As much as we want to believe the “kids-will-be-kids” mantra when thinking about school discipline…the fact remains that disciplinary actions in high school matter more than we think. These days, the choices made in high school can affect a child's entire life. A disciplinary action on a student's record can impact that student's opportunities for college, learning a trade, and even finding a job. For more serious disciplinary infractions, the child could even end up entering adulthood with a criminal record, haunting their future for years to come.
If you're the parent of a child who has gotten into significant trouble in school—whether you're in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Atlanta Public Schools, Lansing Public School District, or even a private school in a major metropolis or a small town—you need to act proactively to make sure your child's future opportunities aren't damaged by a mistake, a lapse in judgment, or even a legitimate behavioral difficulty. You need to think about how to protect your child's academic future. You need to try to mitigate any disciplinary actions taken by the school so they don't impact your child's college or career prospects.
For most high school disciplinary violations, the best way to give the student a fighting chance is to hire an experienced attorney advisor. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is recognized nationwide for his track record in helping high school students who are facing career-threatening disciplinary actions from the school. The following information is provided by the Lento Law Firm for students and parents dealing with this type of crisis so they know what to expect and how to prepare for what's ahead.
Understanding Code of Conduct Violations and What Is at Stake
In the high school setting, a disciplinary infraction is basically a violation of accepted school rules of order. Unlike other punishable offenses like academic misconduct (e.g., cheating) that give a student an unfair advantage, disciplinary infractions are more behavioral in nature, disrupting the learning environment and/or infringing on the safety of others.
Most high schools maintain a list of disciplinary violations and their consequences. Some schools categorize these infractions as minor or major infractions; Minor infractions are usually typified as lesser offenses that can be easily remedied by the instructor (e.g., tardiness, lack of preparedness, profane language, class disruptions, disrespect of teachers). Major infractions are more serious offenses or disruptions that may cause significant disruption to the learning environment, cause physical or emotional harm to other students or teachers, cause damage or loss to personal or school property, etc. (The most serious major infractions may also trigger criminal charges.) Some schools may also categorize code of conduct violations according to levels of severity (Level I, Level II, Level III, etc.).
In most cases, minor disciplinary infractions are dealt with internally and won't have a lasting impact on a student's school record or future opportunities except with repeated disruptive behaviors. For our purposes, we will address major or high-level disciplinary infractions. These are the offenses most likely to impact your child's future prospects, both academically and career-wise.
Common Types of Major Disciplinary Infractions
School rules and the penalties for violations may vary a bit from school to school, but certain infractions are most likely to result in serious disciplinary action. These include:
Stereotypes about playground fights aside, when one student physically attacks another student, the high school takes it very seriously, as well it should. Not only can the assailant be sued by the student who was attacked, but the school could be sued for not providing adequate protection for the victim—or appropriate punishment for the attacker.
When a student assaults a teacher, it can be extremely disruptive to the learning environment, making both the teacher and the students feel unsafe. Techer assault is typically grounds for immediate expulsion unless you can intervene with a compelling reason why the school should be lenient.
Weapons at School
Bringing a weapon to school has always been considered a serious offense, but given the rash of school shootings in recent years, the stakes are even higher, and schools generally have no tolerance for it.
In previous generations, bullying was often taken lightly, considered “par for the course” in high school. However, as awareness has been raised about the long-term psychological damage that can occur (even causing suicide, on occasion), today bullying is a major infraction, subject to significant penalties.
Cyberbullying is effectively bullying via technology. Examples may include trolling of a person's social media accounts, demeaning or threatening texts and emails, mass-texting embarrassing or compromising photos, etc. Cyberbullying is typically taken just as seriously as in-person bullying, with similar penalties involved.
Drug and alcohol use
Teenage drinking and drug use may be considered common in high school, but schools don't take it lightly. If a student is caught using or distributing drugs or alcohol, their entire educational future could be put at risk.
Stealing school property or other students' personal property is also a serious disciplinary violation. It may result in required restitution, suspension, and/or expulsion.
Defacing or causing damage to school property is costly to the school and can cause long-term damage to the student's prospects. The school may require the student to repair the damage, require payment for repairs, restrict their activities, and often even expel them.
Students can misuse school computers in various ways, from hacking into their school records to mining test answers to viewing pornography—and sometimes even engaging in criminal activity. Misusing computers represents a huge breach of trust with the school and may result in expulsion.
What are the consequences of code of conduct violations?
Every high school has an established protocol for penalizing disciplinary fractions depending on their severity and according to any applicable laws of the state. If your student gets cited for one of these infractions, he/she could face disciplinary actions ranging from mild to severe.
For mild or minor disciplinary violations:
- Verbal or written warning
- Detention (whether in-school or after school)
- Restrictions on hall passes
- Notification of parents
- Mandatory parent conference or phone call
- Suspension from special events (e.g., field trips)
- Suspension from extracurricular activities (e.g., clubs, theater, marching band)
- Suspension from athletic activities
- In-school suspension (a long-term form of detention where the student completes schoolwork in a separate space outside of classes under strict monitoring)
For major disciplinary infractions:
Without intervention or negotiation, major disciplinary infractions usually result in a severe penalty, one that potentially stalls the student's academic progress and goes on a permanent record. These actions may include:
- Long-term suspension (e.g., for the remainder of the term)
- Expulsion (permanent removal from the school)
- Reporting to law enforcement (if the infraction was a criminal act)
Note: Minor infractions that are repeated and go uncorrected sometimes result in more severe penalties, as well—usually ending in suspension or expulsion from the school.
What are the long-term repercussions of major disciplinary infractions?
The penalties for major disciplinary infractions are bad enough—but what comes after can be even worse. Some of the long-term implications for being suspended or expelled from high school may include the following:
- The student will have a permanent mark on their school record.
- The student may have difficulty getting accepted into another high school to complete their education—or possibly limited to schools with lesser academic standards.
- The student may have challenges gaining acceptance to college.
- The student may have difficulty getting hired for a job.
- If the student doesn't return to school, they may be limited in the types of jobs they can hold.
What is the disciplinary process for major disciplinary infractions?
Disciplinary procedures are set by the high school and can usually be found in the Student Handbook or Student Code of Conduct. The process is similar among schools, but each high school may have different variations depending on the school's size and location. (For example, the disciplinary process may look different for a school in New York City than in Moline, Illinois.)
That being said, most high schools employ some version of the following process:
- The immediate issue is mitigated or de-escalated, as necessary (e.g., the student is removed from class or stopped from physically assaulting a student/teacher, etc.).
- The student's parents are notified.
- The school conducts an investigation (reviewing the evidence, questioning possible witnesses).
- A meeting is called between the student, parents/guardians, and school authorities to discuss the infraction and possible outcomes.
- The school makes a determination and decides on penalties.
- The student and/or parents may appeal the decision before it becomes final.
How can an attorney help my student deal with the fallout of disciplinary infractions?
If your child is accused of a major disciplinary infraction, the school will likely handle disciplinary actions internally, which means you won't be allowed to have an attorney represent your child in an official capacity. However, you are allowed to hire an attorney to function in an advisory role. In fact, having an attorney advisor involved in the school disciplinary process can often make a significant difference in the outcome.
A good attorney advisor can do the following:
- Review the facts of the alleged incident and the school's policies with you, so you know what is at stake
- 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 suspension, expulsion, 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
My child has been accused of a serious disciplinary violation. What do we do first?
If your child is involved in a serious incident that could result in suspension or expulsion, take the following steps now to put your child in the best position possible:
Avoid direct confrontation with the school. Even if you believe the claims are false, your child was provoked, etc., the atmosphere is probably charged, and any defensive or aggressive posturing you take could backfire against your child.
Write down what happened and gather any relevant evidence. Go over with your child exactly what transpired (including whether the offense was intentional) and create a record of what happened so you can recall the facts more easily later.
Review the Student Handbook. Look at school policy to see their views on the specific infraction and the possible penalties so you know what your child may be facing. Make a note of any discrepancies between school policy and how your child is being treated, and write down any questions you may have
Contact an attorney with specific experience in school discipline defense. The sooner you get professional assistance, the better your chances for a more favorable outcome.
No matter how bad things look at the moment, the accusation of a serious disciplinary violation does not necessarily have to ruin your child's future. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully advised and defended countless students facing disciplinary infractions in high schools across the country, and he is widely regarded as a national expert on student defense. Protect your child's future prospects today. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.