I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Should Parents Be Notified Before Police Interviews of their Children on Campus?

I believe the answer is YES.
This question is on my mind as I look at the news and see 14 year old students being arrested.  This issue is on my mind when I think of other incidents of which I am aware where law enforcement officers are questioning students as young as seven years old without prior notification to parents.  I’m thinking as a parent with three kids in the district—I want to be notified and given the opportunity to be present for any interviews police officers wish to conduct with my children at school.
I believe most responsible, caring parents would want this same courtesy if their children wind up in a situation where an interview with police is initiated.  And I’m not talking about routine encounters with School Resource Officers who are doing school related policing (fights, drugs, theft, weapons, etc).  I’m most concerned when the questioning is initiated for law enforcement purposes.
Most of the parents in our community are probably unaware that under current School Board Policy, notification of parents prior to police questioning of their children is not required.  From page 27 of the students rights and responsibilities handbook, under Chapter 7: Safe Schools “…If any officer wishes to question a student at school, a suitable place will be provided after the officer has presented proper identification…..The school shall make a reasonable effort in a timely manner to notify the parent(s)/guardian(s), when appropriate, that the student has been questioned or has been placed under arrest.”
I have never been comfortable with a lack of parent notification, and therefore I have instructed my own older children to always request to have me present if they are ever asked to consent to any interview at school by authorities.
In light of recent Supreme Court Rulings which call into question some interview techniques used by law enforcement at schools, I feel compelled to work with our school board attorney to craft a more robust policy concerning the questioning of students at school by law enforcement.   I’m not proposing this to stymie law enforcement in any way—to the contrary I am doing this to ensure that the rights of students (and their parents) are not being trampled upon. Recent rulings seem to be placing more onus on the schools to provide parental notification prior to the questioning of students on campus by police.  If our policy does not help guide this process--then criminal cases built utilizing improper interview techniques and the resultant evidence obtained could be surpressed at trial--potentially wasting precious taxpayer-funded law enfocement resources.  Nobody wants to waste taxpayer resources of any kind in this  recessionary environment.
The big issue I have is that children, particularly very young kids, do not necessarily grasp the ramifications of statements they make willingly and do not always realize they are potentially incriminating themselves and/or their parents by statements made to police officers on campus.
Most young children do not realize the difference between a “non-custodial interview” by police and a “custodial interview”   Children in many cases do not realize what Miranda rights and the 5th Amendment mean as they are obediently agreeing to speak with police officers on campus as these police officers conduct law enforcement investigations and develop cases which in some instances could lead to criminal charges against these very students.
So, I believe the policy must be changed to give parents more notice.
I have found a thoughtfully developed policy formulated by a joint commission of Superintendents and School Attorneys from Illinois which I will suggest we utilize as a starting point for the development of a better policy in Escambia County.  In particular, I like the way in which the steps are clearly delineated in V. A 1-10 and B of this Illinois Document.
It might come as a shock to some, but in this particular issue I am in alignment with Kagan, Breyer, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Kennedy;  I’m no fan of the ACLU—but I am a civil libertarian!

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