Dealing with Dishonesty: Applications and Confidentiality Issues

Vol. 13 No. 7

admissions eletter Vol13 No7 studentenrollment

Let's say you have reason to believe a parent may have lied on an application based on something you learned "in confidence." Maybe a father neglected to mention a student's learning disability that your school isn't equipped to accommodate, and you discovered the omission after reading a former teacher's confidential reference letter. Perhaps a mother laughed off suggestions of troubles at home that have proved problematic to previous instructors.

The situation must be addressed, but carefully, considering your sources may have requested (or required!) anonymity to come forward. The ways to do so vary, depending on the personality and strengths of the admission staff involved, but we have a few pointers to get you started on the right foot.

  • Do not break confidentiality without permission. These teachers and other sources who give you information on a particular child do so with the understanding that their contributions are anonymous. Breach this, and you’ll not only expose your source to potential harassment from disappointed parents, but also lose a valuable resource in the future. As a last resort, you may ask a teacher if you may cite his/her letter, but do so before speaking with the parents—and come up with a Plan B if the teacher refuses.
  • Fish for answers in the application. If the letter of recommendation or another connection raised some concerns, go back and look through your other supplemental materials again. Look for red flags that you can discuss with the prospective parent, allowing you to address these potential issues without citing an external source. If you don’t have the answer in what you already have, you could request that the student undergo additional observation or testing to verify the report.
  • Have a clause revoking admission due to misrepresented credentials in the enrollment contract. Such a clause should allow you to keep your school free of inappropriate students, even if you don’t “catch” a parent’s lies earlier in the process. Having that clause (and enforcing it) spreads the word to future prospective parents who may consider misrepresenting their student’s abilities that there will be consequences if caught. (Of course, you should consult your legal counsel on the inclusion and wording of such a clause for liability concerns and enforceability.)
  • Consider future relations with the family. Suppose a prospective student is a mission-appropriate fit for your school, discovered disabilities included. Your school will still need to deal with these parents for the entirety of the student’s academic career, and they began your relationship by lying to your school. Determining whether these parents would be a problem for, say, the bursar or during re-enrollment season later on—and whether you’re willing to risk a future headache to fill a seat.

How would your school handle a student whose application seems to be false? Share your expertise in the comment section below.

Additional ISM resources:
ISM Monthly Update for Admission Officers Vol. 12 No. 4 Correcting Mistakes and Second Chances: Misinformation in the Application Process

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 40 No. 3 Employment Practices Liability: Knowing Your Risk
I&P Vol. 28 No. 1 The Role of the Diversity Coordinator
I&P Vol. 29 No. 3 Clarify the Role of Your School's Learning Specialist: A Checklist

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