A single moment in time can have massive repercussions for the future. Never is this truer than if a high school student has a physical altercation with a teacher or staff member. A disagreement that gets out of hand could completely jeopardize your child's academic and professional future. In most high schools, assaulting faculty or staff is a serious disciplinary infraction, one that is grounds for immediate expulsion.
If you receive notice that your high school student has been accused of assaulting a teacher, the steps you take next can have a lasting impact on your child's educational prospects, as well as their career. If the allegations are true, you certainly want to help bring correction, so your child learns from the mistake. But you don't want this moment in time to limit your child's options for the rest of their life.
In moments like these, hiring an experienced attorney advisor can make a huge difference in your child's prospects. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped thousands of young people across the nation who are dealing with disciplinary infractions such as assault. To help you navigate the road ahead, the Lento Law Firm has compiled the following critical information so you can be properly informed.
The Ramifications of Assaulting a Teacher or Staff Member
High schools place a high premium on students having at least a modicum of respect for their instructors. Otherwise, it can be very disruptive to the learning environment, making it exceedingly difficult for teachers to do their jobs. Minor offenses like talking back to a teacher or disrupting a class may result in corrective penalties like detention or Saturday school—but in the eyes of the school, striking a teacher or staff member physically takes the disrespect to an entirely new level—not to mention threatening the safety of the instructor. For this reason, most high schools reward student assault of a teacher/staff member with immediate suspension or expulsion.
The laws concerning what constitutes “assault” are different from state to state. For example, in New York, assault only occurs when one person physically strikes another and causes injury, but in Pennsylvania, even an unsuccessful attempt to strike another person constitutes assault. The classifications can likewise be different in different high schools. One school might count it assault only if the student makes physical contact with the teacher, but in another, taking a swing at a teacher could be considered assault. If your child is accused of assaulting a teacher or staff member, it's important to know exactly what happened and how “assault” is defined, both in the school and in the state where your child attends school. The definition can make a huge difference in whether disciplinary action is ultimately taken against the student.
Depending on the laws and the school policies, any of the following actions could be considered assault of a teacher:
- Physically striking a teacher (e.g., hitting or kicking)
- Striking a teacher with an object
- Throwing something at the teacher
- Lunging at the teacher
- Attempting to punch/kick a teacher but missing (e.g., the teacher ducked)
Why did my child get accused of assaulting a teacher?
Most parents never assume their child would ever attack a teacher or member of the staff—and in truth, most kids don't. But it happens more often than you think. On average, six percent of teachers each year report being physically attacked by a student, and 10 percent claim they have been threatened with an attack. And those are just the ones we know about—some studies suggest many such assaults go unreported.
Whether or not you believe your child is capable of physically attacking a teacher, there are many reasons why you could get a call from the high school saying your student assaulted a teacher or staff:
- A moment of impulse. Perhaps a disagreement with the teacher got out of hand and the student reacted without thinking.
- A misunderstood action. Example: The student made a quick movement in the teacher's direction, or possibly even stumbled, and the teacher interpreted it as an attempted assault.
- Self-defense. The student may have been blocking an attack from the teacher. (We don't like to think about it, but it does happen.) If there were no witnesses, the teacher might have shifted the blame to the student.
- Unresolved behavioral or emotional issues. The student may have a legitimate emotional or mental health problem that has not been addressed and may require therapy or treatment.
If my child is accused of assaulting a teacher or staff member, what happens next?
Every high school has its own procedures for addressing disciplinary infractions (both minor and major), and you can usually find these policies in a Student Handbook or Code of Conduct. That being said, most schools follow a plan of action similar to the following when a student allegedly becomes physically violent with a teacher:
- The situation is immediately de-escalated, as necessary (e.g., the student is removed from contact with the teacher and pulled from class).
- The student's parents are notified.
- The school conducts an investigation of the incident (e.g., reviewing the evidence, questioning possible witnesses).
- The school authorities meet with the parents and student to discuss the infraction and possible penalties.
- The school makes a final determination on addressing the infraction.
- The student and/or parents may appeal any adverse decision before it becomes final.
What consequences could my child face for assaulting a staff member or teacher?
Assaulting a member of faculty or staff is a very serious allegation, one that could have serious short-term and long-term repercussions for the student. Let's take a look at both the immediate and lingering possible effects:
Possible short-term repercussions of student-teacher assault
In the immediate aftermath of an alleged assault, you can expect the school to take the following actions against the student:
- Immediate temporary suspension from school pending an investigation
- Long-term suspension (e.g., for the remainder of the term)
- Expulsion (permanent removal from the school)
- Possible criminal charges (if the school decides to report the assault to law enforcement)
- Possible civil action (if the teacher decides to file a personal injury lawsuit or seek other relief)
A momentary lapse of judgment can unfortunately have far-reaching consequences - one concern among many is that, depending on the circumstances and severity of the assault, the teacher or school could potentially file and pursue a civil lawsuit for assault and/or personal injury seeking civil damages against the student and potentially the student's parents.
Possible long-term repercussions:
The immediate repercussions of an assault incident can be bad enough on their own—but the deeper question is how this incident will affect your child's life going forward. Here are just a few of the sobering possibilities:
- The suspension or expulsion goes on the student's permanent school record.
- If your child is expelled, you may face challenges getting them enrolled in another high school to complete their education.
- Provided your child completes high school, they may still have difficulty gaining acceptance into college.
- An expulsion could affect the child's job or career prospects. (E.g., the lack of a completed college education may limit the jobs they qualify for—and employers may be reluctant to hire them based on their record.
Will we have an opportunity to respond to the accusation of assault before the school suspends or expels my child?
Typically, yes. Most schools will confer with the parents and/or the child before making any suspension or expulsion final, which gives you an opportunity for the child's side of the story to be shared. You may also choose to submit a written response to the school while the incident is under investigation. Either way, you will probably only have a short window of time to issue a response, and you'll only have one opportunity to present a convincing argument as to why your student shouldn't be suspended or expelled—so it helps to have an attorney advisor to help you present the most compelling response possible.
Is it possible to prevent my child from being suspended or expelled for assaulting a teacher or staff member?
Yes. Whatever the circumstances surrounding the alleged assault, your primary objective will be to convince the school authorities that your child will not be a safety risk to students, teachers, or staff going forward. If you can accomplish this, you may be able to negotiate a lesser punishment that allows your child to stay in school. (Hiring a skilled attorney advisor can be very advantageous in this situation.)
Some possible responses that could avert expulsion of your child:
- Expressing the student's remorse and a commitment to get help. It will probably take more than an apology from the student to avert expulsion. It will require sincere remorse, followed by a commitment to receive counseling or treatment to deal with the underlying issues that may have triggered the assault.
- Explaining the misunderstanding. If the incident was a minor one where the assault complaint was around an attempt to assault the teacher, you may be able to convince the school that your child's actions were misinterpreted—that they had no intention to harm the teacher.
- Self-defense. If the teacher either struck first or acted in a way that made the student fearful for their safety, you may be able to invoke an argument of self-defense. (You will probably need evidence and/or witnesses to make this argument convincing.)
How can an attorney-advisor help my high school student with accusations of assaulting a teacher?
In school discipline matters, an attorney only acts in an advisory capacity—but having a good attorney-advisor can make a huge difference in the outcome, no matter how serious the offense may be. Here's how an attorney-advisor can help your student in a teacher/staff assault case:
- Review the facts and evidence, as well as the school's disciplinary policies, so you can know how to prepare.
- Help you strategize on the best approach to defending your student and/or negotiating with the school for a lighter penalty that avoids expulsion.
- Help you gather helpful evidence you may not have found relevant to the case.
- Help you and your child prepare an effective appeal, if necessary.
- Provide a sense of accountability so the school stays true to its own policies and ensures fair treatment of your child.
What actions should I take first when I find out my child is accused of assaulting a teacher?
Time is of the essence with this type of disciplinary infraction because schools tend to administer discipline quickly. To reduce the risk of expulsion for your child, take the following steps immediately:
Write down what happened (your child's version) and gather any relevant evidence. This helps you keep the details straight so you can recall them easily later.
Learn the school's disciplinary policies. Make sure you understand what's at stake and what to expect, and note any inconsistencies between school policy and how your child is being treated.
Hire a skilled attorney-advisor right away. The sooner you get an attorney-advisor involved, the better your child's chances of avoiding a life-altering punishment.
A single misunderstanding, mistake, or lapse in judgment should not have to be a permanent stain on your child's future. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully helped countless students nationwide through some very challenging accusations. Take action now to protect your child's academic and career prospects. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.