Legislators go against student interrogation

Virginia legislators are on the verge of passing a bill that would change the way schools deal with serious student offenses. Principals in FCPS and throughout the state are not required to call the parents of a student who is in a situation where he or she could be suspended or expelled.

“Parents need to know when our children are in serious trouble, and I believe that this bill eventually will bring state law closer to that critical goal,” Virginia Senator Chap Petersen said in a statement.

Of four bills advanced in the Virginia legislature to require parental notification, Petersen’s bill is the only one that has not been defeated or sidelined. It passed the Senate on Feb. 13 and moved to the House of Delegates. The bill requires principals to attempt to notify the parents of any student who could be suspended, expelled or arrested.

Because the notification would only be mandatory for offenses that could result in suspension or expulsion, principal Jay Pearson said that he was concerned the bill would force principals to prematurely decide whether students have committed a suspension-worthy offense.

“The bill potentially could impede our need to move forward with an investigation in a timely manner,” he said. “We want to get all the facts then make a decision.”
Student resource officer Tom Harrington noted that if the bill passed Marshall’s disciplinary procedures would not need to be altered.

“The administration … has been active about notifying parents,” he said. “The school would notify the parent once they were done interviewing the kid.”

Parental notification advocate Steve Stuban spoke in support of Petersen’s bill in front of the Senate Subcommittee on Education.

“Newspapers are filled with reports of school officials questioning children repeatedly and, often, for hours on end, without having first notified their parents,” he said in a prepared statement. “Such … interrogations can severely traumatize children, as they did my child.”

Stuban has a vested interest in the issue of parental notification: His late son Nick was suspended from an FCPS school for possession of synthetic marijuana after being questioned repeatedly by school officials and signing written statements prior to the notification of either of his parents. This marked the beginning of an entanglement with FCPS Zero Tolerance policies that contributed to Nick’s suicide last January.

Stuban said in an interview that he believed that when parents familiarize themselves with the regulations regarding notification, they realize “the deck is really stacked against them.”