In our modern culture, people often tend to cast a sideways glance and a shrug at the mention of drugs and alcohol in high school. Although no one would openly condone it, we hesitantly acknowledge its existence, and our movies and television shows regularly depict underage drinking and drug use as part of the high school experience. However, in the real world, high schools view drugs and alcohol on campus as a very serious disciplinary infraction. If a student gets caught possessing, using, or distributing alcohol or drugs at school, it's typically grounds for immediate suspension or expulsion.
For many students, this is just the beginning of their troubles. Drug and alcohol offenses usually appear as a permanent mark on a student's school record, which could come back to bite them when they are applying to college, seeking scholarships, or even trying to obtain employment or a professional license. If the school decides to report the infraction to law enforcement, there could also be criminal charges to deal with. Whether the event happened due to an unspoken addiction, a temporary lapse in judgment, or even being in the wrong place at the wrong time, this one disciplinary action could derail the student's future for many years to come.
If you're the parent of a high school student facing drug or alcohol-related disciplinary actions, you have only a short window of time to prevent serious repercussions for your child. How do you respond in a way that gets your child the necessary discipline and help without jeopardizing their entire future? Your first step in salvaging this situation is to hire an attorney-advisor with experience in high school disciplinary cases. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped thousands of students across the country who are facing serious school disciplinary actions. If you're facing a crisis as described above, the Lento Law has provided the following key information so you'll know what to expect and how to respond.
Why High Schools Discipline Drug/Alcohol Offenses So Harshly
Given that drug and alcohol use seems to be so common in high schools, some people might be confused when school authorities come down so hard on these types of offenses. We expect some disciplinary action to be taken, but why do so many schools respond with severe penalties like suspension and expulsion?
There are actually several reasons:
- Student safety issues. Drugs and alcohol are dangerous for teenage consumption, killing brain cells at a time when their brain cells are still forming—and often directly or indirectly causing death. Schools are committed to student safety, and accepting the presence of these substances violates that core value.
- Disruption of the learning environment. Kids under the influence of drugs or alcohol cannot learn properly in school, and they frequently disrupt the learning experience for other students.
- Illegal. Underage drug use and drinking are against the law, even in states that have legalized marijuana. The school can't have tolerance for criminal activities on campus.
- Liability risks. If the school shows any tolerance for drug and alcohol use and someone gets hurt as a result, they could face costly civil suits.
Types of Drug/Alcohol-Related Offenses
Are certain types of offenses with drug and alcohol use considered less serious than others? In the eyes of the school, the answer is a resounding NO. In effect, any activity on campus that involves the use or presence of drugs and/or alcohol is categorized as a major disciplinary infraction, leaving the student vulnerable to immediate suspension or expulsion. Examples include:
- Using alcohol or drugs on campus grounds
- Possessing drugs, alcohol, or related paraphernalia (e.g., in backpacks or the student's locker)
- Distributing drugs or alcohol (e.g., selling it or sharing it with others)
Why is my child being accused of being involved with drugs or alcohol on campus?
Many parents are shocked to be notified by the school that their child is facing expulsion for alcohol or drugs. Sometimes it's because teens are good at hiding things from their parents—but in many cases, the accusations may be false or unfounded. High schools are incredibly sensitive about this issue, and given the proliferation of illegal substances on some campuses, it's not unusual for innocent students to get caught in the middle and wrongly accused. Let's look at some common examples of how high school students might find themselves under fire for alcohol and drug offenses:
- Wrong place, wrong time. The student might have been in a group of people where drugs or alcohol were being passed around (without partaking), and the entire group got caught.
- Framed. A joint, a bottle, or pills might be found in the student's backpack or locker, and someone may have stashed them there to avoid suspicion or shift blame.
- Falsely accused by others. Another student or students might point the finger at an innocent student, either for spite or to divert suspicion.
- Caught on camera. School security cameras may catch the student in the act—or may catch the student in a group where drugs/alcohol are present.
- Legitimate issue. The child may have a legitimate hidden addiction and does not know how to seek help.
What is the disciplinary process when my child is accused of a drug or alcohol-related incident at the school?
The specifics of disciplinary actions should be outlined in a Student Handbook or written Code of Conduct published by the high school. Typically, infractions such as these are handled in a manner similar to the following:
- The parents are notified that their student was allegedly involved with drugs or alcohol on campus.
- The school conducts an investigation to ascertain what happened (e.g., questioning witnesses, reviewing physical evidence and security footage, etc.).
- The school meets with the parents and the student to discuss the issue, hear the student's side, etc.
- The school makes a final determination on the child's guilt or innocence and decides on a punishment.
- Any adverse decision may usually be appealed before it becomes final.
If the school determines my child is guilty, what happens then?
Once the school is confident your child was involved in alcohol or drugs on campus (whether using, possessing, or distributing), the penalties are generally immediate and severe. Unless the school can be convinced to show leniency, the typical punishment for such infractions is suspension at best—and expulsion at worst. In either case, a permanent negative notation is likely to be placed on your child's school record, which could come back to bite them even years after the event happened.
But for the student, the long-term impact of this punishment may be felt long after the incident itself, especially in the case of expulsion. Your student needs to be prepared for the following possible complications:
- Difficulty getting accepted into another high school, potentially disrupting their education in the process.
- Ineligibility for certain grants, scholarships, and other financial aid for college.
- Difficulty gaining acceptance into college itself.
- Being disqualified from certain jobs due to educational constraints—or having trouble getting hired at certain places due to the negative mark on their record.
Could my child be suspended or expelled even without definitive proof that they committed a drug or alcohol-related offense?
Yes. High schools don't have the same burden of proof standard that is used in the criminal justice system. In high school, the student is not necessarily “innocent until proven guilty,” nor does the school have to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Instead, many schools go by the “preponderance of the evidence” standard, which means they only have to be convinced that your child was 50 percent or more likely to have committed the offense. As a result, the probabilities are higher that a child could be expelled from school for something they didn't do.
What can be done (if anything) to convince school authorities to show lenience to my child?
At some point in the process, your child should have an opportunity to respond to the accusations—typically at a conference with the school authorities and parents. This is the best (and possibly only) opportunity you'll have to convince them of your child's innocence—or at least decide on a more lenient punishment that doesn't involve suspension or expulsion from the school. If the school has hard evidence that your child is guilty (for example, camera footage or a teacher who caught your child in the act), you'll have to make a pretty compelling case for leniency, and you'll only have a short window to prepare. This is where having an experienced attorney-advisor can be extremely useful.
The school might be convinced to show leniency if you can make a compelling case based on one or more of the following:
- Your child is being falsely accused. (This approach generally only works if you have significant evidence to back up this claim—for example, numerous witnesses that confirm an alibi.)
- Your child made an isolated error in judgment and is truly remorseful. (Typically used in cases of a first offense.)
- Your child agrees to go to treatment.
- You and the child agree to any alternative punishment as determined by the school.
Why is it important to hire an attorney-advisor for drug or alcohol infractions? What can an attorney do to help?
From the moment your child is accused of wrongdoing, they are at a disadvantage because the school has a low burden of proof. In school discipline situations, attorneys are usually only permitted to function in an advisory role—but that involvement can go a long way toward preventing a disastrous outcome for your child. Your chances of obtaining a dismissal of the accusation or a more lenient punishment go up exponentially with the right attorney-advisor involved.
A good attorney-advisor can:
- Review the accusation and the details of the incident, so you know what your child is up against.
- Review school policies and procedures regarding school discipline so you can find an effective solution.
- Help you find key strategies or evidence you might not have considered that could either prove your child's innocence or sway the school toward leniency.
- Provide an extra layer of accountability to ensure the school abides by its own policies and gives your child a fair hearing.
- Provide help with appealing a negative outcome.
When a high school student is faced with disciplinary action over drugs and alcohol on campus, their future hangs in the balance—but the situation is not beyond hope. By acting quickly to prepare a compelling defense, it's possible to obtain a more positive outcome that rescues your child's academic and career prospects—especially with the help of an expert attorney-advisor. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has unparalleled experience in student discipline issues and has a nationwide reputation for getting results. Too much rides on your child's future to risk it by going it alone. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 and let us get working on your child's behalf today.