New Statute Allows California Community College Districts to Deny Admission to Students Expelled From Another District

California community colleges are required to admit any California resident with a high school diploma.  But what if an applicant has been expelled or faces expulsion proceedings from another district for violent acts? Could such an applicant simply re-enroll in a neighboring district?  A new law, effective January 1, 2013, allows a district to deny admission, after holding a hearing to determine whether the applicant poses a threat to safety.  Districts should review and update their student discipline policies accordingly.

Assembly Bill 2171 added Education Code 76038 to the Education Code.  Under the new law, a community college district is now authorized (but not required) to deny admission to a student who has been expelled from another district for specified offenses, such as murder, causing or threatening to cause serious physical injury to another except in self-defense, sexual assault, kidnapping, stalking, or unlawful possession of a firearm or explosive.  A district may require an applicant to disclose expulsion from another district for the specified offenses, and may take into account an applicant’s failure to do so in determining whether to grant admission.

Denial of admission is not automatic.  Rather, the district must hold a hearing to determine whether that individual poses a continuing danger to the physical safety of the students and employees of the district.  Districts are permitted to request information and to respond to requests for information to determine whether an applicant continues to pose a danger.  If the applicant is determined to pose a danger, the district may deny enrollment, permit enrollment, or permit “conditional enrollment.”  An applicant who is denied enrollment may appeal to the district’s governing board.

Importantly, the hearing must be conducted in accordance with the district’s rules and regulations governing student conduct.  Thus, unless and until a district updates its policies to establish a hearing procedure under the new law, a district probably cannot deny admission to a student expelled from another district

It bears noting that the new law applies only to applicants expelled from another district for the specified offenses.  It does not apply to persons convicted of the offenses but who were not expelled from another district. Thus, the new law would not apply to an individual convicted for off-campus acts unrelated to attendance at a community college.

Although the new law permits a district to require applicants to disclose expulsion from another district for the specified offenses, it does not address the circumstance where an applicant fails to disclose and obtains admission.  In developing policies based on the new law, districts therefore should also consider whether to revisit their rules of student conduct to address discipline for failure to disclose expulsion from another district for the specified offenses.

The new law comes at a time when there is much attention being paid in California and elsewhere to the tension between liberal enrollment policies at community colleges, intended to promote broad access to higher education, and the important need for colleges to have adequate means to address the small minority of individuals enrolled or seeking to enroll and who do pose a threat to safety.  The fundamental problem of how to determine who poses a threat remains, and new Education Code Section 76038 does not purport to provide a comprehensive solution to this persistent dilemma.  Rather, the law addresses only a relatively narrow set of circumstances involving a relatively small category of applicants, but nevertheless provides community college districts with an important tool for protecting the safety of their college communities.

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