When your child began high school, you weren't expecting there to be any truly dramatic situations. The occasional low grade; fights with friends or difficult breakups; stress about college applications, maybe—but nothing that would stand in the way of your child's future.
Now, you're looking at formal documentation from your school that's telling you that your student has caught the attention of the administration—and not in a good way. Your school is investigating your student for academic misconduct. As a result, your child could end up with a serious disciplinary consequence.
This is a bigger deal than you may initially think. Disciplinary records for your high school student carry a lot of weight—and could end up having long-lasting ramifications. For example, when your student goes to apply to college, your student's dream school will inevitably request their high school records. If your student's transcript has a disciplinary note on it, that could easily end up closing doors for your child that would have ordinarily remained open.
Your student is young. It's important that their future remain bright. That's why the Lento Law Firm is here to make sure that you have the resources you need to make sure that this event doesn't result in permanent disciplinary action.
Here's what you need to know.
What is academic misconduct in high schools?
The specific activities that your school can punish as ‘academic misconduct' may vary from school to school. Your best bet is to read your school's code of conduct or the student handbook that your child received when they matriculated at their high school. That document will also contain information about the ways that your school will go about investigating and adjudicating instances of academic misconduct. This type of information will be extremely handy to have when your child is in that situation.
While the definition may vary, most high schools will consider the following actions illicit:
Cheating. In many schools, this term could be synonymous with academic misconduct. More specifically, ‘cheating' could refer to any instance in which a student violates a teacher's instructions (or more general school policy) for completing an assignment or taking a test. Students may rely on cheating or adjacent tactics to give themselves an unfair advantage over their peers or to stay afloat academically while they're undergoing a stressful time. Regardless of the motivation, schools will likely consider the following actions punishable:
- Copying the work, assignment, or test answers of another student
- Allowing another student to look at, copy, and/or submit work that is not theirs
- Paying, requesting, or bribing another student to do work for them
- Accessing unauthorized study materials, using them to complete assignments, or bringing them into tests
- Taking more time than necessary or given to complete an assignment
Violating Test Conditions. In order to ensure fairness, most high schools go to great lengths to create uniform environments during assessments. Many teachers have long lists of required and prohibited behaviors during tests. If your student acts in a way that violates any of these conditions put forth during a test, your student's teacher could move to invalidate your student's grade for that assignment (or even advocate for a more severe response from your school). For example, if your student tries to take an exam in an unapproved environment, your teacher may think that your student was doing so in order to have access to illicit resources or even test answers. If your student accesses their phone during a test, even to check the time or to silence a call, their teacher may believe this was an attempted cheating attempt. Your school's code of conduct may have a standard set of test-taking rules or conditions, or your student's teacher may have their own criteria listed in their curriculum.
Bribery or Coercion. Any instance in which your student offers anything of value—or of apparent value to a teenager—to anyone else for an unfair academic advantage, they could be guilty of bribery. Typically, this will not look like a high-stakes situation, or one in which cash is quietly exchanged. Instead, one student will threaten or bully another to write a paper for them or share their notes; a student will make an inappropriate request for a teacher to change a grade in exchange for a favor; or a student will ask someone else to change their academic records for them, or modify their transcript.
Accessing Unauthorized Resources or Knowledge. If your student takes pictures of an exam answer key or a draft of an exam, works to obtain advance copies of assignments, or otherwise figures out how to learn about assignments and assessments before they occur, this is academic misconduct. Your student's teacher could argue that your student did this in order to obtain an unfair advantage over their peers, even if it simply seemed like thorough research or a smart preparation technique at the time.
Unauthorized Collaboration. If your student decides to work with a friend or with a group of students on a project that your student's teacher designed to be a solo assignment, they could be guilty of academic misconduct. Sometimes, this could be more obviously a bad idea—e.g., if your student works with their friends to complete an assessment. However, even working with others to complete a long-term project can be a punishable activity if it goes against your student's instructor's wishes for that assignment. (Your school could consider this a method of achieving an unfair academic advantage, even if your student isn't collaborating for that specific purpose.)
Sharing Academic Materials Without Permission. Once your student has accessed an academic resource—even if this access occurred in a completely authorized manner—your student does not necessarily have the right to share that material with others. This could include a wide variety of scenarios, from instances where a student posts a picture of an exam on social media to situations where a student simply tells a friend in too much detail about their test-taking experience. In either case, your student might be helping others cheat or sharing information that belongs to their teacher. Accessing tests posted online or visiting online study resources that provide summaries of books (or similar tools) can also be considered academic misconduct in some cases.
Falsifying or Fabricating Information. Whether it's on application materials or materials issuing from your school (e.g., your student's transcript or letters from your student's teacher), your student cannot change or misrepresent any information. Making a fake school ID; changing answers on someone else's homework, or forging a teacher's signature could all represent examples of falsifying information. In later grades or more specialized programs, any scenario in which your student makes up data (as from a scientific experiment) or creates their own quotes to cite in a paper could also represent this type of infraction.
Disrupting the Classroom Experience. This type of academic misconduct can be a little more nuanced, and typically involves a failure to understand or follow a directive from a teacher. If your student speaks out of turn during a class, uses unauthorized devices during class, or manages to interfere with other students' learning atmospheres, their teachers could make a complaint and initiate academic misconduct proceedings. This is also a situation in which an initial infraction may not net a student particularly severe repercussions, but repeated infractions could result in heightened disciplinary action.
Sabotage. High school can get very competitive, particularly when it comes to the later grades and college application work. Whether your student is vying for valedictorian or is simply trying to survive their high school years, it can be tempting to make themselves look better or take action against a person they dislike by tampering with their work. It's also common for a student to think about sabotage if their teacher is grading their class based on a curve. If your student steals another student's homework, changes their answers, or does anything to interfere with another student's learning or assessment experience, your school could investigate them for sabotage.
This is not an exhaustive list. In any situation where a student fails to follow the reasonable requests of faculty or turns in suspicious work for any reason, their school could decide that they need to act.
What is plagiarism?
Plagiarism is one main form of academic dishonesty—an insidious one, partially because it can happen accidentally and still merit consequences.
Plagiarism occurs when one student uses another's ideas, words, or work without citing them properly. Good practice with citations is at the heart of academic honesty and anti-plagiarism efforts. No matter where a student gets their research from, they need to note the source. Mentioning data, paraphrasing a paragraph, or using the work of another in any way without giving that entity credit is dishonest, and many schools will come down on this behavior very harshly. This can be true even if the student merely forgot to cite the information or did not do so in the best way possible.
Plagiarism can take many forms. The most obvious is word-for-word copying of a friend's work or work that your student finds online. However, any instance in which your student fails to give credit, cite properly, or paraphrase too closely could attract unwanted academic attention. Your school may also consider turning in a group project without individually identifying everyone who helped as plagiarism.
It's also possible—and punishable—to plagiarize yourself. Most high schools frown upon submitting the same piece of work for additional credit, but even going back and using the same portion of work for similar assignments can earn a student disciplinary action. To avoid a self-plagiarism charge, your student should either avoid re-using their own work or cite their own name and previous assignment as they would any other legitimate source.
The importance of taking steps to protect a student's own work
Perhaps your student didn't actively do anything wrong at all. Perhaps your school is investigating your student for assisting another student with their work or unauthorized collaboration—but your student doesn't remember doing anything illicit at all. What might be the case in this scenario?
Unfortunately, your school can consider even passive involvement punishable when it comes to academic misconduct. For example, if your student works on an assignment at school, on a public computer, and steps away for a moment to take a call or use the restroom while leaving their work visible and unattended, another student could take advantage of that moment and copy or view your student's work.
You might see your student as the victim in this scenario, but some schools will see this as sharing work without permission—which can net your student academic misconduct charges. It will not matter that the sharing action was completely accidental, or that your student may not even be aware that it happened. If your student's teacher receives two assignment submissions that are too similar, your student's teacher could simply bring disciplinary action against both students without taking the time to delve too much into the matter.
Even if it becomes apparent that your student was not intentionally involved in the incident, your school could accuse them of failing to protect their work, which could result in severe disciplinary action—however unwarranted this may seem.
Today, when students often submit work remotely or use shared digital resources to complete assignments, it can be all too easy for them to fail to safeguard their work without realizing it. Uploading a document with the wrong privacy settings, using a friend's computer to complete work, or leaving a notebook or computer open on a table can all represent dangerous behaviors that could lead to a charge of academic misconduct.
What happens after an allegation of academic misconduct in high schools?
Once your school learns about your child's apparent misconduct from either a fellow student or from a teacher, your student's school will take action to learn what happened and to provide a commensurate disciplinary response. The specific steps that your school will take to investigate your student's responsibility for the infraction and what your school considers a reasoned disciplinary response should be contained in your school's code of conduct.
Typically, these processes begin with a formal, written notice of suspected academic misconduct from your child's school. This can be a scary, overwhelming event in itself, particularly if your student is learning about their alleged involvement in misconduct simply from the arrival of this letter. When you receive this letter, it's a good idea to sit down and have a frank discussion with your child to learn exactly what happened. Discuss not only the event itself, but any behaviors that your student may have exhibited in the past that would lead your student's teachers to believe that your student may be cheating—or any tense relationships or stressors that your student may be experiencing that could have led to potentially erroneous behavior.
That notification from your school will contain detailed information about your school's next steps. However, generally speaking, the next step will involve an investigation by officials at your student's school. They may access previous assignments that your student has completed; they may speak to your student's other teachers or friends; they may ask you about your student's home life or mental health. If, once your school officials have completed their investigation, they believe that your student has committed academic misconduct, your school officials will convene to decide what type of response is warranted. They will then communicate this decision to your family, typically with another written document outlining the rationale for their conclusion.
If you or your student decides that your school has not acted in a way that preserves your student's rights or that your school has recommended an outsized or unfair punishment, you should have the right to appeal. Your attorney-advisor can help you determine whether you have the basis for a successful appeal when they review your case.
What are common consequences of academic misconduct in high school?
Most high schools will state in their code of conduct or similar materials that they will make every effort to make sure that the punishment fits the crime. However, this depends on a lot of due process and successful investigations that reveal the true nature of the crime. It's also the case that, sometimes, a school will adjudicate against a crime that was actually the result of a miscommunication or misunderstanding—or they will punish a student for perceived instead of actual responsibility. In these cases, any type of punishment may seem unfair or unwarranted.
The types of disciplinary consequences that your student could expect may include:
- Expulsion (in extreme cases)
- Verbal corrections
- A mandatory behavioral contract
- Mandatory counseling
- Anger management classes
- Anti-plagiarism instruction
- Grade reductions, including (potentially) failing grades for either an assessment or an entire course
- A declined or rescinded letter of recommendation
- A notation on a student's transcript
Some of these disciplinary actions may not seem like that much of an intrusion on a student's academic experience. Others might seem completely unjustified, or like interruptions to a student's education that could completely alter a student's progress towards their goals.
The true ramifications of high school academic misconduct, however, do not happen anywhere close to campus. If your school leaves a permanent mark of disciplinary action on your student's records, that could make your student's entire future much more difficult than it needs to be. Your student is too young to have anything other than a bright, unhindered future—and that's precisely when we can help, at the Lento Law Firm.
It can be difficult to see right now, but even a grade reduction can result in a lowered GPA, a necessary change in college application strategy, or a change in direction, even for the rest of a student's high school career. Even if this doesn't seem like a big deal, you need to fight it as thoroughly and comprehensively as possible.
What happens if a student is the subject of a false accusation of academic misconduct?
There are many reasons that a student might experience a false accusation of academic misconduct. First, it's very easy to make an accusation—and a jealous peer of your student may feel like there are benefits associated with doing so. It's also easy for overworked teachers to misinterpret student actions. Regardless of the rationale, it's important to remember that a false accusation of academic misconduct is still something that you need to fight.
It isn't realistic or helpful to assume that because your child is innocent, things will work out. Your student's school will want to close the matter as quickly as possible, and demonstrating your child's innocence will probably take longer than assuming their guilt. When your student is the subject of a false accusation of high school misconduct, it's more important than ever to make sure that you take action to protect your student's rights. Hiring and working with an experienced student defense attorney will make sure that your high school takes your situation seriously—and can make a huge difference in terms of the outcome that your student experiences.
Can I appeal disciplinary action against my child?
The specific practices for appealing disciplinary action can differ from school to school, but, generally speaking, your school should allow you to appeal its decision for a short period of time before that decision becomes final. While it can be tempting, it's usually not a good idea to pursue an appeal as a knee-jerk reaction against a disciplinary consequence that your family doesn't like. In most cases, a family should only pursue an appeal if they can demonstrate that their school did not follow its own policies during the disciplinary process, or if new and pertinent information has come to light.
When you initially review your school's code of conduct, you should pay particular attention to your school's stated due process for this reason. Constantly compare the action that your school is taking against its written protocols. If you notice any discrepancies, alert your attorney-advisor at once. Your attorney-advisor will monitor your school's performance as well. Your attorney-advisor may also take steps to learn more about the alleged misconduct, potentially as part of an independent investigation. If that investigation reveals pertinent information, that might also form the basis for an appeal.
In either case, your attorney-advisor will help you manage the appeal in the best way possible, so it has a high chance of resulting in a good outcome for your child.
What are the first steps that I should take if my child receives an accusation of academic misconduct?
Once you learn that a high school academic misconduct investigation is in your future, there are a few key steps that you should take right away. Immediately after receiving your school's notification, or the moment your child alerts you that their school could send such a notification, you should:
Breathe. You're going to have to take a lot of strategic action, and you need to be careful not to say or do anything that you may later regret. Take a moment to center yourself, gather your resources, and get ready to protect your child and their future in the most effective way possible.
Learn from your child exactly what happened. Make sure that your child realizes the severity of their situation, as calmly as you can, and then give them the space to tell you the truth about their involvement in the alleged academic misconduct. Even if they feel like their side of the story doesn't look great, it's important for you, the child, and your legal advisor to know the reality of what occurred. Once you have learned what happened, write down as many details as possible, and pull together any immediate evidence that you have, and put that in one place.
Read your school's documentation closely. The formal allegation from your school should contain specific information about the nature of the actions your school suspects your child of performing, the relevant section of the code of conduct that your student's behavior violates, and the next steps that your student's school will take.
Read your school's code of conduct closely. Locate your student's handbook or code of conduct (likely available on your school's website) and find the specific language that describes the behavior that your school is charging your student with. Likewise, find the penalties and procedures that your school associates with the violation in question. If you immediately see any discrepancies between that language and the way your school is treating your child, write that down or highlight it so you can ask your advisor about it later.
Reach out to a qualified student defense attorney-advisor to get as much help with your case as is possible. The sooner, the better: You'll want a professional to be helping you manage your school's investigation and adjudicative processes as they happen to ensure the best outcome for your child.
Does academic misconduct differ for students in distance learning or online high school programs?
Today, many high schools offer remote instruction or online courses. This necessitates frequent use of the internet. Unfortunately, this type of access and exposure to the internet often makes schools wary of academic misconduct, even when there's no rationale for a school being suspicious of your child.
As remote programs have become more popular, high schools have increasingly turned to tools such as plagiarism checkers, AI-based proctoring platforms, and other automated systems. These systems are not always reliable. Sometimes, they miss misconduct—or, alternatively, flag misconduct when misconduct is not really present. Examples of this type of situation include:
- When a student uses the internet to conduct research for a project in a completely licit way, but visits a site that may have been flagged as inappropriate or unauthorized by the school
- When a student is taking a test with AI proctoring software and looks away from the screen for innocent reasons (responding to noise, or just thinking), the AI might assume the student is looking at an answer key
- When a student accidentally takes more time than given on an assignment or assessment. It's very easy to misunderstand timer applications, time limits that proctoring software provides, or simply work past the allotted time window when navigating at-home distractions or completing an assignment in segmented periods of time. Your school may also not have any evidence to work with other than a maxed-out timer or similar data points, which can be difficult to explain.
These modern tools and the constant wariness that schools have for student misconduct can mix in an unhelpful way. Schools may decide to trust their own technology too much, or decide to believe that a student did something unauthorized instead of believing that their technology made a mistake. This type of tech-based evidence against you, even if your school is misreading or misusing the data, can make it hard to fight allegations of remote academic misconduct.
How do we move past an allegation of academic misconduct? What happens next?
After we help you successfully resolve your academic misconduct allegations, you and your student may find that you have a hard time moving forward. You might have trauma associated with previously enjoyed school activities. Your student might notice that students or teachers at their school treat them differently. You might worry that, should your student find themselves in a similar situation again, their school will be less likely to be lenient or understanding.
This is probably true. In the future, your child will have to be excessively careful about protecting their own work and avoiding any suspicious behaviors. In the days and weeks following the academic misconduct violation, your student may have to take some light steps to manage their reputation. Your attorney-advisor can help you consider some best practices to help restore or manage relationships in the aftermath of the incident. These practices can include social media activities as well as navigating conversations with teachers and fellow students in a strategic, conscious manner.
How can a student defense attorney help me fight my high schooler's academic misconduct charge?
You may wonder why you need an attorney-advisor. Your school's disciplinary system is not a court of law. If all you need is a persuasive letter or to show your school the evidence that your child is innocent, why do you need professional help?
Your school may even try to tell you that there's no need for a lawyer. They may say that they're not prosecuting your child for a crime, so even discussing your options with an attorney is overkill. Do not listen to your school when they say this. Your student's future is at stake, so you need to access the resources you need to ensure that your school doesn't saddle them with discipline that impacts their opportunities.
Your academic misconduct lawyer will have the targeted experience necessary to help you be in a great position to defend your family. Your lawyer can help you gather evidence to support your defense; your lawyer can help coach you before meetings with school officials; your lawyer can help you negotiate on your child's behalf for a lower or more appropriate sanction.
An academic misconduct lawyer who has done this hundreds of times before will know exactly how to help you in your exact situation. Call a student defense lawyer today to help you, no matter what you need, and no matter where you are.
Call Joseph D. Lento for the Expertise You Need to Help Your Child Succeed
When you're looking for help with a high school academic misconduct case, you're dealing with a delicate, unique situation. You need someone with deft negotiation skills. You need someone who knows exactly how to help a student avoid unfair, future-ruining disciplinary charges. You need someone who knows how to work within a school system, how to read a school policy, and how to work with school administrators.
This isn't expertise that most lawyers have. You need a student defense attorney-advisor with years of specific experience. You need Joseph D. Lento.
For years, Joseph D. Lento has assisted high school students across the nation with top-tier defenses. He can come to your student's aid, too. Don't pressure yourself into handling this alone. Instead, rely on the best—and trust Joseph D. Lento to help guide you towards the outcome you and your student deserve. Call Joseph D. Lento today for help. The number is 888.535.3686.