Thursday, April 05, 2012

Talking to Your Child without a Parent Present

When I attended a DeBell community meeting a couple of months back, there were some very unhappy McClure parents.  They had numerous issues but one was that two of their students had been pulled out of class - for different reasons relating to higher level behavior issues - and questioned by administrators.  One of the fathers was upset that neither he nor his wife had been contacted about the questioning.

(By higher level behavior issues, I mean things like fighting, drugs found, etc.)

The father said something to the effect of "well, if it had been the police I would have been notified."  That stuck with me and I finally got around to checking.

The policy in question that answers this issue is D78.00 School-Police Relations (it is to be reviewed as part of the on-going Board policy updates).

There is a section on "interviewing of students" which states that the district encourages any police questioning to take place "off school premises", "the principal shall permit a law enforcement officer to conduct any necessary questioning of students at school."

Also, "The officer shall advise and afford a student the same legal rights as an adult and the right to have a parent present during questioning if the student is twelve years of age or younger."

Kind of gray, no?  I interpret that last sentence to mean the student has the right to remain silent and ask for his/her parents.  However does that mean reading the Miranda rights?  Will the principal and/or officer tell the child that he or she does NOT have to answer any questions until mom or dad gets there?  And, under this policy, if the child is older than 12, he or she will be questioned.

When you were 13 if you were read the Miranda rights by a cop with your principal and/or counselor standing there, would you have known what to do?  Sure, you could ask for mom or dad but that's not the same as saying "I won't answer questions without them."  Police officers are very good at getting adults to talk, what about a kid?

I put this question into Google and happened to find a response from a Washington State attorney.  He says:

Pulling a child out of a classroom for questioning certainly does not seem right, but it is perfectly legal and the child has no right to have a parent present. HOWEVER, instruct your child to tell the police that he either wants to talk to a lawyer before answering questions, or that he has been instructed by his lawyer not to answer any questions. The police must respect this response and not ask your child further questions.

Note, he says the child should say "lawyer", not parent.

If you have a middle or high school child, talk to them.  Tell them that if ever something goes wrong and they are suddenly called into the office by the principal/counselor and/or police officer, they are to say "I can't answer any questions without my mom/dad/guardian here."  That's their mantra.

Again, things happen.  Someone could have stashed something in your child's backpack without your child knowing.  Your child may be physically attacked and strikes out in self-defense.  Whatever it is, let your child know to wait for you no matter what they get told by administrators or police. 

There was also this odd bit in the policy under Emergency Situations:

a.  In most circumstances, when a building principal needs to contact the police, the principal will initially contact the School Security office of SPS, which will in turn notify the police, if such action is warranted.

I'm thinking this is one part of the policy that needs rewriting.  If it's an "emergency", then call the police FIRST.  If you need police in order to arrest someone AFTER an incident, sure call School district security first

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Public defenders everywhere are blessing you, Melissa! Children are notorious for agreeing to things even if they didn't exactly do them, especially with police officers or individuals with authority. Always better to have all the info about the law and facts before you speak with anyone besides your lawyer (this, of course, includes peers and FB postings).

PD/parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

PD, I did a 6-month stint as a volunteer investigator for a PD so I did learn a few things. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

This is a great piece of information to have and I appreciate the tip alot. Oldest going into Middle School and we live in that cluster. I would not have thought to have this conversation at all. I am going to look for the best opportunity to bring this up to her and speak with my daughter about this.

--FedMomof2

SeattleSped said...

Actually, this is particularly relevant for parents with special-needs children. Unfortunately, our children are often disciplined, or even reported to the police, for behaviors that are a result of their disability. More often than not, they may lash out at relentless teasing or bullying (as a first-grader my child was sent to the office for biting a child who had been bullying and taunting her for days on end, she did not know an appropriate response and had never bitten anyone before).

To question or discipline a child like mine without a parent present or informed, should never be allowed to happen. Some children are easily led, or have difficulty providing context in their communication.

Anonymous said...

The ACLU also has a good guide on this topic for students - http://www.aclu-wa.org/sites/default/files/attachments/Guide%20for%20Public%20School%20Students.pdf. Police Interrogation starts on page 39.

-InformationIsPower

Anonymous said...

It is critical that the rights of kids who wreck class and school have their rights respected over the rights of the 90 per cent plus who do not do crimes ...

I mean 'high level' excuses.

Why are adult ideas on bullying ignored by school kids? because the

Bullies Are Coddled.

Anonymous said...

Bullies are coddled, your comment is perplexing. Umm, what does this have to do with advising kids of their rights and helping them learn to speak up.

-perplexed

Anonymous said...

Bullies are Coddled,

Setting aside the perplexiousity (new word!) of your statement, I find that you assume these 10% who are coddled are guilty of crimes and require police action. The entire point of Miranda rights and protecting the under-age is that our country values the maxim of innocent until proven guilty. But laws are only guidelines, right?

Mr Ed

Catherine said...

This seems like a Hobson's choice. Seems to me like we want kids to respect authority figures (teachers, administrators, police), yet we have to teach them not to trust those same authority figures in at least some situations. My college kid gets the fine line there, the average 13 year old... I don't think so.

Anonymous said...

It isn't Hobson's choice. It's being smart about your rights. It's not the uniform or the profession, but the person and circumstances you are dealing with that you need to consider and when and who to trust. Confusing, you bet. That is why kids need to know parameter and boundary for their own behaviors and of others. Unfortunately, the police, principals, teachers, and adults in general do not always act in the child's best interest. That's why we have the 5th, Miranda, and a host of laws to protect the vulnerables and underage.

-PS mom

seattle citizen said...

This thread of comments (and your post, Melissa) seems to veer from the orginal concern of a couple of parents:
"They had numerous issues but one was that two of their students had been pulled out of class - for different reasons relating to higher level behavior issues - and questioned by administrators. One of the fathers was upset that neither he nor his wife had been contacted about the questioning."

It didn't sound like this was about police questioning the student, but about the administrator questioning the student: What rights are there (or should there be) for students being questioned by administrators (or any adult in the building, for that matter)?

Discuss.

seattle citizen said...

This thread of comments (and your post, Melissa) seems to veer from the orginal concern of a couple of parents:
"They had numerous issues but one was that two of their students had been pulled out of class - for different reasons relating to higher level behavior issues - and questioned by administrators. One of the fathers was upset that neither he nor his wife had been contacted about the questioning."

It didn't sound like this was about police questioning the student, but about the administrator questioning the student: What rights are there (or should there be) for students being questioned by administrators (or any adult in the building, for that matter)?

Discuss.

Jan said...

seattle citizen -- I thought it was less an attempt to respond to the exact situation of those parents, and more a "riff" on the larger issue of what generally to tell your child to do if your child is questioned (in a circumstance where discipline could be imposed, the police could be or have been called, etc.). Kids sometimes wrongly assume that they can trust the integrity of the adults, and that they will be treated fairly, when that is not always the case. They cannot tell (heck, I can't always tell) when an institution has "flipped" from being one working to protect them to being one working to protect itself (and willing to sacrifice a kid or two to suspension or other discipline to do it).

Melissa Westbrook said...

In the McClure case, it was just an administrator but the dad said that he knew his son couldn't be questioned alone by the police so why didn't that apply in this case?

He is wrong on both points and students can be questioned without parents being called (or called in a timely manner).

You should teach kids to respect authority but also that they have rights even as kids. There is nothing disrespectful about asking for your civil rights to be honored and to ask for a parent to be present if you are questioned.

mirmac1 said...

On a (nominally) similar thread, I hear the Lowell investigation cost $37.5K. The law firm has received thousands for other "projects" as well.

Now, why are we cutting sani-wipes and pencils?

seattle citizen said...

Thanks for the comments, Jan and Melissa. Yes, the take-away IS teaching students to be respectful (always, right?!) and to be aware of their rights and responsibilities. Jan, your comment is interesting, about whether a school might have ""flipped" from being one working to protect them to being one working to protect itself."

Schools are under mandate to report various things to various people, and as we saw in a recent situation, sometimes the clarity isn't there or people are unaware of their reporting responsibilities. On the flip side, educators (like regular ol' citizens, believe it or not) are human and might consider it unwise to bring in the police for, say, a playground fight, believing that to involve the police is over-kill, that schools are place to learn and teach and that they, the educators, can help resolve the issue on a more humane level, perhaps, than the full force of the legal system might.

Not saying that that is good, or to be encouraged, but that it raise (again: I think we had this discussion a couple of years back) the issue of what, exactly, SHOULD go on through to the police and what should be resolved, if possible, in-house.

seattle citizen said...

Thanks for the comments, Jan and Melissa. Yes, the take-away IS teaching students to be respectful (always, right?!) and to be aware of their rights and responsibilities. Jan, your comment is interesting, about whether a school might have ""flipped" from being one working to protect them to being one working to protect itself."

Schools are under mandate to report various things to various people, and as we saw in a recent situation, sometimes the clarity isn't there or people are unaware of their reporting responsibilities. On the flip side, educators (like regular ol' citizens, believe it or not) are human and might consider it unwise to bring in the police for, say, a playground fight, believing that to involve the police is over-kill, that schools are place to learn and teach and that they, the educators, can help resolve the issue on a more humane level, perhaps, than the full force of the legal system might.

Not saying that that is good, or to be encouraged, but that it raise (again: I think we had this discussion a couple of years back) the issue of what, exactly, SHOULD go on through to the police and what should be resolved, if possible, in-house.

SP said...

The new Phase II grid is now on the Board's Policy page with timelines for each policy to be reviewed this year, including
D78.00 that Melissa mentioned.

A new but related policy (and SP Procedure) 3230 "Student Privacy & Searches" deals with some of the situations Melissa brings up, of searches vs. student' rights.

Many times in schools I've heard of students being taken out of class for either locker searches and/or interviews by school administration, but parents are not notified. This is not a requirement in the new policy either, but isn't this a responsibility of the school to keep parents informed of these actions, and should be in the policy/procedure as well?

Mercermom said...

We encountered a situation in which we got a call from the District saying that our son had signed a statement a year earlier as a witness to a student misconduct situation, and would he be willing to be a witness at the disciplined student's appeal. I feel like if you are asking a 6th grader to sign a statement that may be the subject of cross-examination at a hearing in the future, you should ask the parents before having the child sign, to ensure the child isn't feeling coerced. Our son declined to participate, but I have counseled him that he can always ask if he can speak to his parents first before answering questions and especially before signing anything. I'm not confident he'll recall that.

Melissa Westbrook said...

SP, well, you'd think the district/school WOULD want to do the best thing for any child which would be to bring in their parent or guardian for any kind of serious questioning (as opposed to running in the halls kind of behavior).

But this is an area where the "kids first" statement ends.

The district has a problem. They need information about an incident or they believe they know who caused it. You can more easily persuade/coerce/intimidate a student without a parent than with a parent. I have seen this myself.

No one is trying to be "unfair" but, like the police, they have a job to do.

And so do we as parents. Our job is to make sure our children are treated fairly, not pressured and before anyone admits any fault, that a thorough investigation is done. That means you have to protect your child because the school is not going to do so.

mirmac1 said...

My child has told me of two incidents this year when he was interviewed. No one from the school told me. I will DEFINITELY let them know to contact me first.

SP said...

So it all comes down to the need for "community input" for the upcoming proposed policy & procedures which directly affect all of our kids. We have to to be active in this process. One new problem is that the Board Policies are voted on by the Board but not the related Procedures, which no longer need to be approved by the Board.

What are the student's rights and what is the school's responsibility to communicate with parents of an issue your kid is directly (or even indirectly) involved with? Should parents be informed when the school does searches for serious offenses such as drugs? I certainly would like to be informed, whether or not the search was justified (and kids may or may not want to tell their parents what happened).

Mirmac1- Some schools are rampant in their practice of pulling kids out of class (one count my kid told me was 23 kids pulled out of class for a heresay incident), and for trivial issues such as a stolen (or lost?) item which shouldn't have been taken to school in the first place, which happened off campus and after school. The school continued to pull kids out of class & interview them despite parents objecting about the loss of instructional time. Are there policies about this?

mirmac1 said...

I don't believe there are. I could search the WSSDA site, but as the state organization representing the "administration" viewpoint, I hardly think they make provisions against abuse of this practice.

Perhaps more progressive districts have codified something along those lines...