Skip to main content

Can a public school principal suspend a student for something that happened off school grounds and not related to any school

Warren, NJ |

function? I know there are circumstances where schools have imposed disciplinary action for conduct off school grounds and not related to a school function (i.e. sports events, trips) such as bullying, threats and fighting between students. My granddaughter who I raised since 5 years old is 16 and 2 other girls from her school had an argument outside the Mexican supermarket and the principal happened to be there and see it. My granddaughter was also smoking. The principal gave them my granddaughter a 5-day suspension (2 days for smoking) and a 3-day suspension for the other 2 girls. Prior to retirement, I have worked as a public school principal for over 30 years and I find this punishment ridiculous.

I told the principal that she can't do this but she says it's legal suspend them because it occurred between students. Then why add 2 additional days for smoking?

+ Read More

Attorney answers 4


Twenty years ago I would have agreed with you that such an incident off scool grounds that did not involve a school sponsored trip or activity was not the concern of schools.

However, today is a different world. Bullying is no longer just some bully pushing you up against the locker; it now can involve 24/7 harassment on Twitter, Facebook, etc.

The NJ Anti-Bullying Statute (ABS) specifically addresses inappropriate behavior off school grounds, but the behavior must cause "substantial disruption or interference in school or of student rights" and meet one of the following: physical or emotional harm or placing the student in fear of such harm; has the effect of insulting or demeaning the student or group of students; or create a "hostile educational environment for student by interfering with the student's education. Harassment can be a single incident. In addtion, failure of the school district to address the issue can have consequences for them so they have a positive duty to act.

Nevertheless, the law also has due process rights for those accused and alleged victims. You may appeal the Principal's decision to the local Board of Education and/thereafter to the NJ Commisioner of Education w/i 90 days.

The Anti-Bullying law can be found at: if you can wade through the legalize. Resources for educatiors can be f0und at:; and FAQ's can be found at: The Courts have yet to address whether any discipline such as you noted would be appropriate under the ABS.



I agree but what happened did NOT cause substantial disruption or interference in school or of student rights and did NOT meet any of the following criteria which includes physical or emotional harm or placing the student in fear of such harm; having the effect of insulting or demeaning the student or group of students; or creating a hostile educational environment for a student by interfering with the student's education.


I do not disagree with you. This does seem a bit extreme. Do any of the girls have prior histories of improper behavior? Please feel free to call to discuss this matter further.

Benjamin G. Kelsen IF YOU LIKE THIS ANSWER PLEASE INDICATE YOUR APPRECIATION BY SELECTING IT AS "BEST ANSWER." Law Offices of Benjamin G. Kelsen, Esq. LLC 179 Cedar Lane Teaneck, NJ 07666 Phone: 201-692-0073/ Fax: 201-692-0151 Web Site: / Email: NOT LEGAL ADVICE: The above information may contain an opinion which does not constitute legal advice. Unless a retainer agreement has been signed, we are not your legal representatives, and you should not rely on any opinions contained in this message.


Yes, the new bullying law provides jurisdiction to any activity that substantially interferes with education setting. So, if your daughter writes a essay about how last summer she had a bullying experience at summer camp and its still affecting her, she can expect the teacher to report it. Its a brave new world. Get a copy of the board of Education guidlines and make sure the process is being followed.

Law Offices of James A. Abate (732) 412-2364


The pendulum is moving on juvenile conduct issues related (however tangentially, and even if only allegedly) to bullying. At the present moment, many such matters are getting looked at through exaggerated and distorting prisms. It is to be expected that the pendulum will correct its course and come to a responsible and defensible resting point -- or zone -- but we are not there yet. In the meantime, attorneys everywhere are doing what they can to cause their clients' individual disputes NOT to be labelled or framed as bullying or bullying-related because the label has way too much power to determine the outcome. I agree that the matter described here is a stretch for "bullying-relatedness." But there is an uphill effort here to get this situation disentangled from the current momentum of that issue. Talk with an attorney if the suspension will have some serious impact on your grand-daughter's record, future, plans, etc. In all events, you or an attorney should utilize the disciplinary appeals process to get the penalty reduced and to re-characterize the offense. Underage smoking, or loud and disruptive public behavior -- worst case, something not tinged with the taint of bullying or violence needs to be the end-point label here.

it may be that the national momentum of the bullying issue has overtaken sound legal reasoning and common sense. And it may yet be seen that this phenomenon results in significant numbers of students dropping out of high school to avoid being dealt with by a school and legal system that has seized on a new and nearly all-purpose explanation of bad behavior.

My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as legal advice. I give legal advice only in the course of an attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by individual consultation and execution of a written agreement for legal services.