Expulsion Over Gang Activity Had Sufficient Due Process, Court Rules

By Mark Walsh — August 12, 2008 1 min read
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An Illinois high school student expelled over a gang-related confrontation in the cafeteria received sufficient due process because he was given notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard, a federal appeals court ruled today.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Chicago, unanimously held that the student and his parents were not entitled to greater due process, such as the opportunity to cross-examine school security guards or to have the services of a Spanish-language interpreter at the hearing.

According to court documents, Roger Coronado Jr. was a 15-year-old student at Bolingbrook High School in Bolingbrook, Ill., last February when he was allegedly involved in a cafeteria confrontation between rival gangs that a school security guard described as “posturing.”

Coronado was charged by school officials with participation in a “subversive organization” and later “fighting/mob action.” He was expelled for two semesters.

In a lawsuit challenging the discipline, Coronado and his parents argued that the penalty of expulsion requires more due process than the notice and hearing that the student received.

Both a federal district court and the 7th Circuit appellate court declined the family’s request for an injunction allowing Coronado to return to school until a second hearing with greater due process safeguards could take place.

Citing circuit precedents, the 7th Circuit court said in its opinion in Coronado v. Valley View School District 365U that due process does not “require a judicial or quasi-judicial trial—with all of the features and safeguards of, e.g., a delinquency proceeding—before a school may punish misconduct.”

The opinion says most courts have refused to recognize a right of students to confront and cross-examine witnessess in a school disciplinary hearing. And the student’s claim that a lack of a Spanish interpreter at the hearing violated his due-process rights had no merit because it was unclear that his parents needed one or that the family had even requested one, the court said. The court noted that Coronado’s father had spoken up at the hearing to discuss his son’s goals, request leniency for him, and commend school officials’ tackling of the gang problem, all in English.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.