You just received the notice. Your professor is turning you on an alleged charge of plagiarism, based on the results of an on-line tool. You know you didn’t do it. Or if there is a match, it was purely accidental. You want to fight the charge. But you looked up your school’s student code of conduct, and the policy manual specifically states that you cannot have an attorney.

Are you really stuck handling this on your own? What can you do?

Colleges and universities vary on the level of participation that an attorney can assume in an academic discipline proceeding. Some schools allow full participation with an attorney present at a hearing conducted much like a courtroom trial. Some schools allow an attorney to attend the hearing, but only for the purpose of whispering suggestions into the student’s ear and not to speak. Some schools do not permit an attorney at any time.

If you have read that you cannot have an attorney, then you have already taken an important first step by examining your school’s policy and procedures. The student policy manual or code of conduct acts like a contract between you and the school. A careful reading of the manual will help you determine how your offense is defined as well as what procedure the school should follow. But even though you are not allowed to have an attorney during the disciplinary process, you may still seek advice. An attorney can help guide you to the best strategy for combating the charges against you.

Furthermore, while an attorney may not be able to appear at a hearing, an attorney can help you draft any written responses that you need to submit to your school.

If you have been charged with an academic offense or have any questions about this topic, please feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or by emailing matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.


You and your spouse are divorced. You get along exceptionally well, so well that you share custody of your child. Since you live in the better school district, you enrolled your child where you live. Now, you have received notice from the school that they believe your child is not truly a resident and they wish to remove your child from enrollment.

What are your rights and what can you do?

In Illinois, a child has a right to a tuition-free education in the district where the child’s parent or guardian resides. A guardianship may not be awarded to a friend or non-parent relative solely to allow the child to attend school in a given district. In other words, you cannot give your sister legal custody of your child for the sole purpose of your child attending school in your sister’s district.

If you are divorced and have legal custody by court order, your child may attend school in your district. This does not always prevent some schools from developing suspicions about your child’s actual residence, however, and you may still have to prove that your child’s fixed nighttime abode is actually with you and not the other parent.

The situation can become more complicated if you have joint custody, or if you and the other parent were never married, but informally share custody of the child. The Illinois school statute does not seem to have contemplated such modern beneficial living arrangements. After all, if your child splits their time between parents, how do you prove which home is your child’s real nighttime abode? Fortunately, in situations with joint custody, you are generally allowed to make an election once a year as to which residence controls for school purposes. If you have no formal custody arrangement, the situation can become more problematic. You may still have to prove which parent’s residence should control.

If the school believes your child is not a resident, the school must first send you notice by certified mail. You then have ten days to request a formal hearing to provide the evidence necessary to show where your child actually lives. We advise that you have an attorney assist you with the hearing as school districts sometimes take advantage of unrepresented parents who believe the matter should be simple since they have nothing to hide. If the parent loses the hearing, the school may remove deregister your child and even charge the parent tuition.

If you have any questions about this or a similar school-related issue, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.


There are few student vices that a college or university professor detests more than plagiarism. Plagiarism can be loosely defined as passing off someone else’s work as your own without proper attribution. The work may be that of another student or an author off the web. Some schools even prohibit using your own work that you may have completed for another course without the current instructor’s consent. Some schools consider paraphrasing a form of plagiarism.

To catch students who plagiarize, teachers can submit student papers to websites such as plagiarism.com to find sentence by sentence matches from the internet.
Once a student is caught, the penalties may be severe. You may be failed from the class or suspended. Some schools have a zero tolerance policy that could lead to expulsion.

What can you do? If you are charged with plagiarism, there is still hope. An experienced attorney can help you determine the best avenue for a defense on procedural or substantive grounds. Did the school follow its own student policy manual procedures when charging you with the offense? The policy manual is like a contract between you and the school, and the school is largely bound by it.

Is it clear that what you submitted actually constituted plagiarism? The definition of plagiarism can be a slippery slope. At what point does a paraphrase become an unauthorized use of someone else’s work? If you use one sentence off the web, but cite the source elsewhere in the paper, have you plagiarized?

Even if you admit you lifted the majority of your paper off the web, you may still qualify for a less severe penalty. Perhaps you are generally of good character, but were under exceptional stress. Perhaps expulsion is too extreme for a minor degree of plagiarism.

If you are charged with plagiarism or academic dishonesty, consult an attorney who practices school law right away. It is important to act quickly to preserve your rights. By attempting to explain yourself to the school, you may inadvertently cut yourself off from a valid defense by digging yourself into a hole. If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact me at 847-568-0160 or email me at matt@mattkeenanlaw.com. for advice.


You’ve been hearing complaints from your high school student about some other kids at school. They keep harassing him, and the school doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it. While you don’t condone violence, you really can’t blame your child for not wanting to take it anymore. But now your student is facing academic discipline: a suspension and even possibly expulsion and/or juvenile court charges for fighting.

If your child is expelled, you will have to deal with finding an alternative place for them to go to school. This can be costly. An expulsion could also affect your child’s choice of college. Even a suspension can cause difficulties with later life choices. If your child gets in trouble at school a second time, the penalty might be that much more severe because of the initial incident.

In some cases, your child may be charged in juvenile court. Your child could end up with a juvenile criminal record.

What can you do? If the incident is charged in juvenile court, your child will be entitled to a hearing before a judge. At the high school level, your child cannot lose his or her right to attend school without first receiving procedural due process. In most cases, your student is entitled to a hearing, although not always before the suspension takes effect. In many districts, only the school board may expel your student, and you may have a right to a hearing at that stage as well.

An experienced attorney can help evaluate your child’s case to determine the best strategy to defend your child. Did the school follow its own procedural rules? Was your child an innocent bystander or acting in self defense? Even if your child started the fight, an attorney can help judge the strength of the evidence against them and can help challenge the severity of the penalty. Maybe your school has some alternative conflict resolution program.

If there is a juvenile court case, an attorney can evaluate how to proceed. You may wish to take the matter to hearing in hopes of getting the charges dismissed. If the evidence is extremely strong against your child, it might be advisable for the attorney to work out a plea arrangement.

Whether the incident is or isn’t charged in juvenile court, you and your child should not communicate with anyone but an attorney about the incident, whether by speaking, texting or emailing. Statements made to friends could end up as evidence against your child. Equally important, you and your child should refrain from discussing the incident on any Facebook, Myspace or similar pages. Any references to the incident should be removed.

If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com for advice.


Graduation is just days away, and you have a bad case of senioritis. You and your buddies were ready for summer three months ago. But before you leave school, you thought it would be hilarious to play one final joke on the school. You think of it as “your legacy.” You’d just love to see the look on the principal’s face when she comes in Monday morning and finds the school’s mascot has been torched. Or maybe you and your friends decided to graffiti a few choice thoughts about school on the new building addition.

But you weren’t expecting to get caught.

Now, you and your friends face suspension–right before graduation. In addition, you’ve been slapped with criminal damage to property charges. And your parents are none too happy about the prospect of a civil suit against them to pay for the damage you caused.

What can you do?

If you find yourself in a similar situation, it is essential that you contact an attorney immediately. An attorney can evaluate your defense. Maybe the school failed to follow correct procedure before they expelled you. Maybe you didn’t take part in the prank and just happened to be there. Maybe the school lacks sufficient evidence to show you did anything wrong. Even if they have you on video lighting the fire or spraying the graffiti, an experienced attorney might be able to work out a deal with the school. For example, maybe the school would let you graduate if you paid back the damage.

Because the standard of proof in a criminal case is higher than in a school proceeding, an attorney may help you avoid a criminal record. Depending on your role, you might be eligible for a reduced penalty, or you might be able to avoid a criminal conviction.

If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com for advice.


You just broke up with your girlfriend from school, and you’re upset. You don’t think she treated you right, so to get even with her, you’ve texted those nude photos you took on your cell phone in better days to ten of your friends.

Or maybe, you think your steady looks fantastic, and you just were showing off. Or you thought if that special someone saw what they were missing, you might get that first date.

If you sent nude pictures via texting, there’s a new name for what you did: Sexting. Maybe sexting made you feel better about that girlfriend or proud of your steady for the moment. But the consequences of sexting, such as a conviction for child pornography, can follow you around for the rest of your life.

Concerned with the rising tide of sexting, prosecutors and school officials are looking to set examples, not without some reason. Some offenders have used sexting to solicit nude photos of young people. In one Ohio case, the sexting victim was harassed and committed suicide. Because of cases like these, the Illinois Attorney General has asked victims of sexting to call its Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

But in the absence of laws tailored to this new technology, prosecutors are relying on the more severe child pornography laws even against defendants, who are themselves high school students. In Illinois, you may have committed a Class 1 felony if you 1) filmed, videotaped or photographed any one that you should have known was under the age of 18 in lewd exhibitions of nudity or 2) knowing the contents of those pictures, you distributed them, i.e. via texting.

If found guilty, you may face a prison term ranging from 15 to 30 years along with fines between $1,000 and $100,000 dollars for each offense. You may also land on the sex offender registry. As a student, you may be expelled. Today, more schools are disciplining students for offenses, even if the activity took place off school grounds. In this case, sexting technology can cause something that took place outside the school to enter the school’s domain.

Even if the victim is over the age of 18, you could still be charged for harassment or for an obscenity offense.

If you think you might be charged because of sexting, contact an attorney immediately. Don’t speak to anyone about your case because those statements could be used against you. Sometimes an attorney can even help prevent charges from being brought. Even if you are charged, your case may not be hopeless. You might reasonably have believed the victim was over the age of 18. You may not have been the one who sent the text. Maybe you forwarded something without knowing the contents. If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com for advice.

I Didn’t Cheat: When you are charged with Academic Dishonesty.

You are writing a paper for a college or high school course. You are overworked and haven’t slept in days. Your friend, who took the same course last year, helpfully offers you their A paper. Or maybe you find exactly what you are looking for in an article. You use a lot of the same language from the article, but through oversight or otherwise, neglect to attribute your source. In either case, you make a few adjustments and submit the paper as your own work.

Or perhaps you are taking an open book exam in class. You open your Blackberry only to discover you have inadvertently broken the school’s rules. Or the proctor has caught you peeking at someone else’s paper.

Whatever the circumstances, you find your school career is threatened with a charge of academic dishonesty. What can you do?

A charge of academic dishonesty can be difficult to fight, but there may be some hope. A good attorney will start with a careful reading of the school’s student manuals. These manuals are like a contract between you and the school. They spell out the procedures the school should follow. Maybe you were notified of your offense, but were not given an opportunity for a hearing as promised in the manual. Maybe the nature of your offense is ambiguous and the school rules do not prohibit the conduct.

A skillful lawyer can help you determine whether you have a basis to fight the charge. Even if you were knowingly dishonest and have already confessed, an attorney may work to reduce the punishment. Maybe you were suffering from excessively traumatic personally circumstances at the time and have an otherwise stellar record for honesty. Maybe the punishment is unduly severe.

If you do receive notice that you are charged with dishonesty, consult an attorney who specializes in school law right away. It is important to act quickly to preserve all your rights. Do not attempt to handle the matter yourself without counsel. You may inadvertently cut yourself off from a valid defense if you should say the wrong thing. If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact me at 847-568-0160 or email me at matt@mattkeenanlaw.com for advice.