Alabama is the only state in the Southeast that lacks statutory due process protections for students facing long-term suspension or expulsion. Without a state law, each of the 138 school districts in Alabama is left to develop its own protections and procedures. This has resulted in haphazard, inconsistent and disproportionate disciplinary outcomes for students.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has filed lawsuits and other complaints against three school boards in Alabama on behalf of students who were subjected to exclusionary discipline without receiving the due process rights that are constitutionally guaranteed under the 14th Amendment.
The school boards named in the complaints violated the rights of our clients by failing to provide fair and lawful disciplinary proceedings:
- In May 2019, the SPLC filed complaints against the Athens City Board of Education, seeking the reinstatement of two high school seniors who were suspended after an incident involving law enforcement, students and parents. The SPLC alleged that the students were denied their due process rights when the school board failed to prove that they violated the student code of conduct. The school board also unfairly prohibited the students from walking in their graduation.
- In October 2019, the SPLC filed a lawsuit against the Elmore County Board of Education after a high school student was expelled following an incident in which she initially refused to put her cell phone away. The lawsuit alleges that the school board failed to provide the student with due process by denying her a meaningful hearing and by failing to comply with its own policies and procedures.
- In January 2020, the SPLC filed two lawsuits against the Montgomery County Board of Education on the grounds that it violated the due process rights of two students who were arrested and expelled from high school after they were mistakenly accused of possessing a gun, which was actually a cell phone. Even after the students were acquitted in juvenile court of their criminal accusations, the school board refused to allow them to return to school.
- In October 2020, the SPLC filed two complaints against the Pike County Board of Education in Alabama for arbitrarily suspending students, a violation of their due process rights under the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuits were filed on behalf of two Black former Goshen High School students falsely accused of smoking in the school parking lot. Despite denying the allegations and taking drug tests that showed they had no drugs that day, they were suspended. The lawsuits describe how the district failed to provide the students proper notice, including details about the charges, evidence of wrongdoing and a meaningful opportunity to be heard, present evidence and question witnesses. They returned to school three months later, after a successful appeal. However, they missed senior activities and opportunities for college recruiters to see them play sports.
The complaints can be read here and here.
The complaints expose the lack of due process in how students are disciplined in Alabama – particularly students of color – and highlight the need for alternatives to exclusionary discipline and better training for school staff.