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Supreme Judicial Court Rules in Favor of Soughton High School Principal

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Franklin, MA –The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) has ruled in favor of a high school principal’s suspension of a student charged with a felony crime, thereby reversing a decision of the Superior Court. The Massachusetts Secondary School Administrators’ Association had filed an amicus brief in behalf of the defendant in the matter.

Last month, the MSSAA joined with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees in filing an amicus brief in support of actions taken by the Stoughton H.S. principal. The principal had suspended a student who was charged with assault of a minor child.

The student in question was charged by police last summer and returned to school in September. When school officials learned of the charges later in the fall they conducted an inquiry and then suspended the student pending outcome of the charges against him.

The student’s parents then sued the principal and the school officials seeking an injunction against the suspension. Initially the Superior Court denied the request but subsequently a second judge ruled in favor of the parents. The Appeals Court then stayed the injunction and the Supreme Judicial Court took the case on its own motion.

In discussion of the issues in the case the SJC cited several other cases and said, “…Because school officials are in the best position to determine when a student’s actions threaten the safety and welfare of other students, we must grant school officials a substantial deference in their disciplinary choices. Thus, we will overturn a school’s decision to suspend a student only if it is arbitrary and capricious, so as to constitute an abuse of discretion.”

In its brief the MSSAA argued the school’s action was not “an arbitrary and capricious act” as claimed, and that it did not represent an “abuse of discretionary power.” Rather it argued the suspension was necessary to protect the safety and welfare of all students. The SJC agreed.

Donald Rebello, MSSAA President, said, “We are pleased that the Supreme Judicial Court supported the school district’s decision to protect students and maintain a safe environment in that school. We felt strongly that the principal deserved the support of the MSSAA. We are able to cite numerous examples where school officials, in accordance with state law and in fulfillment of their moral obligation to protect their school populations, have invoked appropriate and swift disciplinary action against students who have been charged with criminal conduct outside of school, as soon as becoming aware of such violations. We believe we have a primary responsibility to our students and staffs to do all we can to provide a safe school environment.”

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