Schools, colleges, and universities are all allowed to impose certain standards of behavior on their students as a requirement for enrollment. Every student must follow these rules, including students with disabilities. Students who have autism, Asperger's, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) must follow school rules and are subject to discipline when they don't, just like every other student. Although educational institutions can make these rules, they also have legal obligations to provide students with disabilities equal access to education. This involves offering those students reasonable accommodations.
When creating and administering codes of conduct and other disciplinary processes, many schools do not provide adequate support to ASD students. The result is unfair hearings and unjust sanctions for these students. Schools may be able to discipline their students, but they also have a right to treat everyone fairly. By failing to consider students with special needs in their codes of conduct and disciplinary policies, schools create an environment where students are less likely to succeed.
If you are accused of a code of conduct violation, defending yourself should be a serious matter. High schools, colleges, and universities are strict with their formal disciplinary procedures and it's vital that you stand up for yourself. If you have been charged with a code of conduct violation by your school and feel it involves your ASD, consider contacting a specialized student defense attorney to assist you.
Disciplinary Procedures for Students with ASD
High school and college students with ASD must follow their school's code of conduct just like every other student. As a student, it's your responsibility to read your code of conduct or student handbook so you know what the rules are and what happens if you are accused of violating them. College students may also have to read resident life guidelines, Title IX policies, and other relevant policies in addition to the code of conduct. Your school may also refer to the code of conduct as student rights and responsibilities. Although your school guarantees certain rights, it also expects you to follow a standard of behavior as a condition for enrollment.
If there is something in your school's handbook of code of conduct that you do not understand, you can speak with the appropriate staff members for assistance. In high school, this would be a guidance counselor or vice principal. In college, you can go to the office of student affairs.
Notifying Your School If You Have ASD
If you have ASD, are you under any obligation to report it to your school? No, you don't have to disclose your ASD if you feel it won't significantly hinder your overall educational experience. Before heading off to college, you should consider if you might need assistance or struggle to adapt in situations outside of the classroom as well, such as in residence halls, student unions, or while participating in extracurricular activities.
If you do think you'll need accommodations to succeed academically, socially, and emotionally, then it's probably best to disclose your ASD to school as soon as possible. Having the appropriate accommodations is particularly important if you are accused of violating the code of conduct. You might feel that you need accommodations to move through the disciplinary process, and your school will be better able to assist you if they know ahead of time.
What Considerations Can ASD Students Expect from Colleges and Universities During the Disciplinary Process?
- You may be able to have a counselor or personal assistant present with you during hearings or meetings, even if your school's policies typically don't allow it.
- The hearing board or official presiding over your hearing may allow pauses during the hearing and let you step outside the hearing room if it becomes too overwhelming for you.
- Your school may allow you to provide written testimony rather than having to deliver oral testimony in person before the hearing board.
- University officials might reach out to you directly and ask what accommodations you need for the disciplinary process.
Most schools make efforts to accommodate ASD students during disciplinary procedures and ensure they have what they need to ensure an equitable process. Keep in mind, however, that as a college student you are considered autonomous. That means that if your university does not reach out to ask you about accommodations, it's on you to secure them for yourself. Unlike in high school, university administrators take a more limited role in disability accommodations for students.
The School's Responsibility to Make Reasonable Accommodations
High schools and colleges are legally obligated to make reasonable accommodations for students on the autism spectrum. The approach to these accommodations differs between high school and college, however. High schools must abide by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), whereas colleges follow the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
High Schools and K-12 Schools
ASD students are allowed access to an Individual Education Program (IEP) throughout elementary, middle, and high school. IEPs ensure that students with disabilities have access to the services they need. Teachers and parents take an active role in developing the IEP and are the ones responsible for identifying students who might need one. Also, most K-12 students are under 18 so their parents or legal guardians can make educational decisions on their behalf.
Colleges and Universities
Students are entrusted with more responsibility for their education once they move on from high school to college. ASD students must learn to self-advocate and procure the assistance and accommodations they have a right to. Self-advocating may involve approaching professors, resident advisors, or other university staff to seek accommodations. Your campus may also have a disability services center or office that can point you in the right direction or provide further resources on obtaining accommodations.
ASD students should also keep in mind that while many universities have ample services and resources for students on the spectrum, they do not create IEPs for students with disabilities. As most college students are 18 or older, they also cannot let their parents or guardians intervene in their educational decisions.
When you are still in high school and applying to colleges, be sure to check your potential schools' availability of services for students on the autism spectrum. These services could be a deciding factor for you as you choose which college to attend. At their most basic level, these services take the form of accommodations that help students overcome challenges related to communication, social skills, sensory and motor skills, learning style, and coping skills. Some universities may also have special programs or initiatives for students with disabilities to actively participate in.
It's important to understand what a university offers to ASD students before enrolling. Some typical accommodations for ASD students at the college level include:
- Providing the instructor's lecture notes from classes
- Allowing students more time to give verbal responses in class
- Letting students take a short break in the middle of class
- Allowing students to wear a hat, sunglasses, or headphones during class when it's usually not allowed, to help with sensory issues
- Letting students complete tests on a computer rather than by hand
- Giving students additional time to complete exams and assignments
- Setting aside a designated room in dormitories for students to go to when they're having sensory overload
- Allowing students more time to get from their dormitory to their classes
- Letting students live in a single room in the dormitory without a roommate
ASD Students and Code of Conduct Violations
Most high schools, colleges, and universities across the country have a code of conduct. This policy usually contains rules about student behavior that all enrolled students must follow. A code of conduct at a university can be wide-ranging and may cover several topics, including:
- Academic misconduct
- Sexual misconduct
- Title IX violations
- Drug and alcohol violations
- Personal misconduct
- On-campus violence
- Rules for extracurricular activities
- Classroom behavior
- Conduct for student employees
A code of conduct usually also requires students to follow state, federal, and local laws in addition to the school's rules. Before starting at a new school, students should always locate and read the code of conduct or student handbook. They can be quite comprehensive and may include infractions you weren't aware of.
If you violate the code of conduct, you won't be arrested by civil authorities or go to jail; you're not being accused of committing a crime. Still, misconduct in high school and college is a serious matter and most schools have formal procedures and harsh sanctions to deal with students who do not follow the rules. You may end up with a failing course grade, suspension, or even expulsion if found responsible for misconduct. Many schools often don't have a statute of limitations either, so if something you did as a student comes to light years later, you may have your degree revoked.
ASD students are not exempt from following the code of conduct but schools must make disability accommodations to help these students succeed in the classroom, adjust to life on campus, and access the same educational services and programs that are available to students without disabilities. Providing accommodations and following IDEA or the ADA does not prevent schools from being able to discipline ASD students according to their written policies.
Examples of Code of Conduct Violations
As a code of conduct tends to be a very general document, examples of code of conduct violations vary greatly. Some examples might include:
- Academic dishonesty
- Sexual misconduct
- Sexual assault
- Alcohol or drug use
- Threatening behavior or domestic violence
- Hate crimes
- Residence hall violations
- Improper use of campus resources or technology
The above list includes some of the more common types of misconduct students are accused of, but it's not every type of misconduct that your school might prohibit.
Penalties for Code of Conduct Violations
Schools have the right to set their own punishments for code of conduct violations and these may vary by school. However, most schools tend to have the following sanctions:
- Disciplinary or academic probation
- Loss of campus housing
- Loss of scholarship
- Permanent notation of misconduct on a transcript
Even if sanctions seem temporary, they can have long-term effects on students. A violation of a code of conduct and subsequent sanction can follow you for years afterward. High school students might find it difficult to obtain scholarships or admission to the college of their dreams. College students may have trouble transferring to another university, enrolling in a graduate program, or securing internships.
Will There Be a Disciplinary Hearing?
For a code of conduct violation, you can expect to attend a disciplinary hearing. A formal charge of misconduct will launch your school's procedures, which may also involve an investigation before the hearing. Many schools also provide the option of resolving the matter administratively, whereby you meet with a school official and admit responsibility for the violation, then agree to a sanction. If you go this route, you won't have a hearing but you also don't have much of a chance to defend yourself.
During a code of conduct hearing, you will have the opportunity to explain your actions in front of a panel of faculty, staff, or students. You can usually also question witnesses and present evidence to support your arguments, although some schools require you to submit witness and evidence lists several days prior to the hearing. Some schools also allow students to have outside attorneys present with them during the hearing and may or may not let them speak on your behalf. If you are not allowed to have an external advisor with you, your school may assign you an advisor from the university.
The school may also appoint someone to represent it at the hearing. This person argues in favor of finding you responsible for a code of conduct violation and can usually also present evidence and question witnesses. Once you and the school's representative have both presented your cases, the hearing panel usually discusses and votes on a decision. If they decide you are responsible for a code of conduct violation, they may also suggest a sanction. Typically, the sanction must be approved by a university official such as the Dean of Students.
If your school allows appeals, you will be able to submit an appeal of the hearing panel's decision. In most cases, you must draft a statement explaining why you are requesting an appeal and submit it to the appropriate university official within five to seven days.
Even if your school does not allow you to have an attorney at your hearing, you can still benefit from having one. The hearing is only one part of the disciplinary process; there's usually also an investigation, administrative meetings, and possibly appeals. An experienced student defense attorney can assist you with all of these phases and even assist you with preparation for your hearing beforehand.
Your Rights During a Code of Conduct Hearing
All students have certain rights during school disciplinary procedures, including the right to due process. This means your school must tell you what you are charged with and give you a chance to defend yourself. As an ASD student, you are also entitled to reasonable accommodations that allow you to participate fairly in the disciplinary process.
One example would be allowing an ASD student to have an assistant with them at the hearing even though the school's policy normally prohibits it. Another is giving ASD students more time to prepare for a hearing than what is usually granted. Although, if the school grants more preparation time to the ASD student, they must extend the same accommodation to the opposing party. A third example of accommodations during a disciplinary process would be allowing an ASD student to take more breaks than what is typical, or asking everyone to clear the room for a few minutes to give the student a short break.
It's easier for your school to make needed accommodations if it's aware of your ASD before the hearing starts. If you notify your school about your ASD after you have been charged with a code of conduct violation and subsequently request accommodations, it's possible you won't receive them. Also, if you think your disability is implicated in the charge against you and your school did not know about your ASD beforehand, it will be more difficult to prove that your behavior was the result of your disability.
How ASD Students Should Respond to Code of Conduct Violations at Their Schools
When you are accused of violating your school's code of conduct, you should know how to respond appropriately. The first thing to do after receiving notice of the accusation is to get the facts. Your school has an obligation to inform you of what you're formally charged with, so find out what the charge is and which section of the code of conduct or student handbook you have supposedly violated.
Once you have a better understanding of the charges against you, your next step is contacting your campus disability services office if you are a college student. For high school students, parents or guardians should already be informed at this point and can speak with school officials who are in charge of administering disability programs. The staff members of the disability services office, whether at college or in high school, should be aware of the situation. While in high school there tends to be more communication between the administration and special education services, in college the office of student affairs doesn't communicate much with the disability services office. In this case, it's up to students to make them aware of the situation.
The next step after informing your school's disability services is contacting a student defense attorney about the accusation. The sooner you enlist help with this matter, the more likely you are to achieve a favorable outcome. Other than disability services staff, you should not speak to anyone else at your school about the allegation. Don't attempt to give statements to anyone or defend yourself without first seeking guidance on the best way to go about it from a student discipline legal advisor.
Defense for ASD Students Accused of Code of Conduct Violations
If your school accuses you of violating the code of conduct, you might feel overwhelmed at first. This may be the first time you've had to deal with a formal disciplinary process—but even if it's not, dealing with your school officials can still be scary. If you don't proceed cautiously, the situation could quickly spiral out of your control. In code of conduct situations, it's often more likely that ASD students get accused of misconduct than their neurotypical peers and despite this fact, school administrators usually have little or no experience handling students with mental health disorders and disabilities.
By working with a student defense attorney, you make your school take you seriously. You have rights that the school must respect and your legal advisor can help you ensure those rights are guaranteed. They can also read through your school's code of conduct to help you better understand the nuances of the policy and let you know what to expect from your school officials at each step of the disciplinary process. If your school accuses you of misconduct and does not meet your requests for reasonable accommodations, you should take action. An experienced student discipline advisor can help you do so.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped students at thousands of schools across the US with misconduct issues and has experience helping ASD students stand up for their rights. If you are dealing with a code of conduct accusation and want to ensure your right to an equal education, contact Lento Law Firm by calling 888-535-3686.