Education Lawyers

The most common reasons why students file lawsuits against their colleges or universities are negligence, breach of fiduciary obligation, or breach of contract. We can help you get back on track with your education if you are having legal troubles with your educational institution, whether it be at the undergraduate or professional level. We are your reliable resource for navigating the legal and academic systems and ensuring your rights are respected.

Some issues we deal with include post-graduation investigations, non-academic misconduct, and accusations of plagiarism or failure to meet requirements in a professional school. These are serious charges that could have a significant impact on your future career.

Considering that your post-secondary education program determines the course of your lifelong profession, handling academic appeals and investigations requires the utmost seriousness. It becomes essential to find the right lawyer for your situation.

What is Academic Misconduct?

Academic misconduct is defined as an action taken by a student or group of students working on a project that could lead to a false assessment of the student or students involved, or that shows an effort to unfairly obtain an academic advantage, and in which the student knew or should have reasonably known that the action was not allowed. A finding of academic misconduct does not necessarily take into account whether or not a student intended to commit academic misconduct. So, for example, this would would not be valid: “I did not know I was not allowed to re-submit old assignments for my new classes.” As such, a student who is caught cheating/plagiarizing in this scenario would not automatically be absolved of any liability.

Also, the fact that assignments were submitted “quickly, without thinking” does not absolve students of the need to ensure the academic integrity of their work before submission.

In these cases, it is important to address the issues promptly to achieve the best legal and academic results.

Why is Time so Important in these Cases?

Deadline management is highly important. The main reason for this is that academic institutions often have strict deadlines for submitting appeals, evidence, and other relevant documentation. Missing these deadlines can result in the automatic dismissal of an appeal or a failure to address the misconduct allegations sufficiently. In the academic appeals process, it is essential to ensure that all deadlines are met. You should find a skilled firm that can handle the timely preparation, submission, and examination of documents.

Students can use their rights to appeal and defend themselves against academic misconduct charges if swift action is taken. Students may lose these privileges due to delays, leaving them with no other options for recourse. More time enables the effective gathering of witness statements and evidence. Accuracy and dependability are shown to be linked to how quickly such evidence is gathered, which is key for coming up with a compelling defense.

Prompt action can help mitigate the consequences of academic misconduct allegations. By addressing the issue promptly, students may be able to reduce the impact on their academic record and future career prospects. Timely submission and response ensure that the appeals process is conducted fairly and efficiently, helping avoid prolonged delays that can worsen stress for the student. Early involvement of legal counsel allows for the development of a robust legal strategy, ensuring all procedural and substantive aspects of the case are addressed effectively.

Writing persuasive letters, documents, and oral and written presentations is one of our strong points. We speak with college and university representatives on your behalf in our capacity as your agent, making sure you are fully informed of all the details surrounding the misconduct accusations. We skillfully submit written materials or assist you in presenting oral contributions at live hearings, depending on the institution’s requirements. We may even be able to represent you at the hearing.

What is a Judicial Review?

Judicial Review is a legal procedure that examines whether a decision made by a university’s decision-maker adhered to the principles of administrative law. If these principles were disregarded, the decision can be challenged in the Superior Court. This review process ensures that decisions are made fairly, transparently, and in accordance with the law. Judicial review can be complex, involving detailed legal standards and procedures, and typically requires professional legal assistance to navigate effectively.

Understanding Workplace Investigations

What are some examples of Academic Dishonesty or Cheating?

Academic dishonesty or cheating encompasses various unethical behaviours that violate academic integrity. Examples include copying another student’s answers during exams, buying essays online, fabricating or manipulating research data, using unauthorized materials during tests, submitting the same work for multiple courses without permission which is considered plagiarism, collaborating on individual assignments, and impersonating others during assessments. These actions compromise the fairness and integrity of education, leading to serious consequences for those found guilty.

A number of academic appeals may be made in response to charges of academic dishonesty. Students may challenge disagreements over degree classification by claiming that grading errors or purported wrongdoing are to blame for their marks’ perceived lack of accuracy. Suspension or expulsion for subpar academic performance may also give rise to appeals, especially if the student feels their grade was unfairly determined. Similarly, appeals may be filed in response to the revocation of graduate or undergraduate degrees as a result of discovered misconduct.

If a program accommodation for a disability or health concern is denied, students may file an appeal, claiming that they should receive the help they need to finish their degree. In professional schools, appeals may contest removal recommendations based on subpar performance on clinical exams, practicums, or other training components; these recommendations are frequently connected to behavioural issues or low GPAs.

Students who have been accused of academic misconduct on a regular basis—for example, by cheating repeatedly—may file appeals to contest the veracity or handling of the charges. Appeals may also deal with behaviour that occurs outside of the classroom, such as claims of sexual harassment or assault on campus, particularly if these claims lead to sanctions that affect a student’s academic standing.

What are some challenges to addressing claims of academic misconduct?

When it comes to addressing claims of academic misconduct, Ontario’s colleges and universities hold considerable power. Each institution has its own methods for investigating such allegations, with unique guidelines, policies, practices, and standards. Additionally, different faculties within the same institution may have their own preferred procedures for handling disputes and appeals in the classroom. Provincial legislatures and courts have granted colleges and universities the authority to handle internal academic appeals. This means that the institutions themselves have the power to determine how academic appeal cases are managed and resolved. This decentralized approach can create challenges, as the variation in procedures and standards might result in inconsistencies across different educational institutions in regard to how allegations of academic misconduct are handled.

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Recent Cases

Sran v. University of Saskatchewan Academic Misconduct Appeal Board, 2024 SKCA 32

In this case, the appellants, H.S. and J.W., were accused of academic misconduct and challenged the delay in their hearing, arguing it violated the university’s regulations. The case exemplifies how judicial review can address procedural fairness in academic decisions. The appellants asserted that the hearing should have taken place within 60 days of the complaint, as stipulated by the university’s regulations. However, the hearing was delayed due to various factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Court of Queen’s Bench addressed whether the 60-day timeline was mandatory or directory. The judge concluded that the timeline was not mandatory and that there was substantial compliance given the exceptional circumstances. This decision was upheld by the appellate court, which emphasized the significance of academic integrity and procedural fairness over strict compliance with procedural timelines. This case illustrates how Provincial Judicial Review can be utilized to ensure that universities follow fair procedures and preserve students’ rights. It also highlights the nuances of such reviews, involving the interpretation of regulations, evaluation of procedural fairness, and balancing of various interests. For students accused of academic misconduct, judicial review can be a crucial avenue to challenge decisions they believe were made unfairly.

AA v. Law Society of Ontario, 2024 ONLSTA 6

In this instance, AA committed a highly serious offence in 2009 involving sexual interference with underage individuals, which he failed to disclose to the Law Society. He later applied for a license to practice law but omitted this transgression. After the Law Society discovered his past acts, he withdrew his application. In 2019, he reapplied and disclosed all his previous offences. The primary legal question in this case was whether AA had been properly rehabilitated from his past offences and demonstrated the good character required to be licensed by the Law Society. Initially, the Hearing Division determined that AA was of good character but imposed a restriction, stating he could not meet with small children unattended. The Law Society appealed this ruling, arguing that the supervision requirement was incompatible with a finding of good character and that the Hearing Division had erred in its evaluation of the evidence.

The Hearing Division’s ruling was upheld by the Law Society Tribunal’s Appeal Division. The Appeal Division found no mishandling of evidence or unfair procedural practices in the imposition of the supervision requirement. They stated that the supervision requirement strengthened public trust in the regulation of the legal profession rather than contradicting the judgment of good character. This case demonstrates the importance of thorough and honest disclosure in maintaining the integrity of professional and academic institutions. It shows that by disclosing past offences rather than hiding them, individuals are more likely to be seen as having truly changed and learned from their mistakes.

McMaster University (Re), 2024 CanLII 17583 (ON IPC)

In the context of academic misconduct and education law, provincial judicial review is a crucial procedure ensuring that university judgments comply with administrative law principles. This case addresses privacy issues associated with the use of Respondus test proctoring, highlighting the nuances and legal consequences of online proctoring in educational institutions. In 2021, a complaint was filed with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPC) regarding McMaster University’s use of Respondus Monitor and Respondus LockDown Browser for remote exams. These programs were designed to protect academic integrity by restricting computer access, monitoring students through their webcams, and using artificial intelligence to identify suspicious activity. The complaint raised concerns about the collection, handling, and security of personal data, including biometric information.

Although the IPC’s investigation found that using Respondus software to proctor exams was legally permitted, it also revealed that McMaster University had not provided students with adequate notice about the collection of their personal information, as required by the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). Additionally, the contractual agreements between McMaster and Respondus did not adequately protect student information, allowing the software to use personal data for system enhancements without student approval. This demonstrates that even seemingly harmless uses of personal data can still infringe on privacy rights.

The IPC report concluded that while McMaster’s collection of personal information via Respondus was necessary for the proper administration of exams, several improvements were needed. These included better notification practices, more robust contractual protections, and additional safeguards around the use of AI technology to mitigate privacy risks. The case underscores the importance of institutions using technology responsibly and transparently. This example illustrates how Provincial Judicial Review can provide a mechanism for students to challenge decisions that may violate their rights, ensuring that educational institutions adhere to legal and ethical standards.

About the Author

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Jordan Donich

Jordan Donich has been a Lawyer for over 10 years and is a trusted legal analyst by Canadian Media. He is as a leader in Canada’s tech sector for lawyers and developer of Law Newbie. Jordan is a Black Belt with the Japan Karate Association and trained in Krav Maga. He won a Gold Medal at 2004 Canadian National Championships and was published in the National Newspaper Awards.

Jordan has been featured in Forbes and is a member of DMZ Angels in Toronto.