The choices a student makes in high school can significantly impact that student's future school and career options. Sometimes, a mistake, a lapse in judgment, or even a disorder can prompt a student to violate school rules in a way that jeopardizes their future. Other times, it might be a false accusation. Either way, if you're the parent of a child facing school disciplinary actions, you need to know their future hangs in the balance. Being suspended or expelled from school can affect your child's ability to complete their education, qualify for scholarships, get accepted into college, or even get hired. You need to act proactively to make sure your child's future opportunities aren't damaged,
Hiring an experienced attorney-advisor is often the best way to give your high school student a fighting chance against disciplinary actions taken by the school so that they don't impact your child's college or career prospects. The Lento Law Firm has compiled the following important information for high school students facing serious penalties over disciplinary violations.
What Actions Does the School Consider to Be Disciplinary Violations?
Schools have a legal duty to maintain a safe and orderly environment for students, staff, faculty, and visitors. To do this, most schools maintain rules governing student behavior contained in a handbook or Student Code of Conduct. These rules often prohibit behaviors ranging from serious misbehavior like fighting or using illegal drugs to more innocuous actions like chewing gum in class or violating the dress code. Most of the time, disciplinary violations result in a "disciplinary referral," a formal notice that a student has violated school rules and may face discipline as a result. The school then follows its own policy for handling these referrals, which can take the form of warnings, detention, suspension, expulsion, probation, or informal reprimand.
What Are the Different Types of Offenses?
Most school disciplinary violations can be classified as minor or major violations, with different severities of penalties for each. Some schools may go further and categorize certain violations as Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, etc. For our purposes, let's talk about examples of minor versus major disciplinary violations.
Examples of minor violations may include:
- Disruptions to general school activities and the learning environment. These violations can take the form of disruptive behavior during class time like talking loudly or using inappropriate language, refusing to comply with instructions such as turning off a cell phone, or loitering in hallways during class time. They also include conduct that causes substantial disruption of school activities like setting off fire alarms on purpose or causing other students to miss class time through disruptive behavior.
- Minor personal conduct violations. These types of violations occur when a student fails to comply with basic rules of accepted personal conduct, appearance, or responsibility. Examples include tardiness, leaving campus without permission, failing to attend required assemblies or meetings, failing to complete assignments, chewing gum in class, violating the dress code or uniform rules, and disrespecting teachers.
Major violations are taken more seriously by the school and therefore punished more severely. These are the types of violations most likely to put your child's academic and career prospects in greater jeopardy. Let's look at some common examples.
- Violations involving drugs, alcohol, and weapons. These include violations involving possession of the substance and selling, manufacturing, dealing, or giving away the drug to other students. Some schools also prohibit possession of guns and knives, even if they are concealed.
- Violations concerning the safety of others. These include fighting, bullying, assault, or other conduct that puts another student or person at risk for serious harm.
- Violations involving teacher abuse. Some schools prohibit students from "bullying" teachers, which can include verbal and physical abuse.
- Violations involving tampering with or destroying school property. This includes vandalism, such as breaking windows or defacing school walls, damaging school equipment, or stealing another student's belongings. It may also include tampering with the school's computer systems.
What Are Common Penalties for Minor Disciplinary Violations?
Each school establishes its own policies and protocols for penalizing minor violations. In many cases, specific behaviors will call for specific punishments so there is no ambiguity for the parents or the students as to what will happen. Examples of minor penalties may include any of the following:
- Verbal or written warning (i.e., note to parents)
- Phone call or in-person meeting with parents
- Detention (served during school, after school, or on weekends)
- Restricted privileges (e.g., barred from extracurricular activities, field trips, etc.)
What Are Common Penalties for Major Disciplinary Violations?
Major violations are more serious and disruptive in nature, often jeopardizing the safety and well-being of the student and others. As a result, these violations tend to attract more significant consequences. These can include any of the following:
- Restitution (e.g., paying for damaged property, removing graffiti, reimbursing a student for stolen goods)
- Mandatory counseling (to address presumed behavioral or mental health issues)
Among these penalties, the ones parents need be most concerned about are suspension and expulsion, as these are most likely to appear on the student's permanent record and/or create the most disruption to their prospects. In some cases, parents and students can effectively negotiate for lesser penalties such as restitution and counseling as alternatives to suspension or expulsion.
Can My Student Be Suspended or Expelled for Minor Violations?
In most cases, no. Schools typically give students several "strikes" and/or opportunities to change their behavior before resorting to more serious penalties. However, if a student repeatedly violates the rules or continually exhibits disruptive behavior--and/or if the student shows no signs of remorse--the school may opt for more severe penalties, including suspension or expulsion. Consult your school's Code of Conduct to see their policies on repeat offenses.
If My High School Student Is Facing Serious Disciplinary Action, How Can an Attorney-Advisor Help?
If you've received a disciplinary referral notifying you that your child faces severe disciplinary action by the school, hiring an attorney-advisor can significantly affect the outcome of the case. An attorney-advisor has practical experience dealing with student disciplinary issues and will be familiar with the school policies. They can assist parents in gathering evidence and witness in support of the student, researching school policies, helping you develop a compelling argument for leniency and/or exoneration (if your child is innocent). Hiring an attorney-advisor also helps the high school stay accountable to its own policies, ensuring your child is treated fairly through the process.
If your child is accused of a major disciplinary violation at their high school, you need to be aware that schools tend to hand down swift justice in these matters, and they don't have the same burden of proof as they would in a courtroom for example. You may only have a short window of time before the consequences are irreversible. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has national experience in helping students navigate serious disciplinary concerns, and his involvement has averted suspension and expulsion for many students. Don't take chances with your child's future. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.