the student for a disciplinary hearing where E.G. faced permanent expulsion. E.G. retained SPLC for legal representation a day before the hearing and requested that it be delayed so that SPLC could review relevant records, prepare a defense and call witnesses as permitted under Georgia law. However, the district refused and insisted on moving forward with the hearing as scheduled, in violation of her due process rights. Against the evidence presented at the hearing, the school district found that E.G. had engaged in terroristic threats but allowed the student to return to school the next day. It was not until the SPLC submitted a notice to appeal the disciplinary decision that the school district agreed to “administratively dismiss” E.G.’s disciplinary charges and remove them from her academic record.
“These and other cases brought by the SPLC shine a light on the ugly reality of GCPS’ disciplinary system,” Sherburne said. “The district carelessly kicks Black students and other students of color out of school without regard for a fair process, their education or the long-term impact on their lives. Parents and students have been demanding changes in GCPS for more than a decade. Standing with our community partners, we urge the school district to end these harmful and discriminatory practices, and to reinvest funds spent on these practices on supports that ensure all students in the district can thrive.”