For years, many parents have been sending their kids not to their local high schools, but to charter and private high schools that operate completely online. There are many to choose from, including K12, Abeka Academy, Stanford University Online High School, Davidson Academy Online, University of Texas High School, The Keystone School, and a host of others. These schools offer flexible schedules to free students up for extracurricular pursuits, specialized curriculum offerings, and in most cases, accredited diplomas to launch a young person into college or a career.
But there's a caveat to online high schools that parents and students should be aware of—and that is that academic misconduct is taken just as seriously with online schools as with in-person schools. What's more, with schools being extremely sensitive to problems like online cheating and plagiarism, students are sometimes more likely to be falsely accused of misconduct with online platforms than they would be with in-person learning. If you're a student who is facing misconduct charges at an online school, or a parent of an online student who has been so accused, you need to know the consequences could be highly detrimental to the student's academic and professional future. Being disciplined for misconduct, even by an online school, can hurt your chances of getting accepted into the best universities and even disqualify you from certain financial aid. Hiring an attorney-advisor can make a huge difference in rescuing your (or your child's) future. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience helping high school students who have been accused of academic misconduct, including those facing online allegations.
How Online Students Can Be Falsely Accused
Online learning is very convenient and accessible for students, and schools like it because it expands their reach beyond the brick-and-mortar school building. But high schools have discovered that online platforms also make it easier for students to cheat, and sometimes the safeguards they put in place to prevent misconduct don't work as efficiently as they should—and sometimes, the student gets wrongly accused as a result. For example:
- When using an online resource for legitimate research, plagiarism checking software might flag you if your work looks too similar to the research material.
- When taking a test online, the automated proctor software might flag you for averting your eyes from the screen too often—on the suspicion that you're looking up an answer illegally.
- If your computer automatically “pings” a known resource site like Canvas, you might be falsely accused of looking up answers while taking an online exam.
- If another student produces homework that is too similar to yours, you could be accused of sharing your work online or failing to protect your work.
In any of these scenarios—or a host of others—the school's online monitoring safeguards may be overly sensitive to your behaviors which may be totally innocent. Thus, you could be accused of wrongdoing in the name of protecting academic integrity—and if the school decides you are guilty, you could face serious consequences.
Common Types of Online High School Misconduct
Online high schools may invoke disciplinary action for any of the following types of academic misconduct:
While often used as a “blanket term” for any type of academic misconduct, cheating specifically refers to any situation in which a student violates the rules of learning—for example, using unauthorized study materials (like Chegg or Slader), looking up answers while taking a test, sharing test answers with another student, copying answers from another student, etc.
Plagiarism refers to taking someone else's words or ideas and submitting them as your own—whether copying an essay word-for-word or “borrowing” from a resource without citing your source. There are many forms of plagiarism, and sometimes students even plagiarize on accident.
Violating Test Conditions
In an in-person learning environment, the teacher has control of the testing room. With online testing, the school doesn't control the testing environment—you do. If the school suspects you have unauthorized materials in the testing space or that you're looking things up or chatting with others between giving answers, you might be accused of violating test conditions.
Unauthorized Assistance and/or Collaboration
Working online makes it easy for students to collaborate on projects—but if you're not supposed to collaborate in a certain way or at certain times, you could be accused of misconduct.
Unauthorized Sharing of Academic Materials
Working online makes it easy for students to get academic “help” from platforms and apps like Chegg, Slader, and CourseHero, where students may upload and share schoolwork and answers to assignments. If these or other platforms are prohibited by the school, you could be accused of misconduct if you go there.
Possible Consequences for Online High School Academic Misconduct
The disciplinary process is different for every school, but if, in the end, the school authorities determine that you're guilty of misconduct, the consequences could be serious and long-lasting. Here's what could happen:
- You could fail the test, or the whole class—or you may have to repeat it.
- You could be declared ineligible for honors programs and societies.
- You could be ineligible for certain scholarships that could pay for college.
- You could be suspended or even expelled.
- You may have a permanent negative notation placed on your academic record. This could impact whether certain colleges might accept you—or even whether some employees will hire you.
How an Attorney-Advisor Can Help
Most high schools won't permit you to have official legal counsel when dealing with school disciplinary matters, especially considering high school isn't a court of law and this is not a legal proceeding. However, you do have a right to hire an attorney to act in an advisory role—and this can make a huge difference in the outcome of your case. An attorney-advisor experienced in academic misconduct cases can help you understand what's at stake, and the best ways to present your side of the story. The advisor can also help you gather evidence to support your claim, as well as ensure the school stays accountable to its own policies, so you have a fair opportunity to clear your name. In many cases, this extra assistance can save your academic record, future college education, and even your career.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento is nationally recognized for his expertise in defending students facing accusations of academic misconduct. If you're a student accused of misconduct at an online school, don't take the charges lightly—and if you're a parent of a student, don't risk your child's future by going it alone. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.