In high school, collaboration happens all the time, and it's often expected. Students study together, work on class projects together, help each other out with homework, etc. But when students “help” each other by feeding answers to each other, or when they collaborate without permission, the school may consider it to be cheating. And if so, it can come with serious consequences that could even affect a student's ability to get scholarships or get into the best schools.
Sometimes unauthorized collaboration happens by accident—perhaps the students didn't realize they were cheating. Sometimes it's a matter of misunderstanding the rules or even a temporary lapse in judgment. Unfortunately, many times the high school authorities don't see it that way, and they're under pressure to administer harsh penalties for the sake of maintaining academic integrity. If you're a high school student who has been accused of unauthorized assistance or collaboration on an assignment or test, or if you are a parent of an accused student, you need to take steps now to make sure these penalties don't have deeper repercussions for the future. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience helping accused high schoolers who are accused of academic misconduct, and he can greatly improve your chances of coming through unscathed.
What Is Unauthorized Assistance or Collaboration?
Unauthorized assistance or collaboration is a form of academic misconduct in which you give or receive help on schoolwork without permission. The key term here is unauthorized, and that's where the confusion may reside. There are many instances in which it is completely acceptable to receive help from, or to collaborate with, other students. But when the teacher doesn't expressly allow for it, you may be giving yourself or someone else an unfair advantage by collaborating—or you may be depriving yourself or someone else of an opportunity to learn the information for yourself. When collaboration interferes with the educational process itself, the school considers it a form of cheating.
Examples of unauthorized assistance may include:
- Getting help or answers from another student on assignments, quizzes, or exams without the instructor's permission
- Seeking answers to assignments via online platforms like Chegg or Slader
- Giving answers to other students on assignments or tests without permission
Examples of unauthorized collaboration may include:
- Teaming up with one or more students on an assignment without the instructor's permission, sharing one another's research, and coming up with the answers together when you should have been working alone
- Turning in an assignment with only your name on it when you actually collaborated with others on the assignment
Consequences for Unauthorized Assistance or Collaboration
Getting (or giving) unauthorized help, or collaborating without permission, can result in severe penalties from the school. You'll need to refer to the Student Handbook from your high school for specifics, but most high schools may penalize this behavior with one or more of the following:
- Giving the student a failing grade on the assignment
- Giving the student a failing grade for the entire class
- Requiring the student to make up the course through summer school or Saturday school
- Barring the student from certain extra-curricular activities or clubs
- Suspending or expelling the student
- Placing a negative notation on the student's transcript
Even more concerning is the impact these penalties might have on your academic or professional future. Being accused of and punished for cheating or academic misconduct can impact your GPA, disqualify you from certain types of financial aid for college, impact your ability to get accepted into certain schools, and possibly even indirectly affect your ability to get hired at certain jobs. In other words, this one incident in high school could hurt you academically for many years to come.
What Is the Typical Disciplinary Process?
When a high school student is accused of unauthorized assistance or collaboration, the school will follow procedures that are laid out in the Student Handbook or Student Conduct Code. In most cases, the process looks something like the following:
- The student is confronted with the allegation (usually by the teacher).
- The school authorities notify the parents of the allegation.
- The school investigates and looks at the available evidence to see if the allegation has merit.
- The school calls a meeting with the parents and the accused student to discuss the infraction.
- Based on the evidence and what happens in the meeting, the school will render a determination of guilt or innocence and decide on an appropriate punishment.
- The student and/or parents may appeal the decision before it becomes final.
Are You Allowed to Have an Attorney Involved?
Since this is not a legal proceeding and school disciplinary actions aren't done in a courtroom, you will probably not need (or be allowed to have) an attorney in an official capacity. However, you do have the right to involve an attorney in an advisory role—and doing so can give you a much-needed advantage.
Why Is It Helpful to Have an Attorney-Advisor?
High school is not a democracy, and while they may make every attempt to be “fair,” the student is quite often at a disadvantage when accused of cheating or academic misconduct. The student and parents may not understand the disciplinary process or know how to present the student's side of the story in the right way—and they may not fully understand the student's rights in that situation.
An attorney-advisor helps level the playing field for the student because the advisor understands how the disciplinary process works. An attorney-advisor can make sure your student understands what's at stake, help you gather evidence to defend the student against unfair accusations, and give you valuable guidance in presenting that evidence and negotiating for the best possible outcome. In many cases, simply hiring an attorney-advisor can result in resolving the issue amicably with no lasting impact on the student's record.
Time Is of the Essence
When a student is accused of an offense like unauthorized assistance or collaboration, the school is under pressure to administer swift justice—and that means time is not on your side if you (or your child) is the one accused. Don't take chances with your child's future by underestimating the possible consequences. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is recognized nationally as an expert in student discipline cases, and his help as an attorney-advisor has been instrumental in saving many academic careers. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.