Accusations of disciplinary violations can seem unimportant. Your student is in high school, and college is what's most key to academic success, right? If you approach this as an incidental event and don't treat it seriously, you would be making a mistake. Although it may seem inconsequential, the truth is that it can have a long-lasting impact on your child's future.
If your student has been accused of gang activity participation at their high school, you should immediately reach out to an attorney-advisor. In order to make certain you feel equipped to handle these sorts of concerns, we'll review some key aspects of high school disciplinary violations, your student's rights, allegations of gang activities, and the ways in which an attorney-advisor can help you.
What is a School Record?
Your high school student, like all others throughout the United States, has a school record. Sometimes, a school record is referred to as an education record. These records follow your student, from high school, to college, and beyond. Information in the education record includes some items that you might easily think of—name, address, contact information—and others that might surprise you, such as any individualized education programs (IEPs), discipline records, and health records.
A school record is frequently held at the educational institution that your child attends. Although your student's high school record is protected by FERPA, it is possible that the educational institution might share disciplinary records with colleges who request that information.
FERPA is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act; it's a federal law that protects a student's privacy when it comes to their educational records. FERPA is applicable to any school that receives federal funding, whether they are a public school or a private school. The school record is only visible to either a parent or guardian or, if a student is over 18, the student as well.
What Constitutes a High School Disciplinary Violation?
High school disciplinary violations are any actions that go against the code of conduct or student handbook that a school provides. Generally, these types of violations focus on behavior, although academic misconduct is sometimes also classified within this category. It's critical that you and your student are familiar with their school's specific code of conduct, as each educational institution has unique policies with some variation. This is true across private schools, public schools, counties, and districts.
The code of conduct will describe the actions and behaviors that the school expects from its students, faculty, staff, and even volunteers. Often, the code will also outline any potential punishments or disciplinary action that could accompany any violations.
Some examples of behaviors that could result in disciplinary action include:
- Gang activities
- Physical assault
- Drug possession
- Academic dishonesty
- Verbal abuse of a teacher
- Classroom disruption
- Sexual harassment
- Bullying—both cyberbullying and in person
Check your student's high school code of conduct or student handbook in order to have a better awareness of which behaviors the school considers problematic.
What are Long-Term Consequences of High School Disciplinary Violations?
High school is often a time where students' brains are still developing, and while it might seem harsh that long-term consequences follow them beyond high school, it's possible.
What Are Possible Punishments for High School Code of Conduct Violations?
The applicable punishments for any high school code of conduct violations will depend on the individual school's policy or the county/district policy. If it's a private school, it may be determined by another oversight body. For this reason, you want to make certain you examine your specific documents in order to determine what the punishment may be. There are tens of thousands of high schools across the United States, so it's impossible to examine them all here. However, there are certain punishments that are more common than others.
Extra Assignments or Work
In some cases, high school administrators will assign an essay or other assignment in order to further educate the student. In instances of gang activity, for example, that could look like a report on the dangers of gangs, a research paper on current events that relate to gang activities. The bottom line about this type of punishment is that the actual assignment will be wholly dependent on the discretion of the school.
Detention is perhaps one of the most familiar high school punishments. Movies, like The Breakfast Club, and books frequently feature teenagers gathered together in detention as punishment for a variety of behaviors. Often, detention takes place outside of the regular school day, either before or after school, or even during a lunch break.
Banned From Extra-Curricular Activities
If your high school student is hoping to attend college or university, they are most likely participating in events beyond just academics. Whether your child is a star athlete, a participant on the debate team, or a member of the yearbook, extra-curricular participation highly enhances the likelihood of college admission. Perhaps, more importantly, extra-curricular participation can impact financial aid or scholarships. If the school bans your high schooler from extra-curriculars, the effect could be far-reaching.
When a school decides to place a student on probation, all of their actions and behaviors will be closely watched. Essentially, it's like a trial period. If the student missteps during this probation period, the punishment that follows could be more severe.
A short-term suspension is usually a determination that the student must stay home from school for a set length of time. The suspension usually is less than a week (if it's short-term). Some schools allow students to make up assignments that are missed during this time, while others do not. If the high school your child attends does not allow them to complete assignments or makeup tests, the punishment could severely impact their grades.
A long-term suspension is similar to a short-term suspension in all ways except for the length of time. Rather than the suspension lasting less than a week, these types of punishments may be a week or even several weeks. Obviously, if the student is unable to participate in any academics during that time, the longer suspension could prove even more detrimental to their GPA.
Expulsion is often a last remedy, as it is one of the most extreme punishments in a school's toolkit. When a school expels a student, the student is no longer able to attend the school. This type of punishment impacts a student's long-term academic career, as other high schools may be hesitant to admit a student who has been expelled. Additionally, some counties or districts may restrict an expelled student's ability to attend another school in that county/district.
In some instances, schools may also pursue criminal charges. This is rare, however very serious. If that is the case, your student should refuse to speak to anyone at the school, or any campus security or law enforcement representatives.
What is a Gang?
The definition of what constitutes a gang varies across jurisdictions, and it's important that schools accurately define them. If the definition is too broad, then gang activities may occur unchecked. If the definition is too narrow, there may be activities that should be addressed but are ignored.
There are, however, some criteria that tend to be included, regardless of what definition educators, legislators, and others, are using:
“A group of 3 or more youth or young adults ages 12-24 with a sworn allegiance to each other; A shared identity, sometimes including a name and symbols; Self-perception and acknowledgment by others that a group is recognized as a gang; A degree of permanence and a degree of organization.”
The variation in definition may contribute to an inconsistency in reporting statistics regarding gang activities in schools across the nation. According to the NCES (National Center for Education Statistics), “About 11 percent of public schools reported that gang activities had happened at all during the 2017–18 school year.” Additionally, about nine percent of students between 12 and 18 reported a gang presence at their school in 2019.
It's easy to see the importance of clear definitions if you consider some examples of behavior.
- Student A brings a weapon to school. They aren't a gang member, and claim that the weapon is because they fear Student B, who is a gang member.
- Two students are caught wearing symbols that have known associations with gangs, however they claim to not be connected to the gang.
- Two individuals steal answers to a final. One is a gang member, and one is not a gang member.
Classification of terms from each handbook where the above incidents occur would determine how the administration proceeds. Although the examples all include additional violations, it's important to take into consideration how the gang activity component shows up.
What May Gang Activities Disciplinary Violations Include?
The range of potential gang activity violations will vary, based on each high school's code of conduct or student handbook. In some locations, county guidelines will provide the information. For example, Montgomery County in Maryland, addresses gang fighting, but also references a separate document that is specifically dedicated to gang activity. This document from Colorado State specifies gang symbols in clothes as their main focus and outlines all of the ways in which symbols or colors should be restricted. The long and short of it is that you'll want to be certain you read through the relevant documents at your student's high school.
What Rights Does Your High School Student Have if They Face Gang Activities Accusations?
If your student is facing gang activity accusations, their rights will vary depending on what is going on at the district and county level. According to a 1975 ruling (Goss v. Lopez), students do have a right to due process if a public school is going to ban them for an extended period of time. Subsequently, students are allowed to defend themselves and should have a fair hearing. Lesser charges that would not result in a suspension or expulsion still afford students their rights, although they are not exactly the same. For example, they should be notified of the exact charges the school holds against them, possible punishments, and a show of proof of the charges. Finally, they have the right to an informal defense.
Can an Attorney-Advisor Assist You With Gang Activities Disciplinary Violations?
A knowledgeable attorney-advisor will be able to ensure that your student receives the best possible outcome when it comes to facing gang activity disciplinary action. Although students may often be pressured by the administration to “come clean,” that tack does not always work in their favor. High school students are susceptible to pressure, especially from authority figures, and may confess to something that they did not even do!
Some of the ways an attorney-advisor can help your family address these types of allegations are to:
- Offer advice: An attorney-advisor can examine the allegations and offer recommendations as to how to ensure due process occurs at all stages of the disciplinary process, including during an investigation, hearing, or appeal.
- Clarify rights: It's easy to forget that students, just like adults, have legal and procedural rights. An attorney-advisor will ensure you are utilizing all of your loved one's rights.
- Navigate the hearing process: Having an outside perspective on how to best build a defense is invaluable, even if the school prohibits the presence of an attorney-advisor during a hearing.
Speak With An Expert Attorney-Advisor Today
When your son or daughter is facing allegations of gang activities, you may find yourself caught off guard. This surprise, however, should not keep you from addressing the matter with seriousness and attention. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are dedicated to making sure that families are able to maneuver complex disciplinary violation circumstances successfully. Their experience spans nationwide. Let the Lento Law Firm fight on your side. Contact them today at 888.535.3686 or reach out online.