It sounds scary, but it's true: The choices you make in high school can have a profound effect on the rest of your life. Never is this truer than that the way you conduct yourself academically. In every state from Oregon to Florida to Kansas, high schools put a high premium on academic integrity, and so do colleges and potential employers. Fellow students, future employers, and future colleagues all need to know they can rely on your honesty. In their eyes, your high school record is their first clue into how you will conduct yourself in the “real world.” This is true whether you're a student in New York Public Schools, Des Moines Public Schools, the Dallas Independent School District, or any private school nationwide.
With this in mind, perhaps you can understand how serious it is for a high school student to be accused of academic misconduct. It's much more than just “kids being kids” or typical student mischief. Even in high school, the consequences of an academic misconduct determination can haunt you for many years to come, affecting your ability to win scholarships, gain acceptance to the best schools, and possibly even finish your education. And because it can limit your academic options, it can also affect the types of jobs you will be qualified for and even which employers are willing to hire you.
For these reasons, if you are a high school student facing allegations of cheating or other forms of academic misconduct—or if you are the parent of a student under accusation—it's essential to seek advice as soon as possible from an experienced attorney-advisor. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive nationwide experience helping high school students who have been accused of academic misconduct—with an excellent track record of success in helping these students preserve their reputations and their future.
Understanding Academic Misconduct
What, exactly, is academic misconduct? Many people loosely categorize all forms of academic wrongdoing as “cheating,” but as we will see, cheating is only one of many ways to commit academic misconduct. Every school may word their definitions a bit differently, but in the broadest sense, academic misconduct is any behavior that:
- Gives a student an unfair academic advantage;
- Wrongly conveys a grasp of the material;
- Allows the student to advance without having “earned” the knowledge;
- Hinders other students from fairly advancing; or
- Any other act that undermines the established learning process.
Not every act of academic misconduct is deliberate. In many cases, high school students find themselves in trouble with the school over behavior they didn't realize was a violation of school academic policy. These policies are typically found in the student handbook or on the school's website, so always make a point of reviewing the school's policies upon enrolling in the school.
Common Types of High School Academic Misconduct
While school policies will differ from school to school, you can generally expect to face some sort of disciplinary action for any of the following types of academic misconduct:
Many people (and indeed, many schools) use the term “cheating” as a sort of catch-all word to encompass many types of academic misconduct. For purposes of this discussion, we categorize cheating generally as any violation of school policy or the teacher's instructions when taking an exam or completing an assignment. Put another way, schools and teachers lay out certain “rules of the road” for how to complete assignments and exams for fairness' sake. When you break those rules to gain an unfair advantage, it's considered cheating. Specific examples may include:
- Copying another student's work or answers
- Allowing another student to copy your answers
- Having someone else complete your assignment and submitting it as your own
- Using prohibited materials or resources to complete the assignment (e.g., Chegg, Slader, or even Googling it on your cell phone)
- Continuing to write after the instructor calls “time” on an exam
Perhaps the most common type of academic misconduct, plagiarism is the act of using someone else's work or ideas as one's own. Sometimes plagiarism is as blatant as copying someone else's writings word-for-word, but many times it happens more subtly, even unintentionally, by failing to give credit where credit is due. For example, if you incorporate one or more quotes or ideas from a book into a paper you are writing but fail to show where you got that information by citing the author and the work, that's a form of plagiarism. By not giving credit, you're inferring the idea is originally yours. Some schools may even count it plagiarism if students turn in a group assignment without identifying every person in the group. High schools take plagiarism very seriously—to the point that some may even penalize students who didn't realize what they did was wrong.
Can you plagiarize yourself? According to many high schools, you can! When you submit the same work (or a portion of the work) on more than one assignment without the instructor's express permission—even if it's work you legitimately did the first time—it's considered a form of plagiarism, and many schools will penalize you for it.
Violating Test Conditions
It's considered academic misconduct to take an exam in an unapproved environment—for example, in a place where you can obtain answers easily. This is more challenging to do in a classroom where the teacher controls the environment, but with more instruction happening remotely nowadays (including taking exams), students may be tempted to hide their smartphone off-camera or place test answers within reach.
In high school, bribery isn't the stereotypical “paying someone off.” It's the act of offering anything of value in exchange for gaining an unfair academic advantage—for example, offering money or favors to an instructor to change your grade, paying someone to complete an assignment for you, or perhaps hiring someone to hack into your school record and alter your transcripts.
Obtaining Unauthorized Advanced Knowledge
When you obtain advance copies of exams or other assignments without an instructor's express permission—or if you snap a photo of a test key in the instructor's desk—these are examples of unauthorized advanced knowledge, which is academic misconduct because it gives you an unfair advantage.
Unauthorized Assistance or Collaboration
When you receive help from another person on assignments, quizzes, or exams without the instructor's permission—or when you give unauthorized help of the same kind—you are creating an unfair advantage situation. Likewise, if you collaborate with others as a group on an academic assignment or project without the instructor's permission, you are also gaining an unfair advantage. Both can get you in trouble.
Unauthorized Sharing of Academic Materials
Certain academic “help” platforms and apps like Chegg, Slader, and CourseHero have become popular places for students to upload and share previous or current schoolwork (e.g., assignments, exams, study notes, notebooks, lab reports, term papers, etc.). When you share this type of information (either online or in-person) without the school's or instructor's express permission, you are enabling others to cheat, so it's considered academic misconduct. Many schools also ban the use of these sites to receive homework “help for the same reason, so if you use the site to find and copy assignment or test answers, you could also be accused of academic misconduct.
Failing to Protect Your Work
Suppose you complete an assignment on a public computer and leave the document available for others to find. This is considered a failure to safeguard or protect your work. Many schools consider it a passive form of unauthorized sharing, and you could be cited for academic misconduct as a result.
Anytime you falsify or misrepresent information to the high school for the purposes of gaining an unfair academic advantage, you could be putting your academic status in jeopardy. Examples of falsifying information may include altering a grade on your transcripts, creating a fake school ID, turning in someone else's homework as your own, or forging a teacher's signature on a document. Even forging a written excuse from classes or a permission slip and signing your parent's name is considered academic misconduct.
Disrupting the Learning Environment
Not all academic misconduct involves cheating or manipulating the system to your advantage. Being consistently disruptive in class or interfering with other people's work can also be penalized. Most teachers will tolerate a bit of talking out of turn, but if an instructor believes you are hindering his/her ability to teach—and others' ability to learn—you could get in more trouble than you bargained for.
Students may try to gain an unfair advantage by sabotaging someone else's work—e.g., tampering with someone's experiment, altering their data, stealing homework, etc. This type of behavior is especially common when a project or class is graded on the curve.
Possible Consequences for High School Academic Misconduct
Being accused of academic misconduct is a very serious matter for any high school, and if the school determines you did it, the consequences could be not only immediate and severe, but also may have a lasting impact on your academic and even professional career. Every school takes a different approach to meting out discipline, but here's just a sample of what you may expect if the school finds you in violation of its academic codes:
- Failing grade or “zero” for the class. Depending on your other classes, this could affect your ability to advance a grade level.
- Repeating the course—or possibly a school year. Depending on the nature of the offense, you may be required to retake the course in which you cheated or possibly repeat the entire school year.
- Required Saturday school or summer school—to make up the lost work.
- Suspension from extra-curricular activities—for example, chess club, theater, or the basketball team.
- Ineligibility for honors programs and societies.
- Ineligibility for certain scholarships. This could affect your ability to pay for college.
- A permanent notation on your school record. This could affect your acceptance into colleges you've applied for, or possibly even cause certain employers not to hire you.
- Suspension or expulsion from the school.
What Is the Disciplinary Process for Academic Misconduct?
Every high school establishes its own procedures for handling academic misconduct and other forms of student misbehavior. These may vary widely depending on the location and size of the school and what works best for them. For example, a high school in Chicago, Illinois, may mete out discipline differently than a school in Tampa, Florida, or Newark, New Jersey. For specific details of what to expect, consult your high school's Student Code of Conduct or Student Handbook.
That being said, most high schools employ some version of the following process:
- The student is notified of the violation (typically by the teacher or administrator who caught the infraction).
- The student's parents are notified.
- The school conducts an investigation (reviewing the evidence, questioning possible witnesses).
- A meeting is called between the student, parents/guardians, and school authorities to discuss the violation.
- The school makes a determination and decides on penalties.
- The student has the right to appeal the decision before it becomes final.
Because there is so much at stake when a student is accused of any type of academic misconduct, it's important for both student and parents to take the matter very seriously and do whatever is possible to achieve the best possible outcome.
How can an attorney help a high school student facing charges of academic misconduct?
Since high school is not a court of law, many parents and students don't consider that an attorney may be able to help them when a student is accused of misconduct. Indeed, many schools won't permit an attorney to be involved in the investigation in a legal capacity, especially since many high schools don't even hold a formal hearing for charges of academic misconduct. However, you do have the right to have an attorney in an advisory role (an attorney-advisor), and that involvement can make a huge difference in the outcome of the charges. An experienced academic misconduct advisor can help you understand school policies and procedures, review the facts of the case, coach you on how to present your side of the story, and advise you on how to negotiate for the least possible penalty. In many cases, this extra assistance can save your academic record, future college education, and even your future career.
My child has been accused of academic misconduct. What do we do first?
If the high school notifies you that your child is facing disciplinary action for any type of academic misconduct, do the following:
Avoid confrontation. No matter how offended you may be by the charges, boisterous denials and finger-pointing won't help your child's academic future here.
Write down what happened and gather any relevant evidence. Go over with your child exactly what transpired (including whether the infraction was intentional) and create a record of what happened so you can recall the facts more easily later.
Review the Student Handbook. Look at school policy to see their views on the specific charge and the possible penalties so you know what your child may be facing. Make a note of any discrepancies between school policy and how your child is being treated, and write down any questions.
Contact an attorney experienced in academic misconduct defense. The sooner you get professional assistance, the better your chances for a more favorable outcome.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully advised and defended thousands of students facing academic misconduct charges across the country, and he is widely regarded as a national expert on student defense. Don't allow an accusation of academic misconduct to derail all you have worked for. Protect your name and your future today. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.