Gwinnett court reverses expulsion of student after off-campus incident

A Gwinnett County Superior Court judge reversed Gwinnett County Public Schools' decision to expel a middle-schooler for an off-campus incident.

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A Gwinnett County Superior Court judge reversed Gwinnett County Public Schools' decision to expel a middle-schooler for an off-campus incident.

A judge recently ordered Gwinnett County Public Schools to re-enroll a student who was expelled from middle school in 2019 after flashing a gun at another student off-campus.

In her order, Judge Tadia Whitner of the Gwinnett County Superior Court, said the school system’s decision to expel the student, then 13, “for his off-campus behavior was contrary to Georgia law and a gross abuse of discretion.”

“As a school district, we have confidence in our discipline code, in our training, and in how discipline is carried out in our schools,” Sloan Roach, spokeswoman for Gwinnett schools, said in a statement.

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Claire Sherburne and Michael J. Tafelski, attorneys with the Southern Poverty Law Center, represented the student, who is Black.

“The district carelessly kicks Black students and other students of color out of school without regard for a fair process, their education or the long-term impact on their lives,” Sherburne said in a news release. “Standing with our community partners, we urge the school district to end these harmful and discriminatory practices, and to reinvest funds spent on these practices on supports that ensure all students in the district can thrive.”

The student was charged with a delinquent act in juvenile court after the incident, but his attorneys said in court filings that the charge was dismissed.

Under state law, school boards can only discipline students for off-campus behavior if it could result in felony charges or if it makes the student’s presence at school dangerous or disruptive. Whitner said the Gwinnett school district exceeded its authority by implementing its own policy that attempts to give the district more jurisdiction over off-campus behavior than allowed by law.

The student’s behavior did not fall under the list of offenses for which a juvenile can be charged with a felony, Whitner said. In court documents, the student’s attorneys said he made up with his classmate, his mother removed the gun from the home and he did not have access to any other weapons.

The statement from the school district’s spokeswoman said the student could have been charged with a felony if he were an adult.

The Southern Poverty Law Center said it has successfully challenged three other suspensions or expulsions of students of color this year in Gwinnett County.