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Rules About Questioning, Arrests in School Refined

The revisions strengthen rules about parent notification and protections for students' rights.

The Board of Education's revised "Police in the Schools Policy", approved earlier this month, is roughly five times as long as the old one. The new rules elaborate on procedures for interrogating and arresting students at school as well as adding guidelines for searches and law enforcement access to academic records that were absent from the original policy. Also missing before were many of the safeguards introduced to make sure students' rights are protected and parents are kept in the loop.

The old policy required that "diligent efforts" be made to contact parents before a student is questioned on campus, but during discussions about the revisions at meetings in February and April, some Board of Education members pushed to give the parental notification rule more strength.

"If my kid can go to jail because of what he says, I would definitely want to be there," said board member Jim Kucharczyk at the Feb. 8 meeting.

Meanwhile, administrators expressed concern that such a requirement could tie their hands and hamstring police, especially in an emergency.

"What it if takes the parent four hours to get there?," asked Superintendent of Schools David Abbey. "Do you send the child home [in the meantime]?"

Except in an emergency, the new policy makes questioning a student as a suspect or a witness without the consent of a parent or guardian and without the presence of a school official off limits, recognizing, in Abbey's words, that, "there's a difference between is there a gun in school and did somebody write horrible things in the bathroom,". The policy also emphasizes that a suspect may exercise his or her right to remain silent and should be reminded of that in the event of an arrest.

The policy does not, of course, prohibit police from questioning or arresting a student away from school, and like the old policy, the new rules encourage them to do so wherever possible.

In addition to setting guidelines for questioning, the new policy lays out how students or their belongings may be searched and academic records inspected for law enforcement purposes.

The basic rule of thumb established by the Board of Education is that a principal, assistant principal, or their designee should do the searching and inspecting and may then provide any evidence of criminal misconduct or pertinent information to police (law enforcement are only allowed access to confidential records in the case of an emergency or court order).

Strip searches are not allowed, but in the age of cyberbullying and sexting, the board made sure the list of things a school official can search includes a student's cellphone in addition to their pockets and book bags.

The revisions to the "Police in Schools" policy originally included guidelines for School Resource Officers, but the board decided to keep those separate in order not to confuse an SRO's duties as a law enforcement officer with his/her role as a resource for students.

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