High schools rely on their computer systems for many purposes, from tracking student grades to helping students with classwork. For that reason, giving students access to computers and the campus network is something of a sacred trust. When a student violates that trust, the consequences can be severe.
High school computer misuse is a major disciplinary infraction that may result in expulsion from the school. If you are notified that your high school student has been accused of committing a computer-related offense, you need to understand what actions could happen next. The school's decisions regarding discipline can have far-reaching effects on your child's future, some of which may not surface until later in their education or career path. And time is of the essence because schools tend to take action quickly on offenses such as these.
Hiring an experienced attorney-advisor can make a huge impact on your child's prospects at this time. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped countless young people across the nation who are dealing with disciplinary infractions like computer misuse. To help you navigate the road ahead, the Lento Law Firm has compiled the following critical information to help parents be properly informed about their options.
Understanding Computer Misuse
Any time a student violates a school rule related to computer access, they can be accused of committing computer misuse. Some of the most common examples include:
- Unauthorized access into protected computer systems (i.e., hacking). Reading, copying, transferring, deleting, or changing the contents of a school file (for example, one's grades) may be grounds for immediate expulsion.
- Hacking into the system to disrupt or sabotage it.
- Tampering with school hardware in any way.
- Logging into the system using someone else's credentials. Posing as someone else in the computer system is a serious breach of security, even if the student does nothing else out of line.
- Using the computers to tamper with the work of another student or faculty member.
- Violating user agreements by copying and taking unauthorized copies of software. (Doing so can make the school legally liable.)
- Using school computers to hack into other systems and/or commit cybercrimes.
- Misusing computer resources to interfere with other people's use of them.
- Using school computers for the purpose of cheating or other forms of academic misconduct.
Why High Schools Take Computer Misuse So Seriously
Some parents might think it a bit extreme that a high school would consider suspending or expelling a student for an infraction like computer misuse. Why do schools punish this type of behavior so severely? There are a few reasons:
- Security issues. The computer system contains vital school records, student data such as grades and attendance. If a computer is hacked into or has corrupted files on it, the security of the entire computer network may be compromised.
- Liability issues. School computer systems often contain data that is both sensitive and proprietary (e.g., parents' financial data, licensed software, intellectual property, etc.). If a student compromises the system, the school could be held legally liable for any breaches.
- Integrity of the learning process. Schools rely on their academic processes to ensure they are holding to high standards of excellence. When students use computers to cheat this process, it weakens the academic process for everyone.
How did my child get accused of computer misuse?
You may not think your child is capable of committing a school computer violation, but there are countless reasons why you could get an unexpected call from the high school accusing your student of misusing school computers—and not always because the action was intentional. Here are a few examples:
- Unintentional plagiarism or cheating. Sometimes students use computers to plagiarize content for schoolwork without realizing it's a school offense. They might also access study websites like Slader or Chegg, unaware that these sites might be prohibited.
- Unlawful collaboration. Sometimes students use school computers to collaborate on one another's assignments, unaware that this might also be construed as cheating.
- Stolen credentials. Another student might have logged in using your child's credentials and committed misuse.
- Pressure or stress. Sometimes students commit computer misuse because of the pressures of maintaining good grades. (For example, using the computer to cheat or hacking in to change one's grades.)
What happens when my child is accused of high school computer misuse?
Every high school has a slightly different way of dealing with disciplinary infractions. You can usually find these policies in the student handbook or code of conduct, but when it comes to computer misuse, most schools follow a plan similar to this one:
- The principal will typically send an email to parents detailing what allegedly happened and outlining consequences for inappropriate computer use.
- If there are multiple violations (or if the violation is severe), the student may receive notification that they have been suspended pending further review by the administration.
- The school conducts an investigation of the incident (e.g., reviewing the evidence, questioning possible witnesses).
- The school authorities have a hearing to meet with the parents and the student to discuss the incident and the possible penalties. The student and parents may also bring an attorney to act in an advisory capacity only.
- The school makes a final determination on how to administer discipline.
- The student and/or parents may appeal the decision before it becomes final.
What repercussions could my child face for alleged computer misuse at school?
Misuse of school computers is a very serious allegation, so much so that it could have severe consequences for the student. Not only could this result in devastating academic ramifications now, but it could also severely limit any future educational opportunities—and possibly even affect your child's employment prospects. Let's look at some of the short-term and long-term repercussions your child could face.
Possible short-term repercussions of school computer misuse
High schools tend to take swift action when students compromise their computer systems or use them for malevolent purposes. Some penalties you might expect include:
- Restriction from use of school computers
- Short-term suspension
- Long-term suspension (e.g., for the remainder of the term)
- Expulsion (permanent removal from the school)
Possible long-term repercussions of school computer misuse
Not only will your child face the immediate consequences of disciplinary action from the school, but these consequences could haunt your child for years into the future. Here's how:
- A suspension or expulsion will be noted on the student's permanent school record.
- It may be difficult to re-enroll the child to complete their education if they are expelled from high school.
- Your child may have difficulty getting accepted into certain colleges, which limits their higher education and career training options.
- When an expulsion disrupts your child's education, it can affect the types of jobs they qualify for.
- Being expelled from school could have a negative impact on future job applications. It could also affect their ability to get a professional license for certain professions.
Will my child have a chance to respond to the charges before the school decides to expel them?
In most cases, yes. Parents are usually given the opportunity to be involved in a child's expulsion hearing before any final decisions are made. The school will often confer with parents and/or children, which gives them an opportunity for their side of the story to be heard. That being said, you'll only have a short window of time to prepare a response and submit a convincing argument as to why your student shouldn't be expelled. An attorney-advisor can help you with this process.
Is it possible to convince the school not to suspend or expel my child?
Yes, it's possible—especially with the help of an attorney-advisor. Since the school is primarily looking out for its own interests in these cases, your main objective is to convince school authorities that your child does not present a security or academic risk to the school. Some responses that can help you achieve this goal and avert expulsion include the following:
- The student is extremely remorseful and willing to get help if necessary. This approach requires more than just an apology—it calls for some additional action that assures the school that a computer breach will not happen again.
- The student was unaware they were committing a serious offense. Sometimes, students abuse computer systems in certain ways without realizing they are breaking any rules (for example, unintentional plagiarism or collaboration with others). If you can convince the school authorities that your student now realizes the error and will not repeat it, you may be able to mitigate the punishment.
- The student is innocent. For instance, if someone used your child's login credentials to commit computer misuse, you can present this argument with any evidence you have to support it. You may need to dig a little to find such evidence, including encouraging the school to review security footage, etc.
How can an attorney-advisor help in high school disciplinary matters?
In school discipline cases, attorneys are only permitted to act in an advisory capacity, but an experienced attorney-advisor can make all of the difference in how this disciplinary action works out. That's because an experienced lawyer understands the system inside and out, often has experience defending other students on similar accusations, and will have a keen sense for what strategies are best given what evidence there is against your child.
A good attorney-advisor can:
- Review the facts of the case, inform you as to what's at stake, and provide insight on how to respond to the complaint.
- Gather relevant evidence and witnesses to bolster your child's case.
- Strategize with you as to the best possible path toward defusing the situation and convincing the school to show leniency or drop the charges.
- Help you with the appeals process, if necessary.
- Provide extra accountability for the school to ensure they abide by their own policies and give your child a fair hearing.
I've just been notified that my high school student is accused of computer misuse. What steps do I take now to protect him/her?
Time is of the essence because your child is in danger of immediate expulsion with this type of infraction. Take these steps immediately to avert a harsh punishment:
Write down your child's version of what happened, and gather any relevant evidence. The next few days may be hectic, and you don't want to forget any important information.
Call the school to find out their process and what comes next. This will help you prepare accordingly.
Keep accurate records that reflect all conversations between yourself and the educators.
If applicable, collect written statements from other witnesses who may have seen something happen during class time so there can be corroboration on evidence.
Hire a skilled attorney-advisor immediately. The sooner a good attorney-advisor gets involved, the better your child's chances to avoid expulsion and obtain a more positive outcome.
Whether the accusation of computer misuse is due to a simple misunderstanding, a mistake, or a lapse in judgment, this single moment does not have to harm your student's chances at a good future. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully helped countless high school students through some very challenging accusations. Take action now and protect your child's academic and career prospects by contacting the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 today.