Let me speak frankly. As a whole, I do not like school administrators. It is true. Certainly there are some wonderful administrators out there. Those who are, do a great job under tremendous pressure and those who don’t, are causing parents and students to suffer needlessly. And nowhere is that more apparent than the increasing use of the police and the juvenile justice system to address school disciplinary issues.
In recent weeks, we saw cases involving children being arrested under circumstances that even a decade ago would not have resulted in this overreach. This includes:
-A Third-grade girl arrested of throwing sand at a fellow third-grader. In a sandbox.
-A Fourth-grade boy arrested for telling another student, “If you keep picking on me I’ll kill you”.
-A Fifth-grade boy arrested for telling another student that he had naked pictures of a fellow fifth grader. In reality, he did not.
-Several students arrested for challenging each other to a fight.
In each of the above cases, the matters started at the school. The school then called the police. In the first case, the school did not know what happened until two weeks after the incident. The two girls were playing together just fine after the incident, but when the parent of the second child found out she immediately called the school and demanded police action. For some insane reason, the school did.
And it does not stop there. Students have been arrested and held in juvenile detention facilities mimicking prisons, for offenses as trivial as disturbing the peace. The facts? Arguing in a school hallway. With this in mind, parents need to not only be vigilant in teaching their children right from wrong, but they must be vigilant in protecting their children once the schools involve the police.
YOUR CHILD HAS THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT. USE IT.
Many parents believe the first thing their child should do when the police come knocking is tell the truth. They want the child to speak to the police because it is important to tell the truth. Or so they believe. However, those statements the police take are designed to be used against your, now suspect, son or daughter. Think your child should talk to the police? Well, what you think is only part of the important equation. Your job is to protect your child’s interests and the first step to that is remembering that your child is just that. A child. The adults, on the other hand, all have agendas, and very rarely is it about protecting the rights of a child. For administrators, the priorities are often choosing the path of least litigation. For police officers, it is building a case, preferably based upon the truth, but they will work with whatever they get. And then there is you. The parent. When you get in trouble or suspected of causing trouble and the police show up, the smart move is for you to call a lawyer. No matter how much cajoling and pleading anyone else does, you know that talking to your lawyer first is key. If that is good enough for you then it better be good enough for your kid. Your child can always speak to the authorities (school and law enforcement) later.
YOUR CHILD HAS RIGHTS. LEARN THEM
Almost every year schools send home either a booklet of rules and procedures or display them online. It is crucial that you take the time to review them and keep them in a place where you can access them. These cover the rights and responsibilities of parents, children, and the school. Knowing these rights will allow you to better advise and protect your child. There is always the possibility that the people dishing out the punishments have not paid reviewed these rules themselves.
Today, you parents have to concede that your child, yes your little perfect angel could wind up caught up in a disciplinary investigation and from there become a part of the juvenile justice system. Being prepared for that will reduce panic and make it easier for you to make decisions that best support your child.