Case Studies: Helping Students When Schools Violate State and Federal Law

High School Student Avoids Alternative Placement on Showing School Violated Statutory Presumption

A large suburban high school forced our client toward placement in the district's alternative high school over a combination of allegations involving poor academic performance, poor attendance, and disorderly conduct disrupting educational activities. Our client's parents retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team believing that the school principal was unduly rushing and pressuring them into accepting the alternative placement. Our research confirmed that student discipline laws in the state mandated that the school presume that the student's education would be more effective remaining in the traditional high school program. Those laws further limited the grounds on which a school could compel a student to enter an alternative placement. Our analysis of the principal's allegations, reported to us through our client's parents, concluded that the school did not have qualifying grounds. Our client was not truant, was not performing below minimum academic standards, and was not disruptive, only unconventional in his demeanor and dress, and less consistent in his respect for teachers and school authorities than they preferred him to be. School personnel had labeled our client a troublemaker when he was not factually a troublemaker. Our team prepared a written presentation and helped our client, and his parents communicate their position to the school principal. The principal relented in his requests and demands that the family accept our client's alternative placement. In the course of our advice and counsel, our client's parents helped our client identify school clubs and activities in which he could participate to improve his educational engagement. Our client's interest in that participation became a key ground on which the principal relented in his demands for alternative placement.

Graduate Student Successfully Defends Title IX Charges Not Meeting Title IX Regulatory Definitions

A large public university system on the West Coast charged our client, a graduate student in a philosophy program, with Title IX sexual harassment. The charges arose out of a classroom discussion and continued communications between our client and other students following the discussion. Our client had awkwardly attempted to express traditional sexual values in a way that other students took as discriminatory and an affront to their different commitments. Students and the instructor agreed that our client had used relatively neutral language without slurs or offensive terms and did not interrupt, bully, or threaten in his words or demeanor. Our client had also expressed that he did not intend offense and would not act discriminatorily toward anyone relating to the views he awkwardly expressed. Several students nonetheless complained to the university's Title IX coordinator, who filed charges against our client. When our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, our research confirmed that our client's words and actions did not meet Title IX's statutory and regulatory definitions for sexual harassment or other sexual misconduct. Our research of applicable case law further suggested a First Amendment religious and free speech defense to the charges. Our swift research enabled our client to attend his disciplinary interview with the Title IX investigator, prepared to show that the charges were outside of Title IX law and did not meet the university's own definitions of misconduct. The investigator recommended dismissal of the charges on the condition of workshop attendance, which our client accepted. Our client suffered no discipline or interruption in his studies.

University Student Avoids Discipline After Resident Assistant Performs Illegal Room Search

A large Northeastern public university charged our client with possessing vaping devices and tobacco products after a dormitory resident assistant came across those items in a search of our client's dormitory room. The resident assistant had no reason to search our client's dormitory room. Our client had not vaped or used or displayed vaping devices or tobacco products. Our client's account, which other students disputed, was that the items did not belong to our client but were left in a bag in her room by other unknown students, presumably friends of her dorm roommate. The university's charges asserted that other students had confirmed to the resident assistant that our client had vaped off campus at times, after the resident assistant discovered the items and interviewed those students. Our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team when the university added a charge of lying to investigators. Our investigation and request for details and documentation of the charges confirmed that the resident assistant lacked any probable cause or reasonable suspicion to search our client's dorm room and that the disputed items were not in plain view when the resident assistant entered the room. Our research further confirmed that the search arguably violated our client's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Our communication to the university's general counsel's office over those constitutional violations led to a dismissal of the charges. Our client continued her university education without discipline or interruption, cleared of all charges on the basis of the university's constitutional violations.

Undergraduate Student Avoids Suspension After University Charges Show Unlawfully Discriminatory Pattern

A small public university in a Southern border state charged our client with cheating and failure to report cheating relating to an incident in which another student shared exam questions in advance of the exam. Our client and her parents retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to investigate whether the university was acting in an unlawfully discriminatory pattern violating state and federal civil rights laws. Our investigation showed that our client, a female Hispanic-American first-generation college student, was the only student whom the university charged in the cheating scandal, despite the fact that our client's conduct differed in no material respect from the conduct of every other student in the class. Our client was the only Hispanic-American female in the class. The student responsible for organizing the cheating scandal had obtained the exam questions from another student who had taken the exam early and had offered the questions to the entire class while the instructor was out of the classroom. Our client was seated closest in proximity to the responsible student, but the responsible student had made the offer loud enough for every student in the room to hear. Our client had shaken her head negatively and laughed uncomfortably, similar to the response of all other students. Our client suspected that other students had privately blamed her to escape their own responsibility for not reporting the responsible student to the university's disciplinary officials. We appeared on our client's behalf, invoking disciplinary hearing procedures while alerting the university's general counsel's office to our client's racially discriminatory treatment in the matter. The university subsequently dismissed the charge, leaving our client without any record or allegation of discipline.

Student Avoids Discipline After College Investigator Violates State Eavesdropping Law

A small private college in a Northern Border state charged our client with academic misconduct relating to unauthorized collaboration and exam cheating. The charges arose after the college's student affairs dean authorized custodians to install a concealed recording device in a library study room. The dean subsequently based our client's disciplinary charge on audio the device recorded while our student and another student in the same course were sharing the private study room. Our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team when the college's notice of charges threatened our client with dismissal. Our investigation, including obtaining the college's evidence purporting to support the charge, confirmed that the dean had authorized the concealed recording device without reasonable articulable suspicion that our client or any other student was cheating using the private study room. Our research of state law in that jurisdiction showed that an eavesdropping statute prohibited anyone from using a concealed device to record or attempt to record any communication to which they were not a party. Our analysis confirmed that the dean had violated the eavesdropping statute. We alerted the university president to the dean's statutory violation, resulting in the college's retention of outside counsel. We subsequently negotiated with outside counsel for the dismissal of all cheating and other charges against our client. Our client continued her education at the college without interruption or record of charges.

University Student Avoids Discipline After Establishing Violation of Electronic Privacy Rights

A satellite campus of a large public university in a Midwest state charged our client with unauthorized collaboration and related academic misconduct for creating, collecting, offering, and sharing outlines with other students against the professor's instruction to limit studies to individual work. Our client and his parents retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team when our client discovered that university disciplinary officials had authorized the university's information technology department to make a generalized search of all student electronic folders and documents for any evidence of outline sharing. Officials issued the same authorization for the IT department to hack student social media accounts for similar evidence. At the time of the authorizations, disciplinary officials had no articulable suspicion that our client had engaged in unauthorized outline sharing. Our research indicated that the university's actions arguably violated state and federal law granting electronic privacy rights and prohibiting any artifice to reach private social media accounts. We helped our client present this research and analysis at the disciplinary investigator's informal conference. Our presentation led to a general counsel review of the university's actions, which further led to the university's agreement to dismiss all charges. The key to our winning defense was documenting to the university the legal research and analysis on which the university could in the future conform its investigations to comply with state and federal law.

Disabled Student Successfully Defends Disciplinary Charges Based on College's Failure to Reasonably Accommodate

A private college in a Central Plains state charged our client, a sophomore student in a teaching program, with academic misconduct for requesting and relying on other students' notes, requesting that other students help our client with academic work, and writing beyond the allowable exam time. Our client had obtained a diagnosis of her learning disability in high school but had not disclosed the disability or relied on disability accommodations yet in college. Our client instead continued the remedial practices she had learned in high school, including getting help with note-taking, outlining, and reading comprehension. Our client also used all available time on every college exam, even exams that other students completed in half the time or less. When the college's disciplinary investigator refused to consider our client's disability explanations in the investigator's initial interview and conference, our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team. Our research confirmed that federal and state disability laws covered our client's learning disability, for which she could have claimed accommodations. While our client's failure to request accommodations could have barred a legal claim for the college's violation of her statutory disability rights, we were able to reach the college's chief disability officer with our analysis, interpretation, and presentation of our client's defense to the misconduct charges. Our presentation influenced the college to abandon and dismiss the misconduct charges while accepting our client's new request for accommodations. The key to our winning defense was our research and interpretation of federal and state disability laws.

High School Student Under Individualized Education Plan Avoids Alternative Placement

Early in our client's junior year, his large suburban high school transferred our client's enrollment to the district's alternative high school. The grounds on which the high school made the transfer included class absences, disruptive behavior, and the risk of withdrawal or academic failure. The school alleged no other statutory grounds such as drugs, weapons, or alcohol possession, fighting, or other endangering misconduct. Because our client had a diagnosed emotional disability and was in high school under a state law-sanctioned individualized education plan (IEP), our client's parents retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to challenge our client's transfer. Our client did not want to lose his high school friends and activities. Our client's parents did not believe that our client would persevere in the alternative high school, which they believed had far too little structure and social engagement to retain our client's commitment. Our research showed that state law prohibited the high school from making an alternative placement of a student under an IEP without calling a retention meeting involving the student, parents, and IEP coordinator. The high school had failed to conduct the statutorily required IEP meeting. Our team presented this statutory challenge to the school district's oversight office, resulting in a reversal of our client's alternative placement. Our client and his parents successfully advocated for his retention in the traditional high school at a subsequent IEP meeting, satisfying the statute.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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