As parents, we try to raise our children to respect others--including people of all races and ethnicities. We want to believe the best of our kids. That's why it can be so shocking and traumatic to be notified by your child's high school that your student has been accused of racial and/or ethnic harassment and now faces serious disciplinary action. Whether the allegations are true or not--and whether or not your child was simply misunderstood--their academic future may now hang in the balance. A negative notation on their academic record, a suspension, or being expelled--any or all of these can have serious repercussions for your child's college and career prospects. What can you do now to protect your child's future?
The best way to approach accusations of serious disciplinary violations like racial/ethnic harassment is to hire an attorney-advisor to guide you and your child through the process. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a nationally recognized authority on student discipline matters, and he has helped thousands of students nationwide who deal with such accusations. Let's discuss what to expect if your child is accused of racially motivated behaviors in high school and how you can prepare for what's ahead.
What is Racial or Ethnic Harassment?
The U.S. Department of Education defines “race and national origin harassment” as “unwelcome conduct based on a student's actual or perceived race or national origin...Racial and national origin harassment can take many forms, including slurs, taunts, stereotypes, or name-calling, as well as racially-motivated physical threats, attacks, or other hateful conduct.” The DoE emphasizes that other students aren't the only ones who might commit these actions. “Harassers can be students, school staff, or even someone visiting the school, such as a student or employee from another school.”
The high school's Student Code of Conduct, available to students and their parents, usually contains rules regarding appropriate behavior toward other students. Not all Codes of Conduct will have specific language addressing racially motivated harassment. Still, the behaviors listed above will usually fall within the parameters of other violations such as intimidation, threats, harassment, or hateful conduct.
Could My Child Be Expelled or Suspended Even if the School Doesn't Have Definitive Proof of the Alleged Harassment?
Yes. High schools aren't held to the same burden of proof standard required in a court of law. Instead of proving “beyond a reasonable doubt” that your child committed racial/ethnic harassment, the school may use the “preponderance-of-the-evidence” standard to determine if a student is guilty or not. This means if school authorities suspect that your child was involved in harassing another student, they will only need to prove that there is a 50% or greater probability that it happened to mete out punishment. This is why it's so critical to have the help of an attorney-advisor when your child is facing possible suspension or expulsion. The burden of proof is almost greater on you and your child to prove it didn't happen.
What Happens if My High School Student is Accused of Racial or Ethnic Harassment?
Each school has its own policies and procedures for addressing disciplinary violations such as racial/ethnic harassment. However, the basic disciplinary process typically looks like the following:
- De-escalating the situation. If your child is caught in the act of harassing another student, the authorities will take immediate steps to stop the behavior (i.e., remove the student from classes and detain them in the office).
- Confronting the student. The child is brought before a school administrator (i.e., school superintendent or principal) to discuss the incident and what comes next.
- The parents are notified about the accusation, including details on what the school knows, why their child has been accused, and what punishment may be administered.
- The school investigates the incident. They may call in others to have input, including teachers or other students who witnessed the incident(s). After all of the facts are in, the school administrator typically makes a decision on how your child should be disciplined. This could range from mild reprimands to suspensions and expulsions.
- The school calls a meeting with parents to discuss the matter further. (This is the opportunity for your child and you to give your side of the story.)
- The school determines if the child is guilty or innocent and then decides on the appropriate punishment.
- The student or parents may appeal any adverse decision before it becomes final.
What Happens if the School Decides My Child Committed the Violation?
Unless school officials can be convinced otherwise, the school will likely mete out punishment swiftly. Depending on the severity of the incident, the student may be put on probation, required to make restitution to the victim (if their property was damaged), suspended from school, or even expelled. A disciplinary notation may also be placed in the student's transcript.
These disciplinary actions could have long-term repercussions for your student, especially if they are expelled. For example:
- Re-enrolling your child at another high school may prove difficult, which could make it challenging for them to complete their education.
- Your child may have difficulty getting accepted to certain colleges.
- Your child may be disqualified from certain types of financial aid.
- A failure to obtain a diploma or a college degree can impact future job opportunities.
Is It Possible for School Officials to either Drop the Accusation or Impose a Milder Punishment?
Yes. You and your child will have an opportunity to respond to the accusations before the school makes its final decision. You may be able to negotiate for a lesser punishment or even have your child exonerated if you can present compelling evidence either to prove your child's innocence or to convince the school of the need for leniency. Arguments for leniency may include any/all of the following:
- The child is truly remorseful and will not repeat the offense.
- The child was unaware that their behavior was racially or ethnically offensive.
- The child is willing to undergo counseling and/or rehabilitative training.
- The child is willing to make restitution for any damage done.
- The child is innocent of the charges. (You will need to provide compelling evidence to support this claim.)
How Can an Attorney-Advisor Help My Child Deal With These Accusations?
Depending on the school involved, school disciplinary procedures may not allow you to involve an attorney in an official capacity, but you will always have the right to hire an attorney in an advisory role. An experienced attorney-advisor can evaluate the situation, give you clear advice as to what is at stake, and help you craft the best response to the charges in a way that encourages the best possible outcome for your child. The attorney-advisor also provides an extra layer of accountability to ensure the school abides by its own policies and gives the student a fair hearing. In many cases, the involvement of an attorney-advisor can help your child avoid devastating consequences like expulsion.
If your high school student has been accused of racial or ethnic harassment and is facing disciplinary action, too much is at stake for you to leave your child's fate to chance. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has assisted countless students in complex student disciplinary proceedings across the United States achieve highly favorable results. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.