Student forfeits appeal by admitting guilt

A judge in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania ruled that a school board legally expelled a student who admitted being an “habitual offender” during his school board hearing. The student, Robert Kushner, had filed a lawsuit that contested the expulsion and asked the court to require state-sponsored alternate education if the expulsion was upheld.According to the judge, Kushner should have challenged his expulsion and the suspensions at the school board hearing. Instead, Kushner admitted that his six suspensions met the requirements of deeming him an habitual offender. Upon hearing the confession, the school board did not present its evidence and proceeded to expel him.

“The Bethlehem Area School District did not present that evidence because of Kushner’s stipulation,” wrote Judge Jack A. Panella. “It would be entirely inappropriate to now allow [Kushner] to relitigate the issue.”

According to Panella, Pennsylvania state law states that a party may not raise on appeal any questions that weren’t posed to a local agency – such as the school board – during a hearing, unless due cause is shown. In other words, Kushner could present his arguments to the court only if the school board denied him that opportunity at the hearing.

“[Kushner] has not offered any explanation as to why the factual assertions made now were not made at the formal hearing convened for the express purpose of determining the truth of the allegations against him,” Panella said.

The judge added that state law also indicates that a court may not substitute its judgment for that of a local school district unless a new record is made before that court. In addition, the district contends it did not have to legally provide Kushner with alternative education programs because of his habitual offender admission and his expulsion.

Kushner may have admitted to being an habitual offender in the hopes that the school board would appreciate the confession and reduce his punishment. Instead, the board took advantage of it. His confession also prevented him from winning an appeal in court.

If you are a defendant in a school board hearing, you have the right to plead innocent and defend yourself. If you do not take advantage of this right and your state has laws like those in Pennsylvania, then you may lose your opportunity to appeal the school board’s decision in a court of law.

Always remember the power of an appeal. If you believe that a government official trampled on your rights, you have the right to appeal to a higher official: a teacher reports to a vice principal, who reports to a principal, who reports to the school board, whose members report to a judge, who reports to judges in higher courts. Often students fare better in court because unlike government officials, who treat you like a slave, judges usually treat you like a citizen.

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