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Discipline and rules

School rules

Who makes school rules?

Education and Training Act 2020, ss 126, 131

School rules are made by the board to help control and manage the school. They are bylaws.

Before making new rules, the board must consult its staff and school community.

The board can choose to consult with ākonga when it is considered by the board as appropriate. As most decisions will affect ākonga it would be good practice to consult with students and ākonga on most new proposed rules.

Are there limits on school rules?

Yes. Any rules that a school board makes must be consistent with the school’s charter or strategic plan and with the general law of New Zealand, both legislation and case law (decisions of judges).

Battison v Melloy [2014] NZHC 1462

Any rule has to be precise and clear enough so that you fully understand how to act without breaking the rule.

School rules must be made in advance. They should be in writing, and you must be able to have access to them. The rules, and what happens if they’re broken, will usually be included in the school’s discipline policy.

Things a school board must consider when making rules

Before it makes a rule, the school board should consider the following questions:

  • Has the school community been consulted? School community includes students and whānau of students
  • Can the rules be legally enforced? For example, the school can’t make a rule that gives teachers the ability to search students, beyond other search and confiscation laws that apply in schools, because it would be illegal. A rule is also unenforceable if it’s too vague and uncertain.
  • Are the rules reasonable?
  • Is the rule appropriate for the particular age group? For example, while a primary school rule might ban students from playing in the rain at lunchtime, it’s unlikely that the same rule could be applied to high school students.
  • Are the rules relevant to the school’s educational role?
  • How will parents, guardians and students be told about the rules?
  • What will the school do if the rules are broken?

A school rule can’t impose an automatic penalty. If a rule is broken, the school has to take into account all the circumstances of the particular case when it decides how to respond.

What sorts of behaviour is likely to be against the school’s rules?

Schools can have different expectations for their students, and can decide what behaviour they find acceptable or unacceptable. For example, if you question an instruction given by a teacher, some schools might see this as you simply exercising your right to be fully informed – but other schools might see this as rude and disrespectful.

Behaviour that is likely to be against school rules would include:

  • bullying
  • fighting
  • swearing
  • spitting
  • being abusive or insulting
  • vandalism
  • stealing
  • behaving in a way that prevents other students or staff from doing their work
  • having illegal or banned items, like knives, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes or skateboards
  • gambling.

Schools will also expect students to comply with certain standards. For example:

  • being on time for class
  • being prepared for class, including having the necessary paper, pens and books, and having completed homework and assignments
  • participating in class work in a constructive way
  • wearing the correct uniform
  • bringing notes from parents or guardians to explain why you’re away from school.

Primary school rules may also include things like designated play areas and road safety.

Schools can’t give you an automatic penalty – what does this mean?

If you break a school rule, the school can’t just decide how you’ll be punished straight away. They have to look at your particular situation (what has happened, why it happened and what a reasonable outcome would be).

For more information, see “Punishments that are against the law” below

Who will be involved in a discipline process?

Many schools follow a similar process for dealing with disciplinary problems – usually by starting with individual teachers and then, if needed, involving more senior school staff, like:

  • the subject teacher, or perhaps the head of department for that subject
  • the form teacher
  • the dean
  • an assistant principal or deputy principal
  • the principal.

The school guidance counsellor may also become involved in disciplining a student, but counsellors usually prefer to stay outside the discipline process so that they can provide support for the student.

When and where school rules apply

Your school usually doesn’t have any authority over you when:

  • it’s outside school hours
  • you’re not on school grounds
  • you’re not representing the school in any way.

For example, your school can’t suspend you for smoking cannabis at a private party on the weekend.

In some situations, the school could still have authority over you (even outside of school hours and not on school grounds). For example:

  • In uniform or representing the school – If you’re wearing school uniform you can generally be seen as representing the school, and therefore the school probably has authority over you. This hasn’t been tested in court in New Zealand so the law is unclear.
  • On school trips – When you’re on a school trip the school will have authority over you. Your parents or guardians will usually be asked to sign an agreement before the trip.
  • At special school events – For example, if you’re at a school ball, the school will have authority over you.
  • Travelling to and from school – In general, you’re under the school’s control during journeys to and from school. This clearly includes when you’re travelling on school buses. It could also be when you’re getting to and from school by using public transport, walking or biking. You won’t be under the school’s control if you’re picked up or dropped off by your parents, guardians or caregivers.
  • Damaging the school’s reputation – A school may be able to punish if you harm its reputation outside school hours. For example, if you made serious accusations online about school staff or other students. This also hasn’t been tested in court in New Zealand so the law is unclear.
  • Whether a school has control over you when you’re outside the school gates could also depend on other factors like:
  • Distance from the school – For example, a school could punish you if you swore at a teacher just outside the school gate, or if someone who lived nearby told the school they saw a group of students taking fruit from their trees on their way home.
  • Safety issues – A school could punish if you were seen near the school or just after school finished. For example, if you’re caught throwing stones from a bridge on to cars below, the school could do something about this.

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Discipline and rules

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