Students/parents rights discussed

By Ruthann Carr

During a rather routine School Board meeting Thursday (May 19) a discussion of parental and students rights and questioning by law enforcement emerged. 

The board accepted the 2022-23 school calendar which sets students’ first day on Aug. 9, winter break Dec. 19 – Jan. 3, spring break April 3-7 and graduation May 26.

They also discussed giving prospective teachers credit for private teaching experience and military service. That subject will be up for vote at the June 9 meeting. 

As board members plowed through a list of proposed updates to 12 Virginia School Board Association and Fluvanna school policies, Andrew Pullen (Columbia) said he had a question about policy dealing with, “relations with law enforcement authorities. Investigations by law enforcement officers at school,” which states:

“When it becomes necessary for any law enforcement officer to interrogate a student on school premises, the principal is contacted immediately. The principal or principal’s designee makes a reasonable effort to contact the parent or guardian and have the parent or guardian in attendance for the interrogation. If the parent or guardian cannot be present for the interrogation, then the principal or principal’s designee is present throughout the interrogation.”

Pullen said: “If there is a deputy that’s interrogating a student for a variety of reasons, I hope that they would not wait for the principal or the parent to do so.” 

Don Stribling, executive director for human resources, operations and student relations, said the school does not have to wait for parents.

“Once they (law enforcement) come in and take control of the situation, they can,” Stribling said. “But because we work very closely – we have SROs (school resource officers) – we work closely with the sheriff’s department, sometimes given the context of the situation, sometimes they give us grace to let the parent know that this is happening. They don’t have to. It works out very well given the close relationship we have with the sheriff’s department.”

Pullen went on to read further into the same policy involving the school’s duty to report incidents that may constitute a felony to law enforcement. 

The policy also states, “The principal may report to local law enforcement officials any incident involving the assault or assault and battery, without bodily injury, of any person on a school bus, on school property or at a school-sponsored activity.”

Board Chair James Kelley (Palmyra) asked if a student has the right to have a parent present while being interviewed. 

Stribling said the school principal can stand in for the parent under a policy of “in loco parentis.”

“We serve as that representative,” he said. “We want what’s best for the kids. Sometimes they make bad decisions.”

Pullen said students can agree to be questioned.

“And remember, just because they’re a minor doesn’t mean they can’t consent,” Pullen said. “If they’re over the age of 14 they can say yes or no.” 

Gequetta Murry-Key (Rivanna) said she would like to get more clarity about the subject. 

“This is the kind of thing that agitates people,” she said.

Kelley said he had a lot of reservations about the policy. 

“I’m inclined to spend a lot more time on this one,” he said. “I’d like to hear more from defense attorneys. A lot of this is fundamentally problematic. We need to make sure students are afforded their rights and aren’t under duress to be interrogated by police in a school setting.”

Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham) expressed his opinion.

“If the student is on school property, then they are under school authority,” Rittenhouse said. “If they’ve done something egregious enough to be questioned by law enforcement, then so be it.”

Kelley responded: “As if they waive their rights to not speak to police by being in school? I don’t think you waive your civil rights by being in a public building.”

Superintendent Peter Gretz said he has been places where the relationship with law enforcement isn’t as positive and collegial as it is in Fluvanna. 

He is comfortable that issues that come up regarding police questioning and students’ behavior are handled here in the best way possible.

Stribling said he would ask Capt. Von Hill who heads up the SRO program if he can come to the June 9 school board meeting to answer questions and explain policies.

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