Case Studies: Helping Students When Schools Violate Their Own Procedures

Student Avoids Suspension Over Alcohol Possession Charges After College Fails to Provide Written Notice of the Charges

A small private college in a Southeastern state charged our client with possession of alcohol on college premises. The private college, with a religious founder and history, had a dry campus policy. The college regularly enforced its policy against students who both possessed and either distributed or consumed alcohol. Enforcement typically involved a one semester automatic suspension. The college's published procedures for enforcement of its dry campus policy required the college to give the accused student written notice of the charges at least one week in advance of any disciplinary action to ensure that the student had adequate opportunity to retain and consult counsel. The college automatically suspended our client in the first notice it gave of its charges, by calling our client into the disciplinary office to tell him of its suspension. Our client immediately retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team. Our team discovered the college's published procedure for advance written notice. We alerted the disciplinary office of its violation of its own procedure and, when the office failed to reply, alerted the college president to the violation. The college's outside retained counsel replied, offering our client's reinstatement on an assurance of no further alcohol possession. Our client continued his college education with only a brief interruption, no discipline, and no substantial disruption. The key to our winning defense was our research promptly identifying that the college had violated its own published discipline procedure.

Student Successfully Defends Trespass and Vandalism Charges After University Violates Its Own Procedures

A large public university in a North Central Plains state charged our client with trespass and vandalism related to an incident involving the use of a campus recreational facility. Student workers had left lights on and doors unlocked at the recreation center after its closing hours. Our client and other students had entered and used the facility innocently, not intending to trespass or damage. University disciplinary officials nonetheless charged our client and other students while accusing them of “trashing” the facility. Our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team as soon as receiving notice of the exaggerated charges, which threatened our client with dismissal from the university and criminal referral. After researching the university's disciplinary procedures, our team requested a copy of the disciplinary investigator's draft report, invoking our client's right to review and comment on the report as the university's procedures promised. The disciplinary officials at first refused to respond to our requests and then later denied the request, leaving our client unable to prepare for the informal hearing on the charges. The hearing blindsided our client with allegations beyond the scope of the disciplinary charges. When the hearing resulted in our client's suspension, we helped our client appeal the suspension to the university's vice-president of student affairs, arguing that the university had violated its own promised procedures. The appeal resulted in the reversal of our client's suspension and our client's reinstatement with only a reprimand for the incident.

Student Accused of College Drug Violations Wins Defense for College's Refusal to Disclose Evidence

A small private college in a Northeastern state charged our client with unlawful possession of controlled substances on campus for distribution. Our client, a senior preparing to enter graduate school, faced no criminal charges relating to the matter. Claiming complete innocence, and unaware of how the college might have a basis for the drug charges, our client promptly retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to investigate, discover, and challenge the evidence on which the college purported to rely. Our team researched the college's disciplinary procedures, confirming that those procedures required the college to share both inculpatory and exculpatory evidence with the accused student and student's representatives at the student's request. Our research confirmed that state law likely required similar disclosure. Yet the college's disciplinary official refused to comply, asserting that doing so was not the office's practice. When we brought the official's refusal to the attention of the vice-president of student affairs, who supervised the college's disciplinary function, the college suddenly dismissed the charges without explanation. Our team confirmed with the college that no record of charges or discipline remained, so that our client could proceed with his education under a clean record. Although our client never had an official explanation, he heard that the matter had involved mistaken identity. The key to the early dismissal of the charges, though, was our team's procedural research and proper demand for disclosure of all evidence.

Graduate Student Avoids Loss of Clinical Placement After School Violates Placement Procedures

A large private university in an Atlantic Seaboard state placed our client, a graduate student in social work, in a clinic setting to satisfy a curriculum requirement. One month into the semester-long placement, the social work program's placement office notified our client that she had to start over in a new placement. Despite our client's repeated inquiries, the office gave no explanation. Placement officials did, though, insist that our client must begin anew with her clinical hours requirements, losing a month of hours in the original placement. Again, the placement office refused any explanation. Our client nonetheless attempted to comply, appearing for duty at the new placement. But after two weeks of patiently waiting for supervision and assignments at the new placement, the placement office once again notified our client that she must start over with a third placement. By then, it was too late in the term for our client to complete all clinical hours. When our client realized that the program would then delay her graduation, she retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team. Our research into the university's placement procedures confirmed that no program was to deprive any student of an assured placement or transfer the student to another placement, without advance notice, opportunity for hearing, and reasonable grounds for the action. We helped our client make this presentation to the placement office while simultaneously alerting other university oversight officials. Our client received a prompt reply from the placement office that it would count all her hours at the first two placements so that she could complete her hours at the third placement. Our client accepted the offered resolution and completed her clinical requirement on time without delaying her graduation.

Student Successfully Defends Academic Progress Dismissal After Registrar Refuses SAP Appeal

A large private college in a Central Plains state notified our client of his dismissal for unsatisfactory academic progress. Our client, a senior student planning to graduate in the following semester, did not believe that his academic performance, which admittedly included a few failed and incomplete courses, and late course withdrawals, had run afoul of the college's satisfactory academic progress (SAP) standards. Indeed, the college had not notified our client that he was on SAP academic probation in the prior term, as the college's SAP procedures required. The college's notice of SAP dismissal also did not alert our client to his procedural rights to appeal his dismissal, again as the college's SAP procedures required. When our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, our team confirmed that the college had several times violated its own SAP procedures, denying our client important rights. Our team notified the college's registrar of these violations, but the registrar replied, saying that an SAP appeal would be fruitless. On the contrary, if our client's record indeed reflected an SAP issue, which our analysis contradicted, our client would have been able to show exigent circumstances for his academic issues, including the serious illness of dependent family members and job transfer. We accordingly notified the college's oversight officials of the registrar's violations of the college's own protective procedures. Our communications and negotiation resulted in the college's withdrawal of the SAP dismissal notice, reinstating our client in good academic standing. Our client continued with his education toward his imminent graduation.

Student Accused of Physical Assault Avoids Suspension After University Refuses Hearing Panel

A mid-sized public university in a Northeastern state charged our client with a physical assault on another member of the university community. The charges involved a dispute between our client and a university groundskeeper over our client's locking his scooter to a lamppost. Our client had acknowledged to the groundskeeper that he understood that students were to park scooters elsewhere and had attempted to remove the scooter. But our client maintained that the groundskeeper physically accosted our client to prevent our client from removing the scooter, which the groundskeeper later argued he had the right and obligation to confiscate. The groundskeeper had reported the opposite to university disciplinary officials that our client had assaulted the groundskeeper. When our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, we promptly invoked the university's published procedures calling for a hearing before an independent panel of disputed charges. The disciplinary office replied with a summary suspension of our client, refusing to offer the hearing and instead stating that our client could the following semester apply for relief from the suspension. Our team contacted the university's ombuds office, documenting the university's refusal to follow its own protective procedures. The ombuds office recommended that the university reinstate our client while arranging a formal hearing before the required panel. Instead, the university's disciplinary office dismissed the charges without explanation. Our client was able to continue his education without a record of discipline.

High School Student Gains Reinstatement After Principal Violates Promised Notice and Meeting Procedures

The principal of a large suburban high school in a Southwestern state summarily suspended our client for two weeks for allegedly threatening and fighting with another student. The principal also summarily suspended the other student involved in the matter. Our client was an honors student in his senior year whom the state university had already admitted for the following Fall semester. Our client's parents retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to ensure that our client's state university did not revoke his admission because of the high school discipline. The university application required disclosure of high school discipline. Our investigation confirmed that the school district's discipline policy defined anything more than a ten-day suspension as a long-term suspension. The district's discipline procedures further required that the principal schedule a hearing before the district board, superintendent, or their designee before a long-term suspension. The principal nonetheless refused to offer a hearing on our first request and follow-up demand. The district's discipline procedures further required that the principal notify the accused student's parents and meet with the student and parents before imposing anything greater than a one-day removal. The principal had not offered, and on the contrary, had refused, a meeting with the student and parents. Our appeal to the school board's designee showed these procedural violations while also offering a summary of our client's account and witness observations that our client had acted only in self-defense of the other student's bullying and physical aggression. The school board's designee promptly reinstated our client while acknowledging the procedural violations. We then confirmed that the school had removed all records of discipline or charges of discipline.

Student Succeeds in Graduating After College Admits Violating Suspension Procedures

A small private college in the Northeast summarily suspended our client, a graduating senior completing an off-campus internship, over allegations that our client had interfered with another student's instruction and concealed or destroyed study resources for that purpose. The charges threatened to prevent or delay our client's imminent graduation. When our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, we promptly researched the college's disciplinary procedures. Those procedures promised notice and a hearing before any suspension other than one involving endangerment. Our client further related an explanation clarifying the charge's confusion over and misrepresentation of our client's innocent conduct. We prepared a detailed summary of that explanation, which we helped our client submit to the college's disciplinary office along with the demand for immediate reinstatement due under the college's published procedures. Outside retained counsel subsequently contacted our team, indicating the college's readiness to reinstate our client and permit his graduation on the condition that our client disclose any further information our client had about the allegedly missing study resources. We helped our client respond with additional information, satisfying all conditions for reinstatement. Our client graduated on time with his classmates. Our swift action resolved the matter within a total period of about two weeks. Our client had employment awaiting him contingent on his graduation, so our swift and effective efforts ensured that our client not only graduated but also entered his career employment.

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