If you share your homework answers with another student, it's considered a form of cheating, and your high school may discipline you for academic misconduct if you are caught. But what if the “sharing” was unintentional or accidental? What if you inadvertently left your work somewhere it could be seen, and another student saw it and copied the answers? If caught, that student could face disciplinary action for copying or cheating—but believe it or not, so could you! If the school authorities believe you did not take appropriate steps to safeguard your work, you could be accused of “failing to protect your work,”—and you could face disciplinary action that could have a serious impact on your future.
High schools nowadays are under enormous pressure to enforce high standards of academic honesty—and to be honest, the computer age doesn't make it easy for them to do so. Technology makes it far too easy for students to cheat, plagiarize, and share one another's work—so schools sometimes come down hard on both the person who shared the answers and the person who copied them, even if the “sharing” was an accident. If you have been accused of failing to protect your work—or if you are the parent of an accused high school student—the repercussions could affect everything from the student's GPA to college applications. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully helped thousands of students protect their academic records and reputations against unfair accusations of misconduct such as these.
Examples of Failing to Protect Your Work
What exactly does it mean when a school accuses you of failing to protect your work? The best way to answer that question is to look at a few examples of how this might happen:
- You complete an assignment on a public computer and leave the document open for another student to look at.
- You're working on an assignment in the school library and leave your notebook open on the desk to go and use the bathroom. Another student comes up and snaps a photo of the answers.
- You upload your homework to a shared Dropbox folder where others can access it.
- You're studying at a friend's house and inadvertently leave your homework there for your friend to copy.
How Students May Be Wrongly Accused of Failing to Protect Their Work
While other forms of misconduct are “active” forms of cheating—for example, plagiarizing someone's work or deliberately sharing your work with someone else to copy—failing to protect one's work is a passive form of misconduct. It's not about what you, but about what you don't do. For that reason alone, failing to protect your work is one of the few forms of misconduct that can be done completely by accident. Unfortunately, because many high schools are very sensitive to students sharing their work with each other, they aren't as interested in whether the student meant to leave their work unprotected as they are in the damage it might have caused. Thus, a single careless action or an honest mistake can land the student in serious hot water, regardless of whether they intended to share their work or not.
Possible Consequences for Failing to Protect Your Work
If you are accused of failing to protect your work, your school may take that offense just as seriously as if you had actively cheated or plagiarized someone. The consequences may include any/all of the following:
- Getting a failing grade on the assignment (or even the entire course)
- Being required to re-take the class
- Being required to repeat a year of school
- Being disqualified from certain extra-curricular activities, honors societies, etc.
- A negative mark on your academic transcript
- Being suspended or expelled from school
While some of these penalties may seem mild compared to others, any of them can do a lot of damage to a student's academic future. For example, being given a failing grade for a class (or even one key assignment) can bring down your GPA, which could work against you when you're trying to apply to colleges or universities. Being barred from honors societies or certain clubs can also affect your eligibility for acceptance into certain college programs. Negative disciplinary actions might also disqualify you from obtaining certain types of financial aid which could help you pay for school. Imagine—all of this could happen because a student simply forgot to put away an assignment!
What Is the Disciplinary Process Like?
You can usually learn about a high school's disciplinary processes in the school's Student Handbook. The specifics may differ from school to school, but generally speaking, most allegations of misconduct will be processed in a manner similar to the following:
- The student is confronted directly (usually by the teacher who catches or suspects the violation).
- The parents of the student are notified.
- The school will investigate the allegations to determine whether they have merit (including looking at the documentation, hearing the teacher's and student's version of what happened, talking to any possible witnesses, etc.).
- The school will meet with the student and their parents to discuss the violation.
- The school will make a final decision about what discipline to administer.
- The parents and student can appeal the decision before it becomes final.
Why Hire an Attorney-Advisor
Since high school students typically aren't on trial or facing legal jeopardy for acts of misconduct, the student may not be able to have an attorney represent them in a legal capacity. However, schools do allow the student and parents to have an attorney acting in an advisory role—and this can make a huge difference in the outcome of the case. A good attorney-advisor will be able to let you know what's at stake with the charges and what steps you can take to defend against the school's accusations. The advisor can also offer guidance on how to negotiate for a more favorable resolution that avoids damaging the student's reputation and academic record. In addition, having an attorney-advisor involved helps keep the school accountable to its own policies to help ensure the student is treated fairly through the process and given every opportunity to exonerate themselves.
While it can be difficult to prove that a student deliberately failed to protect their work, the worst thing you can do is assume nothing will come of it. Don't risk your (or your child's) academic future over a simple misunderstanding. Joseph D. Lento is recognized nationally as an expert in student defense cases, and he can help ensure your child's future. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 today to see how we can help.