Student Rights

Free legal help for students, parents & caregivers

Illegal suspensions

Education Act 1989, ss 14, 19
Education (Stand-Down, Suspension, Exclusion, and Expulsion) Rules 1999, rule 8

Students can only be sent home from school if they’re stood down or suspended on one of the specific grounds set out in the Education Act 1989, or if they’re sent home on health grounds under the rules in the Education Act.

Students can’t be sent home or out of school for disciplinary reasons except under the formal stand-down or suspension process in the Education Act.

However, schools have sometimes used other – illegal – ways of removing a student from school (sometimes called “Kiwi suspensions”), explained below. If this happens in your case, there are ways for you to challenge and overturn the decision.

Sending students home without the formal stand-down/suspension process

There are many different circumstances in which schools have illegally sent students home or out of school. For example, when a student with dreadlocks is sent home and told not to come back “until you’ve cut them off”, or when a student is sent home for not wearing the correct uniform, or when parents of special needs children are told to keep their children home because the teacher aide is away from school.

Education Act 1989, s 27
Education (Stand-Down, Suspension, Exclusion, and Expulsion) Rules 1999, rule 8

Principals have the power to excuse a student from attending school for short periods (up to five days). An example of this could be if the student needs to attend a funeral or tangihanga. However, schools can’t use this power to send a student home for misbehaving.

Voluntary withdrawal at the school’s request

Sometimes principals try to get rid of students they believe are difficult or uncooperative by telling parents they should withdraw their child “before they’re excluded or expelled”. This may be put to parents as being in the student’s best interests – a chance to put their past behind them and make a fresh start in a new school. Sometimes the option is presented as follows: “We don’t seem to be meeting your daughter’s needs and we feel she may be able to better reach her potential at another school.”

Schools may try to deal with “problem students” in this way if they know the student couldn’t be suspended legally, or that the board would be unlikely to exclude or expel the student. “Voluntary withdrawals” are especially common for students with behavioural difficulties.

Education Act 1989, s 77(a)

Parents shouldn’t feel obliged to withdraw their child from school in these situations. The school has an obligation to support each of its students if there are problems. In particular, principals have to take all reasonable steps to make sure that students get good guidance and counselling.

Remember that principals don’t have the power to exclude or expel a student: only the board of trustees can do this, and only after following the proper process and hearing from the student and the parents: for more information see “The board of trustees’ suspension meeting”.

If you think you’ve been removed from school illegally, contact the Student Rights Service, YouthLaw, your local Community Law Centre, or the Ministry of Education: see “Useful contacts”.