Students of color are more than three times as likely to be expelled or suspended than their white peers. The statistics are concerning, and they get worse. Not only are students of color more likely to be suspended or expelled for less severe infractions, their misbehavior is far more likely to be reported to the police.

Knowing that your child might be facing expulsion is a terrifying feeling. The school-to-prison pipeline is not a farfetched reality anymore.

If you want your child to stand a chance against expulsion, you must educate yourself on what warrants a school to expel one of its pupils. Below, you will find a list of useful things to know about the regulations surrounding expulsion in public schools in California.

Children have the right to be represented by an attorney on expulsion hearings

Students who are represented by attorneys are less likely to be expelled than to their peers without legal representation.

There are only 5 mandatory expulsion cases in which a public school MUST expel a student: 

  • Possessing, selling, or furnishing a firearm.
  • Brandishing a knife at another person.
  • Unlawfully selling a controlled substance.
  • Committing or attempting to commit a sexual assault or committing a sexual battery.
  • Possessing an explosive.

If the school board is unable to prove that one of these cases took place, then an expulsion might not be warranted. I said “might” because there are a few exceptions, which I outline on the next point.

Schools must prove one of two things to expel a student (for non mandatory expulsion offenses)

Public schools must prove that other types of correction (behavior contract, counseling, etc.) have been attempted or repeatedly failed AND/OR that the nature of the student’s act was so heinous, he/she would be a threat to the physical safety of others should he/she remain at school.

Expulsion is never the best solution to educate our children. With the recent removal of willful defiance as a ground for expulsion/suspension, it is clear that restorative justice is slowly being integrated into the Californian school systems. But there is still a long way to go.

If you know someone who is currently facing expulsion in Bayview / Hunters Point,  encourage them to schedule an intake at our 3rd St office, open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm. 

This post was written by Morehead-Cain Scholar Andre Ceccotti, a Open Door Legal summer 2015 fellow. 


Courtney Wise Randolph, Minding the Discipline Gap in Education. California: May 15, 2015.

Michelle Ball, California School Expulsion Case: John A. v. San Bernardino, An Oldie But Goodie From The California Supreme Court. California: Sacramento, February 3, 2014.

Michelle Ball, When is School Expulsion Mandatory in California Public Schools? California: Sacramento, January 7, 2011

Michelle Ball, One More Tool To Stop Your Child’s Expulsion: No Proof Of Other Means Of Correction Or Physical Danger. California: Sacramento, March 26, 2015.

Ever since childhood, our co-founder Adrian has been dedicated to reducing poverty.

He studied systemic poverty in college and went to work in the field for a few years. Eventually, he had a thesis that legal aid was the most cost-effective way to address poverty in America. He wrote up a business plan and used it to apply to law school. 

The idea was to create the country’s first system of universal access to civil legal representation that ensures everyone can obtain timely, competent legal help for any legal issue, regardless of ability to pay. That had never been done before in the history of the United States.

In law school, he met Virginia, our Programs Director. Together, they co-founded the organization, two weeks after Adrian passed the bar.

When we opened we put a sign in the window, and with just that marketing and almost no other outreach we were overwhelmed with requests for help from people with good cases who had been turned away everywhere else.

Our first year we had revenue of $35,000. We would hand shred documents because a shredder was too expensive. Despite the financial challenges, we were able to work on over 280 cases in everything from housing law to family law to consumer law in the first year alone.

The hours were extreme, the pay was low, and the learning curve was steep. Still, we persisted. We knew that almost everyone we helped was not able to receive services anywhere else. Eventually, we attracted the interest of funders. We tripled our revenue for several years in a row. In 2015, we won the Bay Area Google Impact Challenge, which enabled us to expand even more. In 2019, we secured additional funding from the city that allowed us to open two new centers in the Excelsior and Western Addition.

As of 2020, our staff has grown to 27 full-time employees. We’ve shown that universal access is possible. Now, we plan to scale city-wide, make San Francisco the first city in the country’s history to have universal access to legal help, and become a model for national replication.