High School Disciplinary Infractions—Vandalism

We all have high hopes for our children's future. We want them to go to the best schools, get the best job opportunities, and get the most out of life that they can. Ironically, a single unfortunate incident or accusation can potentially derail your child's future. When you get a call from the high school saying that your child has been accused of vandalizing school property, it can throw your world into chaos. While it might seem on the surface to be a relatively minor thing, vandalism is a disciplinary infraction that schools tend to punish severely. Your child could be looking at expensive restitution, suspension, and even expulsion—perhaps even at a critical moment when colleges are considering their applications.

It's not just about getting in trouble with the high school. It's about the possible repercussions of school discipline. Being suspended or expelled for vandalism can throw the student's academic goals off the rails, prevent them from getting scholarships, block access to the best schools, and possibly even limit the types of jobs they're qualified to have. If your child did, indeed, vandalize, you naturally want them to be accountable and to learn from their mistake—but not to have their entire future jeopardized over a single lapse in judgment. You have to act quickly to minimize the damage—but what do you do?

When your high school student is facing accusations of a serious disciplinary infraction like vandalism, one of the best ways to find a path forward is to hire an experienced attorney advisor. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is nationally recognized for helping thousands of students dealing with school discipline issues just like yours. Let's talk a bit more about the ramifications of high school vandalism, how the school may respond, and what you can do to protect your child's future in the face of a serious accusation.

Understanding Vandalism

In simplest terms, vandalism refers to causing deliberate damage or destruction to someone else's property. In the context of high school, vandalism involves destroying or damaging school property. This includes damage to school grounds, buildings, furniture, supplies, vehicles, etc. Some common examples of school vandalism may include:

  • Spray-painting graffiti or “tagging” walls, doors, etc.
  • Breaking windows
  • Defacing surfaces (e.g., walls, lockers, doors, bathroom stalls, etc.)
  • Damaging school landscaping (e.g., digging up lawns, destroying trees/bushes, toilet-papering)
  • “Trashing” a classroom (e.g., throwing desks, papers, damaging walls, furniture, etc.)
  • Throwing eggs, feces, or other foul substances at school property, which require time to clean and may cause permanent damage
  • Damaging school vehicles (e.g., slashing school bus tires, bus seats, tagging surfaces)
  • Damaging vehicles of faculty/staff members (although this isn't school property, it may be treated the same because the damage happens on school grounds)

Why High Schools Discipline Vandalism Severely

Besides the fact that vandalism lessens the quality of the learning atmosphere for everyone—let alone making people feel less safe—it also costs the school a lot of money to make repairs and to replace damaged or destroyed items. That's money that can no longer be spent on educational costs. Considering that many schools are already trying to function with grossly inadequate budgets, they see vandalism as a huge threat to their ability to educate students. For that reason, high schools are far more likely to expel students they view as a threat rather than seek to rehabilitate them.

The Ramifications of Vandalism

Every school has its own procedures for disciplining acts of vandalism, but most high schools see it as a serious offense that merits swift justice. Depending on the extent of the damage, some schools may extend grace for first-time offenders, especially if the student and/or parents are willing to cover repairs. However, for repeat offenses or significant damage, the school is far less likely to act with lenience. It's highly common for high school students to be suspended or expelled for vandalism—or even suspected vandalism.

How did my child get accused of vandalizing school property?

For many parents, the idea of their child committing vandalism is unthinkable—so they are understandably shocked when the school notifies them that their child is suspect. Sometimes the parent is simply unaware of the student's behavior, and sometimes the student may even be falsely accused. Whether or not your child is capable of vandalizing school property, here are some common reasons why your child could face such accusations:

  • Caught on camera. School security cameras may have caught the act of vandalism as it happened—and your child was identified.
  • Witnesses. A teacher or another student may have seen the vandalism taking place when your child wasn't aware anyone was watching.
  • Framed. A can of spray paint may have been discovered in your child's bag the morning after graffiti was discovered, and the culprit may have hidden it there to avoid suspicion.
  • Circumstantial evidence. Someone may have observed your child on school grounds after hours near the place where the vandalism occurred. Or someone may have heard your child threatening to do damage or seen posts about it on social media—basically assigning motive to your child.

Could my child be suspended or expelled even if the school can't prove the accusation?

Yes, it can happen. In fact, it's actually easier and more likely for the school to expel your child on a false accusation of vandalism than it would be to convict them of a crime in a courtroom. Unlike the criminal justice system, which places the burden of proof on the accuser to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that someone is guilty, high schools tend to use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard to determine whether a student is guilty of wrongdoing. This means if the school suspects your child committed vandalism, they only need to be convinced of a 50 percent or greater likelihood that your child did it in order to punish them for it. This disturbing reality underscores why the help of an attorney-advisor can be so critical in times like these.

My child has been accused of vandalism. What comes next?

Most schools will outline their disciplinary process in a Student Handbook or written Code of Conduct. In most cases, disciplinary action follows a path similar to the following:

  • The parents are notified of the accusation, including details as to what damage was done and why their child is suspect.
  • The school investigates the incident (e.g., looking at the available evidence, reviewing security footage, interviewing the student and any witnesses).
  • The school calls a meeting with the parents (and possibly the student) to discuss the matter further.
  • The school makes a determination on the child's guilt or innocence and decides on an appropriate punishment.
  • The student and/or parents may appeal any adverse decision before it becomes final.

What happens if the school decides my child committed vandalism?

Unless the school authorities can be convinced otherwise, the penalties for vandalism are typically severe and immediate, creating both short-term and long-term issues for the student.

Possible short-term consequences:

  • Your child may be suspended from school—anywhere from a few days to the remainder of the term.
  • Your child may be expelled.
  • Your child (or you) may have to compensate the school for the cost of repairs.

Possible long-term repercussions:

  • You may encounter difficulty re-enrolling your child in another high school, creating a challenge in completing their education.
  • Your child may receive a permanent negative notation on their academic record, which could affect acceptance into certain colleges.
  • Your child may be ineligible for grants, scholarships, or other financial aid.
  • Failing to get a diploma and/or college degree could affect the types of jobs your child qualifies for.

Is it possible to convince school authorities either to drop the accusation or to impose a more lenient punishment?

Yes, it's possible. You and your child should have an opportunity to respond to the accusation before the school makes a final decision on punishment, and this is the point at which you would need to present a compelling case either to demonstrate your child's innocence or negotiate a penalty that doesn't involve suspension or expulsion. The window of opportunity is typically small because schools tend to act swiftly on matters of severe disciplinary infractions, so having an attorney-advisor involved can be extremely helpful.

Your child may not be able to avoid some sort of punishment, especially if there is security footage or eyewitnesses. However, you may have room to convince the school to go easy based on one or more of the following arguments:

  • It is a first-time offense, and the student is remorseful.
  • The student is willing to help repair the damage—with manual labor, finances, or both.
  • The student agrees to address any underlying issues that may have led to the vandalism (e.g., counseling, rehab).
  • The student didn't do it and is being falsely accused. (For maximum effectiveness, you'll want to present evidence to confirm your child's innocence—for example, a provable alibi—or evidence that otherwise disproves the school's position.)

What advantage is there in hiring an attorney advisor to help deal with this accusation?

While school disciplinary procedures don't allow for the involvement of an attorney in an official capacity, you have the right to hire an attorney in an advisory capacity—and doing so can help prevent a disastrous outcome like suspension or expulsion. A good attorney advisor can:

  • Provide context for the accusation and the school's policies for addressing it.
  • Strategize with you on the best way to respond to the charges—including options you might not have known about or considered.
  • Help gather evidence to support your case.
  • Provide key advice to improve chances for a lenient outcome.
  • Help provide an additional layer of accountability for the school.
  • Provide assistance in appealing a negative outcome.

If your high-school student faces suspension or expulsion over allegations of vandalism, it's a crisis with possible lasting repercussions—but it is not insurmountable. With the help of an experienced attorney advisor, you can turn this situation around and save your child's academic and professional future. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped thousands of students through highly challenging student disciplinary proceedings—with surprisingly positive results.

Don't risk your child's future—get professional help now in responding to the charges of high school vandalism. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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