Juvenile Justice

Published — January 27, 2012 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Coast to coast, questions over student interrogations

Va. could require parental contact; Calif. protest over police grilling

Introduction

As police presence and student suspensions have grown in schools, so has the volume of a debate over what rights parents have to be aware their children are being questioned or participate in the disciplinary process.

Grieving his expelled son’s suicide last year, a Virginia dad is hoping his state will enact a law requiring schools to immediately contact parents when an investigation begins that could lead to a child’s suspension, expulsion or involvement with law enforcement.

Across the country in California, the American Civil Liberties Union, representing students, took action last year when a high school in the city of Davis let police in to interrogate two students about journalistic reports they had produced on graffiti there.

Steven Stuban of Virginia’s Fairfax County links his son Nick’s suicide last year to an emotionally tough expulsion from his high school the year before. According to media reports, Stuban said that over the course of days, staff at the teen’s school questioned the 15-year-old multiple times and made him submit written statements after he was accused of buying synthetic marijuana pills.

Stuban said he and his wife were notified only after the questioning that Nick was being suspended with a recommendation for expulsion based on violation of a “zero tolerance” policy.

This month, working with Stuban, Virginia legislators introduced four versions of proposals requiring that school officials immediately contact parents if a student faces suspension or expulsion or a court filing.

A bill with that aim passed the Virginia House last year, but failed in the Senate after school officials objected that they could be sued if they failed to reach parents and that they needed to be able to take quick action in an emergency.

Last year, in California, when Davis police interrogated two students about their sources for reports on graffiti, the ACLU wrote that the students’ rights had been violated. The students’ cell phones were confiscated when they were pulled out of classes, and they were not permitted to contact parents or a lawyer or told that they had a right to leave the room, the ACLU said.

Davis school officials said they agreed with some of the ACLU’s arguments, but said state law permits police to question students before parents are notified.

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