The Empowered Parent: Police in schools

What would you do if your child came home from school and told you he was questioned by police that day?

By many accounts, schools have become scary places. School staff report reduced ability to control students over the years. It seems we’re seeing more and more drugs and violence. Bullying has been taken far beyond the playground and is now pervasive and instantaneous with a click of a button.

We are all searching for answers about how to keep our children safe. Schools have been responding by beefing up security with metal detectors and hiring security guards and school police at increasing rates. Last year, former Gov. Tom Corbett approved an expansion of power for police employed by schools in the commonwealth and gave millions in grants to schools for safety programs. Under the broadened law, school police can issue citations, make criminal arrests and perform other necessary law enforcement duties on school property.

Police can be hired by a school district, or schools may have a contract with local municipal departments for regular patrols. Many districts hire retired police as security guards. Philadelphia has had their own School Police for years, and the program is not without problems. People have questioned the sufficiency of background checks for the school police.

Whether police on school grounds increases safety is up for debate. What is clear though is that bringing law enforcement onto school grounds can make things for students more complicated. Commonplace acts have become crimes. Childhood is being criminalized and children are being arrested. When officers roam the hall there is a higher likelihood that children will enter the juvenile justice system. When you have a hammer, everything becomes a nail.

Children need you to help them know their rights more than ever.

So what does the Empowered Parent do? The best thing for you to do is keep lines of communication open with your child and stay informed about what’s going on at their school. Talk to your child. Make sure they know what to do if school police want to question them without you around.

The best way to protect your child’s rights when an officer approaches them will be to tell them not to speak and to ask for a lawyer (not just for you). If they simply ask for you, their rights might not be protected to the full extent of the law.

Your child’s rights are protected under state and federal law, but we are operating in a very grey area. If your child is detained, you should be immediately contacted. But questions don’t always require detainment. Questioning can appear like a conversation.

If police question a minor without adult consent or presence can that statement be used against them? “Miranda rights” and the right to an attorney is universal for adults and children. Be clear that you want to be informed of any disciplinary hearings before they happen, especially if the behavior or activity could lead to a criminal charge.

Know your school’s policies. What are their security procedures? Ask the school how they will protect your child’s rights and let them know you must be informed immediately if anyone wants to talk to your child. Schools can adopt policies about police questioning and parental consent or presence, but if a school is at a point where they think it would be beneficial to have a police officer on duty at school, they are likely more focused on safety of the student body as a whole than your child’s individual rights. When it comes to school security and protecting your child’s rights, mom and dad are the ones with the homework.

About Valerie Borek

Valerie Borek, Esq. is a Delaware County native with a passion for empowering people. She believes a strong family is a building block to strong communities. She founded her law firm to serve families with a focus on parenting and family rights. As a mother herself, she knows that parents face tough choices and need support. Valerie is grateful to be in a profession where she can guide people through life’s circumstance so they can focus on the things in life that matter most. Valerie finds her greatest motivation in helping families strengthen their health and wealth. These two foundational areas of life resonate through the day-to-day and when we feel comfortable and secure in these spheres, we are free and enabled to create and nurture the lives we desire. Visit her at www.vboreklaw.com

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