High School Disciplinary Infractions—Weapons Offenses

It's the kind of phone call no parent wants to receive. The high school administrative office contacts you at your workplace to notify you that your child has been pulled out of class, accused of bringing a deadly weapon to school. This is a major disciplinary infraction that typically results in suspension or expulsion and possibly even criminal charges. Regardless of the circumstances that brought this situation about, your child now faces potentially serious consequences that could deeply impact their future.

Your child's future now hangs in the balance, and how you respond to these charges in the next hours or days could have a huge impact on your child's ability to finish school, go to college, find a good job, and build a good life. And yet, at the moment, you're probably just overwhelmed with a deluge of feelings—shock, horror, fear, anger, and apprehension. What do you do first? What do you do next? What can you do to prevent permanent damage to your child's prospects?

One of the first things to do in such moments is to hire an attorney advisor with experience in helping students deal with high school disciplinary infractions. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has a long-standing track record of success in helping high school students nationwide who are facing career-threatening disciplinary actions. If you're currently facing a crisis of this magnitude, the Lento Law Firm has compiled the following critical information so you can be prepared for what's ahead.

The Ramifications of Bringing a Weapon onto School Grounds

Bringing a weapon (e.g., gun or knife) to school has always been a violation of most school policies, but the charges and penalties have been enhanced in recent years in response to the flurry of school shootings over the past several decades. If the student allegedly threatens anyone with the weapon or discharges a firearm on school grounds, the penalties can be even worse. (Not to mention that in almost all states, it is a felony offense to bring any kind of firearm onto school grounds.)

Understandably, high schools are very sensitive to campus safety and security, and they crack down forcibly on any disciplinary infraction involving the possession of a weapon. If your child is caught with a weapon on school grounds, the student could face immediate expulsion from school.

How did my child get accused of bringing a weapon to school?

It's important to note that carrying a weapon to school is more common than you think. We only hear about school shooting events, but the number of kids to bring weapons on school grounds is much higher than the number who actually use them. According to a recent study, as many as 1 in 18 high school students brings a gun to school. Taking all schools into account, the CDC says at least 3 million kids have brought a gun, knife, or club onto school grounds at some point. It's more likely to happen in large urban school districts than in smaller school systems, but it can and does happen almost everywhere. The point here is that while weapons at school is a serious offense, it is also relatively common—and if your child has been accused of it, that should not mean your child is marked or blacklisted for life. In many cases, it's a mistake or an error in judgment—not an intention to do harm.

Some of the many reasons why your high school student may have brought a weapon to campus (or been falsely accused of it):

  • An honest mistake. One example: your child brought his backpack on a hunting trip with his father over the weekend and forgot to remove the knife before bringing the bag to school. The knife was detected by a metal detector.
  • A frame-up. Perhaps your child left a backpack open and someone else shoved a firearm in it to hide it—or to intentionally frame them.
  • A misunderstanding of the rules. For example, your child didn't realize the multi-purpose knife he carries with him on scouting expeditions was forbidden or considered dangerous.
  • For protection. Studies show that a large percentage of kids who bring weapons to school are being bullied. They aren't bringing the weapon to be aggressive, but because they themselves feel threatened.
  • Behavioral problems or mental health issues. In a rare number of cases, a child might bring a weapon to school because they truly have a behavioral or mental health problem that has failed to be addressed.

What are the possible consequences of having weapons at school?

If your child is accused of bringing a weapon to school, it constitutes a crisis with high stakes for your child's future. High schools take weapons possession very seriously, and without intervention or skilled negotiation, the consequences to your child's education and career prospects could be severe and long-lasting. Let's take a look at the possible short-term consequences and the long-term impacts:

Possible immediate consequences of a weapons offense

These are the actions the school is likely to take against your child in direct response to a weapons offense:

  • Immediate suspension from school (pending an investigation)
  • Long-term suspension (e.g., for the remainder of the term)
  • Expulsion (permanent removal from the school—this is the most common outcome for gun offenses)
  • Possible criminal charges (if the school reports it to law enforcement)

Possible long-term impacts:

If the immediate consequences seem bad, the long-term impacts of a gun offense can be even worse for your child. Here's what your child could face in the days and even years ahead:

  • The student will have a permanent negative notation on their school record of the suspension or expulsion.
  • The student may face challenges getting into another high school to complete their education.
  • If the student can complete high school, they may still have trouble getting accepted into college.
  • The student may have trouble getting hired.
  • Without a completed education, the student may be limited in the types of jobs they qualify for.

What does the high school's disciplinary process look like?

Every high school has its own disciplinary process that complies with applicable state and federal laws. These can typically be found in a Student Handbook or Code of Conduct, so you should read these to learn the specifics for your child's high school. That being said, most schools follow a similar plan of action when determining penalties for disciplinary infractions. Most high schools will implement some version of the following process:

  • The immediate incident is mitigated or de-escalated, as necessary (e.g., the student is separated from the weapon and detained from classes).
  • The student's parents are notified.
  • The school investigates the incident (e.g., reviewing the evidence, questioning possible witnesses).
  • The school authorities may meet with the parents and student to discuss the infraction and possible penalties.
  • The school makes a final determination on punishment.
  • The student and/or parents may appeal the decision before it becomes final.

What are some possible defenses to a weapons offense that could keep my child from being expelled?

In most cases, the school should give an opportunity for the parents and student to provide their side of the story before a final decision is rendered. While the window of opportunity will likely be short, if you can provide the school with a reasonable explanation that convinces the school that your child is not a safety risk (since that's the biggest concern), you may be able to mitigate the damage and obtain a lesser penalty for your child. A skilled attorney advisor can be very useful in these situations.

Some possible defenses that could prevent expulsion include:

  • Honest mistake—provide evidence that the student mistakenly or unwittingly brought the weapon to school and had no intention of using it.
  • Not their weapon—for example, if a firearm was placed in your student's bag without their knowledge, put a trace on it and find out if it's registered to anyone.
  • Bullied and fearful—provide evidence that the student brought the weapon in response to bullying or intimidation for self-protection. (This would not be presented as an excuse, but more of an explanation of an error in judgment.)

How can an attorney-advisor help my student deal with the accusation of bringing a weapon to school?

It's important to understand how high the stakes are for your child when accused of bringing a weapon onto school grounds. Schools administer swift punishment for these types of offenses, and they don't even have the same burden of proof standards as the criminal justice system does. However, having a good attorney operating in an advisory role can yield surprising results with student discipline cases, often preventing expulsion and saving the student's future prospects.

A good attorney advisor can do the following:

  • Review the facts of the alleged incident and the school's policies so you know what to expect.
  • Help gather evidence and witnesses to help you and your child tell the child's version of the story.
  • Provide insights on how best to negotiate with the school for a lighter penalty—preferably one that doesn't result in expulsion, criminal charges, or a negative mark on the student's record.
  • Help you and your child prepare an effective appeal, if necessary.
  • Provide an additional layer of accountability to help the school stay consistent with its own policies and any applicable laws throughout the disciplinary process.

I've been notified that my child is accused of bringing a weapon to school. What should I do first?

Quick action is key to rescuing this situation. Schools tend to take swift action on weapons offenses. Here is a good way to respond:

Avoid direct confrontation with the school. Any defensive posture you take will likely backfire with the school and won't help your child's case.

Write down what happened and gather any relevant evidence. Make sure you have a clear picture of what happened and why, and write it down so you don't have to remember the details later.

Review the school's disciplinary policies. Review the possible penalties for disciplinary infractions and the disciplinary procedures. Make a note if you believe your child is being treated inconsistently with these school policies.

Hire a skilled attorney-advisor as soon as possible. Involving an attorney-advisor early will give your child a better chance for a more favorable outcome.

Carrying weapons to school is a serious offense, but that doesn't mean your child's future has to be permanently thwarted by a single mistake, a misunderstanding, or a lapse in judgment. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is nationally recognized as an expert in student defense, and he has helped countless students avoid life-altering penalties from disciplinary infractions. Take steps now to protect your child's future. 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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