If a DCPS school decides to suspend a student for six or more consecutive days or expel a student for serious misbehavior, DCPS must schedule the student for a disciplinary hearing at the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).
There are a number of issues that a judge must decide in such a hearing. First, the judge has to decide whether DCPS followed all “due process” requirements. "Due process" requires that DCPS give parents proper written notice of the proposed discipline, hold a conference with the student and parent/guardian prior to the disciplinary action, and provide access to the student’s records before the hearing.
OAH also determines whether the alleged student misbehavior occurred, and, if so, what “tier” (or level) the misbehavior falls under. The judge can only uphold the discipline if the judge determines that the student committed a Tier 4 or Tier 5 infraction. If the judge finds that the student committed an infraction that falls under Tiers 1 through 3, the school must lower any out of school suspension to fewer than six days. OAH can also recommend that a student be suspended for fewer or more days, as allowed within a tier. However, DCPS ultimately decides the specific discipline for each student, if the judge finds that the student committed a Tier 4 or 5 infraction.
The purpose of this page is to help you learn more about disciplinary hearings at OAH. This page does not give legal advice. You can only get legal advice from a lawyer. If you want to talk to a lawyer, click on the “I need more help” tab at the bottom of this page for information on who you can contact.
Also, OAH tries to keep information on this page up to date, but laws and procedures sometimes change. You should refer to DCPS notices, OAH orders, and official sources of laws and rules for the most current information and requirements regarding your case.
How and why does a case come to OAH?
A case comes to OAH when DCPS decides that a student’s misbehavior requires a long-term suspension (six days or more) or expulsion. If you are a parent/guardian or an adult student, you do not need to do anything to request a hearing at OAH. If a disciplinary hearing is required, DCPS automatically refers the case to OAH and will send you a hearing notice that gives the date, time, and location of your hearing, as well as your rights at the hearing.
Since these cases involve severe forms of discipline – long term suspensions and expulsions – it is important that the circumstances of each case be reviewed through an independent and impartial hearing process. Since OAH is an independent court and not a part of DCPS, OAH has been given authority to hold these disciplinary hearings. At a hearing, the responsibility is on DCPS to prove that due process requirements were followed, that the alleged misbehavior occurred, and that the discipline proposed is appropriate. Students and parents/guardians are given opportunity to dispute DCPS’s allegations. After hearing from both sides, the OAH judge determines whether the misbehavior occurred and, if so, the appropriate tier of the misbehavior based on the relevant laws and regulations.
What discipline-related issues does OAH not hear?
OAH is a court of “limited jurisdiction.” This means OAH cannot hear all discipline-related issues that might come up at a D.C. public school. Two common issues that OAH does not have jurisdiction over are issues relating to students with disabilities and mandatory transfers. For example, if there is an allegation that DCPS has not followed a student’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), OAH could not address that issue. Similarly, if a school has proposed a mandatory transfer of a student due to behavioral issues, OAH does not have authority to change that decision.
My child is already serving or has already served the suspension. Why still have a hearing?
Sometimes a school suspends a student immediately, if they think an emergency suspension is appropriate. Therefore, a student subject to an emergency suspension may have already served some or even all of the suspension by the hearing date. But this does not mean there is no point to the hearing. While the judge obviously cannot return the suspended days to the student, the judge could decide that the suspension was not appropriate and clear the student’s record of the suspension. It is therefore a good idea to attend the hearing, even if the student has already returned to school.
Where can I find an explanation of the procedures for a disciplinary hearing?
There are two legal sources that explain the procedures for disciplinary hearings: the OAH Rules and DCPS’s regulations.
The OAH Rules explain all the steps required to complete the OAH hearing process, from requesting a hearing to appealing a judge’s final decision. You can find the OAH Rules on the Rules & Laws page. You must follow the OAH Rules throughout the process.
Chapter 29 has rules for specific case types, including DCPS disciplinary cases. So, you should start in Chapter 29 when looking for rules that apply to your case. Specifically, DCPS disciplinary cases are covered by Rules 2900 through 2904. If a Chapter 29 rule does not have the information you are looking for, you should then look at the Chapter 28 rules, most of which broadly cover all case types at OAH. Chapter 29 rules sometimes refer to the related Chapter 28 rule to give you some guidance. Both Chapters also have a table of contents with section headings that can help guide you to the information you need.
Along with the OAH Rules, DCPS’s regulations also give requirements for disciplinary hearings. DCPS’s regulations for disciplinary hearing procedures are in Title 5, Subtitle B, Chapter 25, Section 2506 of the D.C. Municipal Regulations (DCMR).
Where can I find laws and regulations that apply to my case?
Every case has its own facts and circumstances, so some cases may involve laws and regulations that are not listed on this page. However, the D.C. Code and the D.C. Municipal Regulations (DCMR) generally cover the issues in DCPS student disciplinary cases.
The D.C. Code is where you can find laws passed by the D.C. Council. Within the bounds of the law, a D.C. agency may then make regulations creating requirements and procedures for the program or service the agency administers. Regulations are often more detailed than laws, but laws have greater authority. If there is a discrepancy between a law and a regulation, the law applies. When a judge decides a case at OAH, he or she may apply both laws and regulations to reach a final decision.
You can find the laws for DCPS student discipline in Title 38, Chapter 2, Subchapter II, Part C of the D.C. Code. This part includes, among other things, Section 38-236.04, which establishes important limitations on suspensions and expulsions as a form of student discipline. This part also has a section with definitions of legal terms often used in disciplinary cases.
DCPS’s regulations for student discipline are in Title 5, Subtitle B, Chapter 25 of the DCMR. Among other important sections, this chapter includes:
- Section 2502 – Grounds for Disciplinary Action
- Section 2504 – Policy for Suspensions and Expulsions
- Section 2505 – Procedures for Disciplinary Hearings
DCPS schools must also have student discipline policies. A school’s policy is not law, and a policy must be in line with the laws and regulations cited above. However, a school’s policy can help you understand how school officials apply the laws and regulations for student discipline.
If you are having difficulty finding or understanding the laws or regulations, click on the “I need more help” tab below for more information about who you can contact for more help.
How do I prepare for a hearing?
In many cases, DCPS has already suspended or expelled a student when the hearing is scheduled, so the disciplinary action must be reviewed and decided at OAH as quickly as possible. Under DCPS’s regulations, a disciplinary hearing must be held no more than four school days after written notice of disciplinary action is given to the adult student or parent or guardian of a minor student. So, you may only have a few days to prepare. If more time is absolutely necessary, you may request that the hearing be postponed, but for no longer than five school days after the initial hearing date. This is called a “continuance.” If it’s before the day of your hearing, you may request a continuance from the DCPS Office of Equity. If on the day of your hearing, you can ask the OAH judge for a continuance. Continuances may be necessary but are generally discouraged, since a quick resolution to the case is needed to prevent any unnecessary harm to the student.
Although the time to prepare is short, preparation generally involves gathering information you want the judge to know and planning how to present the information during the hearing. Information you present during a hearing is called “evidence.” There are two broad categories of evidence:
- verbal testimony (what you and other witnesses say at the hearing)
- documents, photographs, or other physical items
For testimony, you can practice telling the student’s side of the story before the hearing. If you have witnesses that will testify on the student’s behalf, you can ask your witnesses to practice their testimony as well. Practicing testimony can help make sure you and your witnesses don’t accidentally leave out important information and can help you feel more comfortable on the day of the hearing.
Typically, the student testifies on his own behalf and/or the parent testifies about what he or she knows about what happened. However, an important consideration in deciding to have a student testify on his or her own behalf is whether there are criminal charges associated with the incident. If so, the student’s testimony could be used against him or her in a criminal proceeding. It is always a good idea to consult with an attorney. Whether or not the student testifies, he or she should always try to attend the hearing.
Documents, photographs, or other items you plan to use to support your case are called “exhibits.” Often a student’s case consists entirely of the student’s and parent’s testimony, so there is no requirement that you use exhibits in your case. But if you have exhibits, you should collect them before the hearing so that you can file a copy of each exhibit with OAH and “serve” a copy on DCPS before or even during the hearing. “Serving” means delivering, mailing, or faxing a copy of the exhibit to DCPS. You can also serve exhibits by email if you and DCPS have agreed in writing to allow service by email.
As you prepare, you can also ask DCPS to allow you to review and copy the student’s disciplinary file. If you do not request a review of the file before the hearing, then DCPS or OAH will make the file available to you on the day of the hearing.
As part of your hearing preparation, you should keep in mind that properly filing and serving an exhibit does not automatically mean that the judge can rely on the information in the exhibit when making a decision. Instead, you need to be prepared to introduce the exhibit during your testimony or a witness’s testimony. In other words, you or a witness will need to describe the item and may need to answer questions about it, so that the judge can be satisfied that the item is relevant to the case and is reliable. After you or a witness describe an exhibit and answer any questions from the judge or the other party, you can then ask the judge to admit the exhibit into evidence. If the judge allows the exhibit into evidence, you can then refer to the item in detail during your testimony, and the judge can rely on the item when making a decision. You need to be prepared for this process for each individual exhibit. It is a good idea to bring a list of all the exhibits you plan to use during the hearing, so you can keep track of what you have talked about and whether the judge has allowed the exhibit into evidence.
Here are some of the common OAH Rules that apply to hearing preparation: Rule 2902 (DCPS Student Discipline Cases – Hearings); Rule 2809 (Filing of Papers); Rule 2811 (How to Serve a Paper); Rule 2812 (Calculating Deadlines); Rule 2813 (Motions Procedure); Rule 2821 (Hearings and Evidence). Other rules may apply, so it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the OAH Rules’ table of contents so that you know where to go to look for particular requirements. The OAH Rules are on the Rules & Laws page.
What can I expect at a hearing?
DCPS disciplinary hearings are currently remote and are scheduled to take place by telephone. OAH uses a program called Webex to hold remote hearings, but only a phone is required for anyone to join. Your hearing notice will have instructions on how to join the remote hearing, but you can also visit the Webex Hearings page for more information.
If able, it can be helpful to have access to your email during the hearing. DCPS or OAH may need to send you documents related to the case after the hearing starts.
Regarding how the hearing goes, an evidentiary hearing is generally divided into three main parts:
- Opening statements
- Presentations of evidence
- Closing arguments
An opening statement is your chance to give the judge a broad overview of your case and what you intend to show through your evidence. An opening statement is not required, and parties frequently skip opening statements and get right into the presentation of evidence. But if you prepare an opening statement, keep in mind that it is not testimony and does not count as evidence. So, remember to present all of your evidence during the next part of the hearing, even if you talked about it already in your opening statement.
The presentation of evidence is the main part of the hearing. The judge will explain how the hearing will go before it begins, but the side with the “burden of proof” normally goes first when giving evidence. The side with the burden of proof must prove certain facts in order to win the case. In DCPS disciplinary hearings, the burden is always on DCPS to prove that the student’s alleged misbehavior occurred and that it is a Tier 4 or 5 misbehavior. DCPS must also prove that all due process requirements were followed.
When it is your turn to present evidence, you can give testimony and, if the judge allows your exhibits into evidence, talk about the documents or other items you have as evidence. (See the “How do I prepare for hearing” tab above for more explanation about how exhibits are admitted into evidence). You can also have your witnesses attend and ask them questions to get them to testify on your behalf. Asking questions of your own witnesses is called “direct examination.”
After you or a witness are done giving testimony, the other side can ask questions about the testimony that was given. This is called “cross examination.” Likewise, after the other side’s witnesses give testimony as part of their presentation of evidence, you will have the opportunity to ask them questions. However, neither side is required to ask cross examination questions, and the judge will not assume you agree with the testimony of the other side’s witnesses if you choose not to question them. The judge may also have questions for the parties and witnesses throughout the hearing.
Finally, after both sides have presented their evidence, each side can give a closing argument. A closing argument is not required but is your opportunity to summarize your evidence and legal arguments as to why you should win. The closing argument is not evidence, and you cannot introduce new exhibits during your closing or talk about information that was not admitted into evidence.
Throughout the process, keep in mind that all evidence and arguments are being given directly to the judge. An evidentiary hearing is not an opportunity for the parties to talk and argue between themselves. So, you should practice your opening statement, presentation of evidence, and closing argument as if you are speaking directly to the judge.
How do I send documents or other exhibits I want to use for my case?
All exhibits must be filed with OAH and served on DCPS.
You can file exhibits with OAH in person; by mail, email, or fax; or through the OAH E-Filing Portal. Visit the Filings & Forms page for specific filing instructions.
“Serving” means delivering, mailing, or faxing copies of your exhibits to the other party. If the other party has agreed in writing, you may also send exhibits by email.
Each party must file and serve exhibits no later than the date of the disciplinary hearing. If you did not receive DCPS's exhibits, including the Notice of Proposed Disciplinary Action and the Notice of Hearing, tell the judge that you need copies. Sometimes the judge or DCPS can email them to you during the hearing. If you do not have access to the documents before the hearing, you can also request a continuance, or postponement, to give you time to look at them before the hearing. Continuances can be granted for no more than 5 school days after the initial hearing date.
I do not speak English very well. Can I get an interpreter?
Yes. Upon request, OAH will provide a free court-certified interpreter at your hearing. You cannot have a friend or family member interpret for you during a hearing.
You may request an interpreter at any time by calling OAH at (202) 442-9094 or by emailing [email protected]. But please let OAH know as soon as possible that you need an interpreter for your hearing to give OAH time to schedule an interpreter.
If you have not requested an interpreter by the day of your hearing, you should let the judge know that you need an interpreter, and the judge can try to get an interpreter. If the judge cannot find an interpreter right away, the judge will need to reschedule the hearing to give time for OAH to schedule an interpreter for a new hearing date.
OAH will also provide an interpreter if you need to speak with an OAH Customer Service Representative or Resource Center staff, whether visiting in-person or calling OAH by phone. Simply ask for an interpreter and identify your language when you visit or call, and the OAH staff person will contact an interpreter to assist.
I have an impairment that makes it hard for me to attend a hearing. Can I get an accommodation?
Yes. Upon request, OAH will provide reasonable accommodations to allow you to participate in your hearing. You may request an accommodation at any time by calling OAH at (202) 442-9094 or by emailing [email protected]. Please explain the accommodation you need, and OAH staff will be in touch with you to arrange reasonable accommodations for the day of your hearing. OAH may need some time to arrange the accommodations, so please let OAH know as soon as possible what accommodations you will need for your hearing.
What if I miss a hearing?
If you miss your hearing, you may ask OAH for another hearing date. But you must explain why you missed the hearing. Your request and explanation must be in writing and must be filed with OAH within one school day after the scheduled hearing date. To make a request, you may complete and file the Request for a New Hearing form. The OAH judge can grant another hearing date if you give a good reason for missing the hearing.
If you miss your hearing because you did not receive notice of the hearing, and DCPS has already issued a final notice of disciplinary action, you may send DCPS a written request for a reconsideration, asking DCPS to refer the case back to OAH for a hearing. DCPS can either order a new hearing or ask OAH to decide whether to grant a new hearing.
These options are explained in OAH Rule 2902.8 and 2904.3.
If you don’t ask for another hearing in time, as required by these rules, or if you don’t give a good reason for missing the hearing, you may lose your right to a disciplinary hearing, which would mean DCPS’s notice of disciplinary action is final.
How does a judge make a final decision?
The judge will not tell you the final decision during the hearing. Rather, the judge will take time after the hearing to carefully consider all the evidence before making a final decision in writing.
The judge’s written decision is called “Student Discipline Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.” The decision will be sent to you and to DSPS and will explain the facts of the case as determined by the judge, the laws that apply to the case, and the judge’s legal conclusions based on how the law applies to the facts. Specifically, the decision will determine whether the alleged misbehavior occurred and, if so, the appropriate tier based on the type of misbehavior. The Final Order may also recommend a disciplinary action for that tier of misbehavior.
Because of the urgency of student disciplinary cases, the judge must send out the Final Order within one school day following the end of the hearing.
What do I do if I disagree with the judge’s final decision?
When the judge makes a final decision, the case goes back to DCPS to issue a final notice of disciplinary action. However, before DCPS issues its final notice, you may ask the OAH judge, in writing, to reconsider the final decision. But you must make your written request within one school day from the date OAH sends its decision. In your written request, you need to give specific and supported reasons why you think the judge should reconsider his or her decision. Among other reasons, a judge may change the final order or schedule a new hearing if you can show that the judge’s findings of fact or conclusions of law have an error or are not supported by the evidence, or if you can explain new evidence that you found that was not previously available and that would affect the outcome of the case. To ask the judge to reconsider the final decision, you may complete and file the Request to Change a Final Order form.
If you receive a final order in DCPS’s favor because you missed your hearing, but you never received notice of the disciplinary hearing in the first place, you can ask OAH for a reconsideration within one school day from when OAH sent the final order, using the Request for a New Hearing form to explain why you missed the hearing. But if DCPS has already sent you a final notice of disciplinary action, you need to send DCPS a written request for a reconsideration, asking DCPS to refer the case back to OAH for a hearing. DCPS can either order a new hearing or ask OAH to decide whether to grant a new hearing.
I need more help.
If you are trying to find a lawyer for a DCPS disciplinary hearing, you may contact Advocates for Justice and Education (AJE). AJE might be able to provide free legal advice and representation for you.
If you do not have a lawyer and need additional help, you may talk with someone with the OAH Resource Center. Please call (202)-442-9094 and select option #4 from the main menu, or send an email to [email protected]. The OAH Resource Center cannot give legal advice or be your lawyer, but our staff are happy to answer questions and give general information about the hearing process.