High School Junior Avoids Expulsion and Alternative Placement Over Weapons Possession Charge
A public high school located in a large, suburban area in the Southwestern United States expelled our client, an honors student in his junior year, and sent our client for alternative placement for weapons possession. The high school maintained that it had a zero-tolerance policy for weapons possession. The high school found a moderate-sized, sheathed hunting knife in our client's backpack. Our client had been on a hunting trip with his father the prior weekend. During the trip, the father had placed our client's knife in the backpack without our client knowing it. Our client had then overlooked the knife's presence in the bottom of his backpack when returning to school, unaware that he was bringing a weapon to school in violation of the school's policy. Although the school principal suspended our client for one year, the school did not follow state law and school policy for long-term suspensions. The school principal denied our client's constitutional due process rights by not offering our client a hearing before the school district board or its designee, at which our client would have presented exonerating and mitigating evidence that he was utterly unaware of the knife's presence. Our research showed that state law did not authorize a zero-tolerance policy and that the school had not published or enforced such a policy. In our appeal of the one-year suspension to the school district board, we were able to show that the school violated our client's procedural rights and imposed an excessive sanction unwarranted under the law and school policy. After about one month, the board reinstated our client from the alternative program to our client's traditional high school.
High School Senior Avoids Out-of-School Suspension for Alleged Disorderly and Disruptive Misconduct
A small suburban high school in a large Western state metropolitan area charged our client with disorderly and disruptive conduct. Our client was a senior honors student in the Fall semester, applying to large state universities for honors program admission preparatory to professional school. The high school's disciplinary charges threatened to banish our student to an alternative high school while threatening his high academic standing and timely graduation. The charges put our client's college admission and planned professional career at risk. Our client and his parents retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to defend and defeat the school's charges. Our investigation showed that our client had attempted to defend a fellow student against their teacher's mistaken allegations that the fellow student had been misbehaving while the teacher was out of the room. When other class members joined in our client's defense of his fellow student, the teacher got angry at our client, attempting to send him out of the classroom to the principal's office. When our client tried again to explain, the teacher walked out of the classroom, brought the principal to the classroom, and got the principal to remove our client from the classroom and charge our client with disrupting the class. The principal called our client and his parents to a conference at which the principal disclosed that the teacher wanted our client sent to an alternative high school. When we appeared on our client's behalf, disclosing our intent to invoke the school board's protective procedures for a hearing at which we would present the testimony of our client's classmates, the school principal relented, dismissing the charges. Our client's school record remained clear for applying to premier university honors programs.
High School Accuses Senior Student of Cheating on Remote Exams During Pandemic
A mid-sized high school in a coastal town along the Eastern Seaboard charged our client with cheating on remote exams during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown of in-class instruction. Our client's test scores had been average before the pandemic but improved substantially during the pandemic because of our client's improved concentration, fewer classmate distractions, greater parental support, and additional study time. Most other students saw their test scores fall during the pandemic, leading teachers to suspect that our client had cheated on exams. The school's testing center director monitored our client's remote exam performance on a bank of exams, following which the director alleged that the monitoring had shown our client's cheating. When our client's parents, who were both medical professionals committed to their student's future career, retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, our forensics expert requested the school testing center director's evidence of alleged cheating, which the school refused to produce or could not produce. At the same time, we helped our client and his parents detail and document the reasons for our client's improved exam performance, including his notes, practice tests, outlines, and other extra work. Our forensics expert also documented for our communications with school officials how the school could have monitored for exam cheating but had failed to do so. Our communications, presentations, and negotiations caused school officials to dismiss the cheating allegations without a formal hearing, leaving our client with a clean record for college or university applications.
High School Junior Avoids Dismissal and Alternative Placement Over Prom-Related Vandalism Charges
A large rural high school in a Mid-Atlantic state charged our client, a junior and prominent athlete at the school, with vandalism after a prom night event at the high school. The high school's disciplinary officials alleged that our client had left the prom in a motor vehicle with other male students who had attended the prom. The officials charged that our client, driving the motor vehicle after having just received his adult license, had run across the high school's lawn, tearing up the grass in vehicle burnouts. The officials further charged that our client had led the other male students in throwing toilet paper rolls over a tree outside the physical education teacher's home and engaging in similar pranks at two other locations near town. Our client was the only student whom the school charged with misconduct, intending to make an example of our student with dismissal and placement in a distant alternative high school program offered by another school district. Our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team with the goal of returning for his senior year at the high school while avoiding alternative placement. Our appearance on our client's behalf caused the high school to retain outside counsel to represent the school. We communicated and negotiated with retained counsel over the course of the Summer until the school agreed to dismiss the vandalism charges. At our urging, our client volunteered in two school-related programs over the Summer and participated in school-sponsored athletics camps, maintaining and building on his good reputation. As a result, our client got to continue on and complete his high school education at the school, without alternative placement.
Female High School Student Avoids Alternative Placement Over Pregnancy and Child Rearing
A small rural high school in a Central state threatened our client with alternative placement in another district's program for pregnant and child-rearing students, after school officials learned of our client's pregnancy. Our client, an honors student already admitted to the state's leading public university, was entering her last semester as a senior at the high school, ready to graduate. Alternative placement could have delayed and derailed our client's high school graduation. Her traditional high school's curriculum for seniors ended in early May, but the alternative placement would have required her attendance into the Summer when she was due to deliver. When our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, we worked with school officials to get them to consider a compromise resolution that would allow our client to complete independent study, mostly at home, for the rest of the final semester. Our ability to show the school officials a win-win option that school officials had not previously considered was the key to a successful outcome for our client. We further helped our client confirm that our negotiated outcome would not affect her prior admission to the state's leading public university. We documented the high school officials' agreement to ensure that all parties understood its terms, including that our student would graduate with all honors and the high class ranking she had earned, despite her independent study in her last semester. Our client graduated from high school with her peers and prepared to begin her university education after delivering her child in the Summer.
Unconventional High School Sophomore Avoids Alternative Placement Over Alleged Dress Code Violations
A large suburban high school in the Northeast, the students of which were primarily the children of parents who worked in the area's large metropolitan center, charged our client with dress code violations, insubordination, and disrupting class. Our client was a very bright and confident sophomore student involved in several high school clubs and activities. Our client dressed and acted in an esoteric style characteristic of her parents' bohemian lifestyle, even though the parents were both accomplished professionals. In a private suspension conference, the school principal admitted to our client's parents that the school intended the charges to induce our client and her parents to accept her transfer to the district's alternative high school. The principal even intimated to our client's parents that other parents of children at the high school hoped that the school would force our client out of the school and into the alternative high school “where she belonged.” Their greatest concerns were over our client's tattoos, piercings, hair coloring, hairstyles, and fluid dress, which they feared might influence their own children. The alternative high school offered a variety of flexible programs, including generally positive programs for unconventional students whose behaviors could prove distracting for more traditional students. But our client and her parents had no interest in our client attending the alternative high school. Indeed, the principal's indiscreet admissions convinced our client's parents all the more that our client should remain in the traditional high school. Our research, investigation, and documentation showed that our client had not dressed or acted in endangering, sexual, or unduly distracting ways carrying any offensive, threatening, or disruptive message that could potentially violate the high school's dress and behavior codes. Our appeal of the charges to the school board's discipline committee resulted in a dismissal of all charges and the principal's apology to our client and her parents.
High School Student Avoids Discipline Over Locker Room Incident During Phys Ed Instruction
A mid-sized rural Northern Plains high school with a strong physical education program charged our client, a sophomore student, with Title IX sexual misconduct and other violations of the school's student code of conduct related to a locker room incident during gym class. Our client was somewhat older and more mature than the smaller boys in his gym class. Our client and his classmates regularly engaged in the kind of locker room hijinks that tend to occur in those settings, like hiding other students' clothing, snapping naked students with towels, and occasional horseplay. Our client's larger size, older age, confidence, and relative maturity tended to make him the center of these escapades. Two sensitive boys, though, complained to school disciplinary officials of what they construed to be sexual touching and sexual harassment, claiming that attending gym class was unduly offensive and threatening. Although our client was not the instigator or leader of the horseplay alleged to be misconduct, the gym teacher identified him as such to the school's disciplinary officials, resulting in the misconduct charges. When our client's concerned parents retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, our investigator obtained statements from several of the involved boys or their parents confirming that our client had not sexually touched or harassed anyone, including the complaining students. We further invoked the school's hearing procedures, ensuring that a panel of disinterested persons whom the district board appointed would decide the charges. With our assistance, our client and his parents presented the information we developed in defense, resulting in a dismissal of all charges.
High School Graduate Successfully Defends Post-Graduation Misconduct Charge for Conduct Alleged to Have Occurred in the Last Semester
A district magnet high school focusing on college preparation charged our client, a senior who had just graduated and received his high school diploma, with Title IX and related behavioral misconduct that the school alleged had occurred during our client's last semester. Because the allegations involved student victims who were in the junior class below our client's class and still attended the school, school disciplinary officials felt bound to pursue the charges despite our client's graduation. The allegations included that our client had shown the junior students sexual materials or encouraged them to follow electronic links to those materials, in a misuse of personal and school electronic devices. Our client and his parents retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team immediately after the school served notice of the charges because, although our client had graduated, our client was preparing to begin his college education at the nearby state public university. They were rightly concerned that our client would have to disclose to the university any high school discipline that could result from the belated proceeding. Our forensics consultant procured and examined our client's electronic devices, confirming that our client had not accessed prohibited materials. When we invoked the school's formal hearing procedures and requested to review the school's evidence under the school's Title IX procedures and Title IX protective regulations, the school canceled the hearing and dismissed the charges, indicating that the junior students had all declined to give statements or testify. Our client proceeded to the university with a clean record of no discipline and nothing to report.