Every parent spends time imagining the people they think their children will grow into. They wonder if they will be doctors, lawyers, school teachers, or even the President of the United States. It never crosses their mind that their child might be accused of cheating or plagiarism in high school, and it can be incredibly jarring when they receive that phone call or notice. If your child's high school accuses them of academic misconduct, it might feel like all those hopes and dreams are now impossible. At the Lento Law Firm, we've helped countless high school students protect their futures by working tirelessly to have these allegations dropped, or at the very least, the disciplinary actions eased.
What is Academic Misconduct?
At the start of every school year, or whenever you enroll in a new school, the school will distribute a Student Handbook. And in most schools, the student and parents are asked to sign the handbook. This signature creates a contract between the school, the student, and their parents, stating they will all abide by whatever the guide includes. The Student Handbook usually explains what kind of honor code the children have to follow daily. Academic misconduct may never expressly be covered because it is a comprehensive phrase that encompasses any behavior that violates the school's academic code of conduct. Generally, in Arkansas, it includes:
- Plagiarism: presenting someone else's ideas or work as their own.
- Cheating: copying someone else's work on a test or assignment; allowing someone to copy your work; photographing, possessing, or using unauthorized exam materials
- Forgery of parent or guardian signatures.
- Falsifying information.
- Unauthorized collaboration: working with another student or other students without express approval on an exam or assignment.
Academic Misconduct Varies by District
Nearly every school has a slight variation to their Student Handbook. Different dishonest actions will be included or excluded from the list, and the disciplinary actions will change. If your school has accused your child of academic misconduct, it is vital to review your specific Student Handbook for the exact disciplinary actions that will be taken and to determine what your rights are as the parent.
Little Rock School District
The Little Rock School District lays out specific behaviors, organized by category, that are subject to disciplinary actions. Dishonesty, which includes cheating on tests, copying or allowing the copying of your work by another student, using unauthorized exam materials, and forging your parent or guardian's signature, are considered category-one offenses. If the teacher accuses your child of these actions, they will receive a zero grade on the assignment or exam, and the school will send a notice home about the behavior. The student may also be subject to detention, conflict mediation, parent-school-administrator conferences, sent home from school, or asked to sign a school site probation contract. If the behavior continues, the school may refer them to counseling with a school-based Intervention Team (SBIT). SBIT will determine a plan for more behavior support for the student.
Springdale School District
Springdale School District has a district-wide policy handbook, but each school has its own student guidebook covering academic misconduct. In the Springdale High School Guidebook, they state that academic misconduct is considered plagiarism and cheating. A student accused of cheating or plagiarism will receive a zero grade on the assignment, and the teacher will notify their parent or guardian by phone, email, text, or mail within 24 hours. The teacher will also create a paper trail by contacting the administration and discussing further disciplinary action. If the subsequent punishment includes detention, and the student fails to serve it, they will have to complete an in-school or out-of-school suspension. They also become eligible for expulsion for insubordination.
Bentonville Public Schools
Like in Springdale and Little Rock, Bentonville Public Schools consider cheating, copying, or claiming another person as their own as examples of academic misconduct. But it also includes the unauthorized changing or invention of information or citations for their assignments; tampering with grades or records to remove the original information; and violating copyright laws. The school will place a first-time offender on academic probation, notify their parents, and the teacher will give the student an alternative assignment. They will also be placed on the STEP Discipline Plan, and depending on the administration's input, they would lose their honors. Parents of a second-time offender can expect the student to have the same discipline as a first-time offender and have to attend a conference with the teacher and administration.
In all Arkansas school districts, suspension and expulsion are desperate attempts to make the student aware that this behavior is inappropriate and unacceptable. Therefore, the schools are very hesitant to bring on such proceedings and save them for students who continuously disregard the school's honor code. If the school begins the suspension or expulsion proceedings, they may tell you, at that point, that you are allowed an attorney's help, but you have a legitimate right to an attorney from the very beginning of these issues. Having an academic misconduct attorney on your side when your child's school accuses them of this behavior will give you a better chance of having the allegations dropped or the ensuing punishment greatly diminished. And if the school persists with its disciplinary actions, an attorney advisor can help mitigate the consequences.
Consequences of Academic Misconduct
Students accused of academic misconduct face lifelong challenges if these accusations. Some students whose teachers wrongfully accuse them will begin to act out this behavior for the first time because why be an honorable student when the school already thinks you aren't. Besides the harm to your child's reputation, and the subsequent emotional trauma these allegations cause, they can also affect your child's ability to get into college. A student accused of academic misconduct will have a more challenging time enrolling in advanced placement courses, joining clubs, or participating in school activities, all of which make them more competitive for college admissions. Additionally, academic misconduct allegations, and the resulting punishments, can affect their ability to qualify for scholarships or state or federal loans.
How an Attorney-Advisor Can Help
A student accused of academic misconduct has a right to a legal advisor from the start, even though schools will only tell you about this right when expulsion hearings begin. This attorney will act as a liaison between the parents, student, and the school, working hard to get the initial allegations dropped, and, if necessary, the ensuing punishment lessened. Suppose your child is found to have committed such an egregious act of academic misconduct that it warrants suspension or expulsion. In that case, your legal advisor will act to protect their due process rights, gathering evidence and witnesses on their behalf. Unfortunately, many schools do not abide by their own processes and procedures, and obtaining an attorney will ensure they are reminded to follow them.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have spent years working with thousands of students across the country whose schools have accused them of academic misconduct. They can provide insight and advice on how to mitigate the negative impact of these allegations. Don't try to navigate these murky waters on your own. Let them help you protect your child's future. Call 888-535-3686 today to set up an initial consultation.