Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back to School? Protect your child

Update: I added a bit to the 5th paragraph as well as adding a 6th.
I received a back to school reminder from the folks at Wisconsin Family Action that contained a useful link to a list of back to school resources for Christian families from Wisconsin Family Council. Among those resources is a video on student's rights to live their faith at school. As I was looking at that link, I was recalling my own experiences with the public school system. I think there is another resource parents desperately need if, for some reason, they cannot homeschool their children.

I have written a post at the AFB on this issue and I encourage you to read the post and the discussion which follows -if you have not already done so. If you don't have time, the short version is that school officials, acting "in loco parentis" are able to interrogate your child at school, without notifying you, for the entirety of the school day, if your child is implicated in any way to have been even contemplating a crime or any activity for which charges could be brought against your child. They do not have to notify you. They may lie to your child in order to coerce a confession and they are not required to tell your child what his/her rights are in this situation.

Now most of you are probably thinking, that won't happen to my child, so this isn't an issue for me. What if your child upsets another child, or another child simply wants to be mean? We all know that children can be unpredictable. All that is necessary for this sort of interrogation to occur is one child telling a teacher or principle they heard your child saying something that could be perceived as a threat to the school or another student. A frustrated statement of " They make me so mad, I could just kill them." about another student would be sufficient, in some situations, to lead to such questioning. Once such an interrogation session has been initiated, it is my feeling that the school official feels an obligation to obtain a confession of some sort to justify their actions in questioning your child.

Are you an outspoken parent who opposes the plans of the local school board? While I would prefer to think such tactics would be beneath most school administrators, it is possible that such an interrogation could be used to shut you up.

The bottom line is, you need to protect your child from this procedure at school. Even if they are the greatest kid in the world they are not safe from the mischief that can result from envy or malice. You owe your child this duty of protection if you are sending them to a public school. And if your child is the type of kid who would do such things? He/She needs your protection too. We all are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and we all have a Constitutional right to have an attorney present during questioning. That includes your child, innocent or guilty. (If you child is guilty, there is a place in the process for confessions, but that place is not under the interrogation of school officials.)

Your school administration will undoubtedly argue that their questioning cannot be used in a court, but the judge can certainly ask the arresting officer why they arrested and charged your child. The answer "school officials told me the child had confessed to this crime" is permissible.

Send the school a letter rescinding their authority to act "in loco parentis" in the event that your child is being questioned about anything for which they could be criminally charged. Hopefully, you will never need it, but just in case you do, you'll be glad you did.

Below is a generic form of the letter that I used. I am not a lawyer and I have no idea how this would be regarded in a court, should it come to that. I hope it will at least give your school administration enough of a reality check that you will be informed if your child is ever in this situation.

"This letter is to rescind the school district’s right to act “in loco parentis” to my child in the event that he is being questioned about any matter that could involve criminal charges being brought against him. Just as I would not expect you to act as a doctor in the event of a serious injury, I do not expect you to act as legal counsel in this situation.
Whether you recognize it formally or not, when you question a student about a crime, you are acting as an agent of the state and that is a direct conflict of interest with your status of acting “in loco parentis” to my child when he is a student in your school. I recognize that this is a challenge for you and that you feel duty bound to act in the best interests of the school at large.

With that in mind, I cannot in good conscience put my child or you in such a position. Therefore, I must insist, that in the extremely unlikely event that my child should be in such a situation, I require immediate notification. I also forbid any questioning of my child unless he has a parent or a lawyer who is acting on his behalf present at the time of such questioning.
I would also encourage the school board to recognize the serious consequences of such questioning in today’s world. There are many ways for students to be brought to the attention of school administrators for such questioning, ranging from actual criminal actions to the malice of other students or adults. Should students be questioned about a crime without even having a parent present? Is that really in the best interests of our students? What does that teach them about their Constitutional rights? I encourage the school board to review current policy and make appropriate changes."

"And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. " ~Deut 6:7

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