Let's face it: all kids make mistakes. That's what growing up is all about. Most experts in child behavior and child psychology agree, though, that mistakes in childhood should not color how a person is treated later in life. Just because we get arrested for vandalism at 16 does not mean we are destined to be career offenders.
Yet, high school disciplinary records can follow a person around throughout their lives, interfering with their ability to enroll in college, find financial aid, even sign up for the military or start a career. A 2015 study, for instance, found that 73 percent of colleges and universities collect disciplinary information about applicants, and almost all use this information to make admissions decisions.
Of course, few records carry the stigma of a suspension or expulsion for sexual misconduct. If your child has been charged with a Title IX violation, you must take it especially seriously since it has the potential to affect your child's entire future.
There are ways to clear your child's record if they should be found responsible for a violation, and we look at some of those here. It's important to recognize, though, that the very best way to protect your child is to fight the charges right from the start. If you can prove your child's innocence or minimize their sanctions, it could make all the difference to their later success.
How Title IX Works
To begin, let's talk about why you might need to clear your child's record in the first place. The fact is, Title IX is a contentious law, and it doesn't always treat accused students fairly.
For one thing, schools are encouraged to investigate any and all allegations, no matter how unlikely they may seem. Otherwise, under Title IX, they risk losing their federal funding. Additionally, Title IX requires all high school personnel—from superintendents to bus drivers—to report any knowledge they may have of sexual misconduct. As you might imagine, not every employee has the education and experience to make judgments about what constitutes “misconduct.” That can lead to lots of false allegations.
Beyond government mandates, in today's political climate any school that doesn't aggressively investigate and punish sexual misconduct accusations risks serious community backlash as well. Unfortunately, that means schools are often too zealous in trying to seek justice. It isn't at all unusual for a high school to treat a student as guilty before they've even begun an investigation. They may ignore evidence that tends to exonerate the accused or overlook witnesses that may tell a different story from the complainant. Beyond this, schools also have a tendency to impose penalties that are far harsher than they should be.
Title IX procedures don't help matters much. For example, your high school is not required to provide you with an official hearing. Thankfully, some schools do give you the chance to make your case, present evidence, and cross-examine witnesses. However, they can simply assign a single Decision-Maker to review the evidence and determine whether or not your child is responsible.
In any case, Decision-Makers don't have to decide your child is responsible “beyond a reasonable doubt” in order to punish them. Instead, most schools use a much less rigorous standard known as “preponderance of evidence.” According to this standard, they must only believe it is “more likely than not” that your child committed a violation. Attorneys often refer to this as the “fifty percent plus a feather” standard since Decision-Makers must only be just over half convinced that a respondent is responsible.
You do have the right to appeal a Decision-Maker's findings. However, your district will have a time limit on when you can file. That means if you uncover important evidence a month after the hearing, it might not make any difference to the result. In addition, you can't appeal a finding for just any reason. Other than new evidence, you can only request an appeal if you can show one or more officials were unfairly biased towards your child or made serious mistakes in following Title IX procedures.
In short, a Title IX investigation isn't exactly like a police investigation, and your rights aren't protected the way they would be in a court of law. Many cases come down simply to whether a Decision-Maker believes the complainant or the respondent. That's not the best basis for justice, and it leads to many unfair judgments.
Title IX Sanctions
To be fair, the government knows that Title IX rules don't afford accused students all the due process rights they would get in a court of law. Part of the problem is that schools simply aren't the best places to decide such weighty judicial matters as whether or not someone is guilty of committing sexual assault. Keep in mind that Title IX Coordinators, Investigators, Decision-Makers, and Appeals Officers aren't required to have any special education or background. Often, they are simply faculty or administrators who have volunteered or been drafted into their roles and received minimal training. Obviously, they're not equipped to decide finer points of the law, such as whether a piece of evidence should be admitted or what questions should be asked of witnesses. So, the government has tried to streamline Title IX processes, so they don't have to.
The argument behind this approach is that students aren't actually facing the same kinds of severe penalties they might in a court of law. After all, your school district can't sentence your child to prison time. If the punishments are lighter, so the argument goes, the protections don't need to be as rigorous.
The problem here is that sanctions in Title IX cases can, in many ways, be every bit as severe as a prison sentence. Title IX does not mandate how schools may punish students they find responsible, and most schools claim that they offer a range of sanctions in such cases. These might include anything from a verbal warning to detention to probation. However, the minimum penalty in a sexual misconduct case is almost always suspension. The far more likely penalty is expulsion.
While federal law guarantees all children the right to an education, it does not require schools to educate children found guilty of serious misconduct. Schools sometimes provide alternatives, such as online educational opportunities. However, in most cases, your choice is to either enroll in another district—assuming there's one nearby—or to home school your child. None of these options is ideal.
In addition, if your child is suspended or expelled, that information will likely wind up in their permanent file. This can have lots of negative effects on your child's future. It can keep them from enrolling at a good college, establishing a career, or joining the military.
Finally, it's also worth noting that many studies have found that so-called “exclusionary discipline” – suspension and expulsion – increase the chances that kids will struggle later in life. Many education experts, in fact, talk about the “pipeline to prison” that zero-tolerance school policies can create.
Title IX procedures can be lax and unfair. Punishments can be draconian. Logic and justice dictate that there should be some mechanisms in place to help you prevent this kind of damage from impacting your child.
Correcting the Record
Unfortunately, it's not always easy to clear your child's record once they've been found responsible for a Title IX violation, and most of the methods that are out there require hard work and diligence. That is why it is so important to win the case itself or, failing that, to prevail during the Title IX appeals process.
However, there are certain steps you might take, even once those efforts have been exhausted.
As a starting point, you need to know that under federal law, you do have a right to view your child's school record. Certain documents, such as psychological evaluations and medical exams, may be covered by privilege, but all academic material and most disciplinary material should be available. This is an important place to begin in trying to clean up your child's file. Only when you know exactly what's in the file can you begin the process of trying to correct or expunge that information.
To that end, you also have the right under federal law to request that a district remove any inaccurate, misleading, or irrelevant information from your child's records. Typically, this involves filling out paperwork, including documentation supporting your request. Should your district fail to honor your request, you have the right to ask for a formal hearing before an impartial third party.
Of course, if a Title IX Decision-Maker has found your child responsible for sexual misconduct, the school is under no obligation to simply remove that information from the record. However, you always have the right, as a parent, to insert a statement into the record stating that you disagree with the school's opinions or findings. While such a statement doesn't entirely undo the damage an expulsion may have, it can suggest to those looking at the record – universities and employer – that your child is potentially innocent or that their behavior was an aberration.
Finally, as a last resort, some parents turn to the courts to help overturn responsible Title IX findings. In the last fifteen years, more and more students have filed suit against their schools, claiming they did not receive their due process rights during the Title IX investigation process. These suits have begun to gain some traction, and judges are increasingly siding with plaintiffs. A victory in court can force a school to reinstate a student and restore their record.
Again, however, there is simply no substitute for a strong, proactive defense against Title IX charges. As challenging as Title IX cases can be, it is much easier to prove your child is innocent during an investigation and hearing than after the fact when the district has already reached a formal decision. In addition, it is often possible during an investigation to negotiate with a district for a lesser sanction, something that will salvage your child's academic career. Once the case is over, however, your negotiating position becomes much weaker.
How Can Attorney Joseph D. Lento Help Your Family?
Every person's situation is unique. You may be trying to prove your child is entirely innocent of the charges against them. It might be you are looking to show that, while your child may have made a poor decision, they weren't truly aware of what they were doing. Maybe your child accepts responsibility for a Title IX violation, but you don't feel their future should be put in jeopardy as a result. Or, you may already have lost your battle and be looking for a way to undo the damage that was done.
Whatever your family's particular situation, you can't handle it alone. Title IX is a complex law. In fact, even the average attorney will find its many rules and procedures difficult to navigate. You need a Title IX attorney on your side, someone who's studied the law, who knows its history, and who understands the politics around it. A Title IX attorney won't just organize a strategy to help you fight the charges; they'll know how to make sure your child's rights are respected every step of the way.
Joseph D. Lento isn't just an attorney. In fact, he isn't just a Title IX attorney. Protecting students from the damage Title IX accusations can do is his professional mission in life. Joseph D. Lento built his career defending students across the United States, just like your child, from accusations of sexual misconduct. He's dealt with hundreds of Title IX cases across the United States, from simple verbal harassment charges to allegations of sexual assault and rape. He knows the law; he knows how school districts operate.
Most importantly, though, attorney Joseph D. Lento knows what you're going through. He knows that no matter what the situation may be, the odds are that you aren't getting a fair shake without the right advocate. He believes that in today's political climate schools are too quick to find students responsible and too harsh in the penalties they give out. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his expert team at the Lento Law Firm are committed to fighting tooth and nail to stop them.
If your child has been accused of Title IX sexual misconduct, don't wait. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.