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C. P. R. v. Henry County Bd. of Educ.

Court of Appeals of Georgia

September 15, 2014

C. P. R.
v.
HENRY COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION

Page 726

Cert. applied for.

School suspension. Henry Superior Court. Before Judge McGarity.

Shelly C. Anand, Mary I. Dickerson, Lisa J. Krisher, Phyllis J. Holmen, for appellant.

Smith, Welch, Webb & White, A. J. Welch, Jr., Lajuana C. Ransaw, Santana T. Flanigan, for appellee.

Boggs and Branch, JJ., concur.

OPINION

Page 727

Barnes, Presiding Judge.

Following a student disciplinary hearing, a hearing officer found that C. P. R., a student at Union Grove High School (" Union Grove" ) in Henry County, had violated three provisions of the student handbook based on evidence that he possessed two pills containing codeine [329 Ga.App. 58] that he attempted to sell to other students. In light of these violations, the hearing officer imposed long-term suspension on C. P. R. for the remainder of the school year, but ruled that C. P. R. could serve his suspension at an alternative high school operated by the county. The Henry County Board of Education (the " Henry County Board" ) thereafter entered a final decision adopting the findings and conclusions of the hearing officer. The State Board of Education (the " State Board" ) affirmed the Henry

Page 728

County Board's final decision, and the Superior Court of Henry County affirmed the State Board. This Court granted C. P. R.'s application for discretionary appeal to review whether there was evidence to support the final decision reached by the Henry County Board, and affirmed by the State Board and superior court, that C. P. R. had violated the student handbook.[1] For the reasons discussed below, we conclude that there was sufficient evidence to support that determination and therefore affirm.

The Public School Disciplinary Tribunal Act.

" In enacting the Public School Disciplinary Tribunal Act, OCGA § 20-2-750 et seq., the Georgia General Assembly recognized that local boards properly may limit students' access to education in response to disciplinary infractions" and devised a procedural framework for the imposition of suspension or expulsion. D. B. v. Clarke County Bd. of Ed., 220 Ga.App. 330, 332 (1) (469 S.E.2d 438) (1996). The Act provides that

local boards of education shall appoint a disciplinary hearing officer, panel, or tribunal of school officials to hold a disciplinary hearing following any instance of an alleged violation of the student code of conduct where the principal recommends a suspension or expulsion of longer than ten school days[.]

OCGA § 20-2-753 (a). See Fulton County Bd. of Ed. v. D. R. H., 325 Ga.App. 53, 62 (3) (752 S.E.2d 103) (2013). At the disciplinary hearing, all parties have the right to be represented by counsel, OCGA § 20-2-754 (b) (1), and all parties must be " afforded an opportunity to present and respond to evidence and to examine and cross-examine witnesses on all issues unresolved." OCGA § 20-2-754 (b) (3). Additionally, among other requirements, the proceedings must be transcribed or recorded and made available to all parties. OCGA § 20-2-754 (b) (5).

[329 Ga.App. 59] After receiving all of the evidence, the appointed disciplinary officer, panel, or tribunal " shall determine what, if any, disciplinary action shall be taken" against the student, which " may include, but is not limited to, expulsion, long-term suspension, or short-term suspension." OCGA § 20-2-755. A party may then request that the determination be reviewed by the local board of education, which is charged with reviewing the record from the disciplinary hearing and rendering a " final" decision regarding whether and to what extent a student should be disciplined. OCGA § 20-2-754 (d). See also OCGA § 20-2-755 (noting that a local board may modify any action taken by the appointed hearing officer, panel, or tribunal).

Pursuant to OCGA § 20-2-754 (a), the Public School Disciplinary Tribunal Act incorporates the terms of OCGA § 20-2-1160, which authorizes every local board of education to serve as " a tribunal for hearing and determining any matter of local controversy in reference to the construction or administration of the school law" (subsection (a)) and sets forth the rules and procedures for appealing a final decision reached by a local board (subsections (b)-(e)). Specifically, OCGA § 20-2-1160 (b) provides that " [a]ny party aggrieved by a decision of the local board rendered on a contested issue after a hearing shall have the right to appeal therefrom to the State Board of Education," and OCGA § 20-2-1160 (c) provides that a party can appeal from the decision reached by the State Board " to the superior court of the county wherein the local board of education is situated." The appellate review of the local board's final decision conducted by the State Board and the superior court is not " de novo" and " shall be confined to the record" that was before the local board. OCGA § 20-2-1160 (e).

An appeal to this Court from the decision of the superior court is by application for discretionary appeal, as provided for by OCGA § 5-6-35 (a) (1). See Clayton County Bd. of Ed. v. Wilmer, 325 Ga.App. 637, 640 (753 S.E.2d 459) (2014). If this Court grants the application, we then review the record from the disciplinary hearing in the light most favorable to the local board's decision. Chattooga County Bd. of Ed. v. Searels,

Page 729

302 Ga.App. 731, 732 (691 S.E.2d 629) (2010).

With this framework in mind, we turn to the record in the present case.

Factual Background.

The record reflects that during the 2012-2013 school year, C. P. R. was a 19-year-old senior at Union Grove. On March 6, 2013, two assistant principals at Union Grove called C. P. R. to the school office and spoke with him after receiving a tip that he had been attempting to sell pills at school. When initially asked by the assistant principals if he had any pills or other contraband on him, C. P. R. replied, " No." One of the assistant principals then searched [329 Ga.App. 60] C. P. R. and his book bag. While searching C. P. R., the assistant principal found two white pills loose in the pocket of his gym shorts ...


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