If your child is called to the principal’s office because he or she was accused of doing something illegal, be sure they tread carefully.
Many school districts have a police officer at each school acting as a “School Resource Officer” or “DARE Officer”. They provide a level of security for the students as well as a deterrent for kids who might get out of line. Nonetheless, what needs to be understood is that the resource officers are police officers first and baby sitters second!
This creates potential problems. Here’s an example from an actual case:
Child A receives a text containing a photo of Child B in their underwear. Child A posts the photo of Child B online with related comments (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). Multiple classmates see the photo that Child A posted online and tease Child B who tells his parents. The parents report the incident to the school, explaining that Child B is now in counseling for depression. As a mandatory reporter, the school alerts the resource officer and a criminal investigation begins. Child A is called down to the principal’s office to explain, and give a “letter of apology” to Child B. The letter of apology is used and quoted in an arrest warrant for Child A. Though Child A’s actions may seem like horseplay, they result in his arrest.
When a student is called down to the principal’s office because another student accused him or her of doing something illegal, often the resource officer is present when questioned by the principal. Though this is tantamount to a police interrogation, the child is never advised of his/her Miranda rights; additionally, the principal, who sits in place of the parents, provides the “consent” to question the student that only a parent should extend to law enforcement.
Sometimes the resource officer approaches a child on their own, asking questions about something they are investigating. Should this occur, your child should be polite, but insist that one of his/her parents be present as well. This may be difficult for most children, as they may feel intimidated to take such a stance with the resource officer, or principal. Regardless, you must tell them that they need to stand their ground.
If the child insists that one of his/her parents be present before speaking to the resource officer (or to the principal while the resource officer is present), the school will contact you before proceeding further. In that event, immediately contact a criminal defense attorney and explain that the police want to question your child. The lawyer will then reach out to police to protect your child, and his/her rights.
While we want the resource officers to be at the schools to shield our students from problems, we don’t want them to be used as a sword to help prosecute our kids. Let your children know that they must always insist that their parents be present before answering any questions put to them, by the resource officer.