National High School Academic Misconduct Attorney-Advisor

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