Student Rights

Free legal help for students, parents & caregivers

Challenging a suspension, exclusion or expulsion

What can I do if my suspension or exclusion/expulsion was unfair?

If you don’t accept that your suspension or exclusion/expulsion was reasonable, you have a number of options:

  • Ask the board to reconsider – You’ll need to be clear about exactly why you think the process at the board’s meeting wasn’t fair. To ask for a reconsideration meeting, you should write a “Request for reconsideration letter” to the chairperson of the board, care of the school (see “Sample letters”).
  • Education Act 1989, s 16(1)(a)

    Ministry’s power to lift exclusions – If you’re under 16 and you’ve been excluded, you can ask the Ministry of Education to use its power to lift the exclusion and direct the school to take you back.
  • Ombudsmen Act 1975, ss 13, 16

    Complain to Ombudsmen – If the board refuses your request for a reconsideration meeting, you can complain to the Ombudsmen. This is free and can be done by phone or in writing. The Ombudsmen can’t overturn the board’s original decision but they can investigate your complaint and if they find that it’s justified (for example, there’s been some breach of process), the Ombudsmen can recommend to the board that it reconsiders its decision. However, the Ombudsmen’s investigation can take several months and you many need to enrol in another school in the meantime.
  • Go to court –If you challenge the decision through the courts, you’ll need to apply to the High Court, and for this you’ll need a lawyer. Note that Parliament has assigned decision-making authority to school boards. This means that the Court will focus on whether the legal rules have been applied correctly rather than examining the facts in detail or substituting their view for the board’s. Again, this will take a long time and will be expensive, as legal aid is not available for cases involving schools.
  • Discrimination complaint – You can complain to the Human Rights Commission if you think the board’s decision discriminated against you.
  • Complain to Education Review Office – You can complain to ERO about the way the school runs its disciplinary system. ERO reviews schools on average once every three years, and they may decide to review a school more often if the school’s performance is poor and there are risks to the education and safety of the students. ERO reports are available to the public.
  • Advice and support – To get advice, information and support if you want to challenge the board’s decision, contact the Student Rights Service (SRS), YouthLaw or your local Community Law Centre (see “Useful contacts”).

What’s the most effective way to challenge a board’s decision?

Asking the board of trustees to reconsider is likely to be the fastest and most effective way of changing the board’s decision. With the other options explained above, it may be a number of months – even years – before the decision is changed, assuming you have a good case.

In particular, asking the board to reconsider its decision will be the appropriate option if the board didn’t have some important information when it made its decision, or if you have a reasonable argument that the process the board followed was somehow unfair.