You take your responsibilities to your children more seriously than you take anything else in your life. You brought them into this world; you've helped them grow and develop; you've taught them right from wrong. When they're in trouble, you want to do everything in your power to help.
Few problems carry the weight of a charge of sexual misconduct. If your child's high school has initiated a Title IX investigation, the consequences, even if they are found “not responsible” (innocent), can be life-altering.
That doesn't mean all is lost. You and your family can get through this situation. To do that, though, you need to be ready for what is coming.
Take the time now—in the beginning—to find out all you can about what your child is facing. What does a Title IX investigation actually look like? What kinds of disciplinary actions could the school district take against your child? What collateral damage might sanctions cause for your family? Only when you know what you're up against will you truly be prepared to deal with it.
Where Did This Come From?
Even if your child is ultimately not responsible (innocent) for the allegations against them, a Title IX investigation can take its toll—on them, on you, on your entire family.
If you aren't familiar with Title IX, it's a federal law that was originally passed in 1972 and meant to prohibit sexual discrimination in American educational programs, including public high schools. Over the years, it has become the primary means by which schools deal with accusations of sexual misconduct. Current guidelines are designed to protect many of your child's rights. However, Title IX is a complex law and can be difficult to navigate.
In and of themselves, allegations can be traumatic. Your first question, then, may be where the charge against your child originated. There are a number of possibilities. All faculty and staff, from principals to bus drivers, are required to notify your district of any sexual misconduct they're aware of. However, only a complainant, a complainant's guardian, or the district's Title IX Coordinator may actually sign an official complaint. Further, once the Coordinator has initiated a formal investigation, they are required to provide you with notice, naming the complainant and outlining in detail the specific allegations.
In addition, this notice should apprise you of your rights, including your child's right to be presumed “not responsible” (innocent) until proven otherwise. In addition, you have the right to choose an advisor to help your family through this situation. That advisor can be—and should be—an attorney.
Right from the start, before the school has even begun an investigation, a Title IX attorney can help you better understand the charges and help you begin creating a defense strategy. If your family is feeling anxious about what's coming, hiring a lawyer is one of the best ways to help calm your fears.
Protecting Your Child During an Investigation
Once an accusation has been made, the Title IX Coordinator appoints an Investigator. This person will meet with both sides in the case. They'll also collect any physical evidence and interview potential witnesses.
A Title IX investigation can be a difficult experience for teenagers and their families. Given the nature of the accusation, the Investigator will likely ask personal questions that can be embarrassing to answer. They may want to know about your child's romantic and sexual history. Often, they ask questions about other aspects of your family's private life, such as how you communicate with one another and what kind of disciplinary boundaries you've set as parents.
Here again, a Title IX attorney, someone with experience dealing with school investigators, can make sure the investigation is handled with tact and sensitivity and that your child is protected from intrusive, unethical questions. Their job is to ensure your rights are protected every step of the way.
In addition, you are entitled to submit evidence and questions for witnesses, including the complainant. An attorney will know exactly the right questions to ask to help make sure the truth of the situation comes out.
Finally, at the conclusion of the investigation, the Investigator creates a written report summarizing their findings. Both sides have an opportunity to comment on this document and suggest revisions before it is forwarded to the Title IX Coordinator. A Title IX attorney can examine this document, find the areas that may put your child in a negative light, and raise any objections on your behalf.
The Decision-Making Process
Unfortunately, a Title IX case isn't over once the investigation is complete. Instead, the Coordinator must now put the decision-making process in motion. This process can take one of two forms. The district may allow for formal hearings. If that's the case, you will have the opportunity to present a complete defense in front of one or more appointed Decision-Makers. You'll be able to offer physical evidence, present witnesses, and—through your advisor—cross-examine any witnesses against you.
However, under Title IX, the district is not required to hold a live hearing. Instead, the Coordinator may select a single Decision-Maker to read through the investigative report and decide whether or not your child is responsible. Even in these cases, though, you have the right to present your case to this Decision-Maker, to offer evidence, and to raise questions for any witnesses.
In either case, Decision-Makers are tasked with reaching a conclusion as to whether your child is responsible or not responsible for violating Title IX. In making this decision, they typically use the “preponderance of evidence” standard. Less strict than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” “preponderance of evidence” requires only that Decision-Makers believe it is more likely than not that your child committed sexual misconduct.
You have the right to appeal the Decision-Maker's findings to a separate Appeals Official. It's important to recognize that the other side does as well. You should also know that you have a limited period of time in which to file such an appeal, and appeals can usually only be made for a few very specific reasons:
- The discovery of new evidence
- Clear evidence of bias on the part of a Title IX official
- Demonstration that mistakes were made in the Title IX process
A Title IX attorney can be invaluable for all of the elements of the decision-making process, from raising questions for the complainant to crafting a persuasive appeal.
The most direct consequence of a “responsible” finding will be a sanction on your child.
Title IX does not mandate what sanctions a school district may impose for a violation. Most schools maintain a list of possible sanctions for any potential disciplinary problems but don't necessarily assign any particular sanction to any particular violation of school policy. Typically, school officials have the authority to decide how a plagiarized essay or a lunchroom fistfight should be dealt with.
For example, a school may have procedures in place to issue verbal or written warnings. A school may utilize other types of punishments such as detention or discipline-focused academic assignments like essays. Many schools punish violations with a loss of privileges: your school might bar a student from participating in sports or art or music programs. Some district policies include provisions for mandated counseling or financial restitution.
The good news is, a school district can't send your child to jail because they've committed some form of sexual misconduct. However, sanctions can be serious. When it comes to sexual misconduct violations, the minimum penalty at most schools is usually suspension. It is far more likely that the district will expel your child if they're found responsible.
Secondary Consequences of Expulsion
What does expulsion mean exactly?
While state and federal laws guarantee your child a right to an education, the government cannot force a district to leave a child in school if the child has violated policy. Particularly in today's political climate, sexual misconduct allegations carry a powerful stigma, and the courts have consistently ruled that districts have the right to expel problem students.
If this should happen to your child, your district may have alternative means of providing education, such as so-called “alternative schools” or online classes. If you live near another school district, you could try enrolling there, though an expulsion mark on your child's transcript may discourage other districts from accepting them. Failing these possibilities, most students who have been expelled wind up in some type of home-schooling program. None of these situations is ideal for learning.
A suspension or an expulsion can have more lasting effects on your child's future, though. Study after study, for example, has shown that students who are punished using these sanctions have a far higher chance of eventually winding up in jail or prison. In fact, most education experts are opposed to these kinds of penalties, though most districts still use them.
Further, even a minor sanction for sexual misconduct—detention or probation—can become part of your child's permanent record. That could prevent your child from getting accepted to college or interfere with their ability to get financial aid. A finding of responsible in a Title IX investigation could make it difficult for your child to get a good job, even keep them from joining the military.
Obviously, having the right attorney by your side can be essential for winning your case. However, Title IX lawyers are not just skilled at proving innocence. In the case of a responsible verdict, an experienced lawyer knows how to negotiate with the district for a reasonable sentence, one that will help protect your child's academic and professional future.
Finally, in this day and age, even a not-responsible finding may not necessarily clear your child's good name entirely. As we've all come to know, accusations that wind up on the internet can potentially live forever.
Title IX does not forbid schools from releasing information about a Title IX investigation. However, it does strongly encourage districts to do everything in their power to keep such investigations confidential. An attorney can help make sure they live up to this obligation.
When a district is sloppy, and information about a case gets out, or when an angry complainant or their family decides to post ugly, unfounded accusations on social media, a Title IX attorney can help you to address these claims. As a starting point, they know how to use the media to help reduce the impact of online gossip. In extreme circumstances, they know how to bring suit against districts and individuals who have made false accusations to help you recover your child's good name and to recoup any losses you may suffer as a result.
Joseph D. Lento, Title IX Attorney
Everything is at stake in a Title IX case. It's entirely unfair, but your child's whole future could rest on whether or not a single Decision-Maker feels it's “more likely than not” that they engaged in some form of sexual misconduct.
At the same time, Title IX investigations can be extraordinarily complex. Responsibility can come down to very subtle definitions in your school's “consent” policy, for instance. Findings can hinge on how a particular piece of evidence is interpreted. Every defense is a little different, based on the particularities of a given case.
Joseph D. Lento is an experienced, qualified Title IX attorney. He built his practice helping families just like yours through all types of Title IX cases. He's defended hundreds of students from sexual misconduct charges, charges ranging from stalking to date rape. He knows the law, and he knows how high schools operate. He'll stand beside you every step of the way, keeping them honest and getting you justice.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento is empathetic to your situation. He's been doing this for many years, and one thing he's learned is that the Title IX system can be unfair. He's made it his life's mission to protect students from over-zealous school districts and draconian punishments. Whether you're trying to prove your child's innocence in the face of unfounded accusations or trying to negotiate a fair settlement that will let your child continue their education, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands ready to fight for you.
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.