Give law enforcement glimpse of school misconduct
State criminal-justice officials are proposing an increase in sharing of information about students with public schools.
BARRIERS to sharing of information between public schools and law enforcement agencies
have been cited as contributing to unexpected school violence. Criminal justice officials are asking the state Board of Education to share records, but increased cooperation between the two systems needs to be tailored carefully to protect students' privacy rights. State legislation is needed to allow such cooperation.
Privacy constraints in the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 prevented Columbine High School teachers and local law enforcement officials from sharing information about Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold seven years ago before the school massacre. The two students murdered 13 people before killing themselves.
Colorado had neglected to take advantage of a 1994 amendment to the federal law that allows schools and criminal justice officials, by state law, to increase information sharing. The Colorado legislature in 2000 belatedly enacted such a law, which puts officials on alert about potential violence without invading students' privacy. Most states have enacted similar laws.
The cooperation in Colorado works both ways. Law enforcement officials are obligated to notify schools whenever a student is charged with a violent or sexual crime and provide the student's arrest and criminal records. The student's convictions on drug crimes also must be forwarded to the school. The school must be notified of a student's parole or probation that includes school attendance.
Colorado schools must notify law enforcement agencies of any reports of a student's assault or harassment of teachers or other school employees. They also must report school truancy in violation of a condition of probation or parole.
Officials of Hawaii's police, prosecutors' offices and judiciary have begun meeting with Board of Education members to fashion such a law for next year's Legislature. U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo called for the school board to tap the "plethora of resources" for availability to law enforcement agencies.
School officials might be concerned about the extent to which justice officials seek information about students. Family Court Judge R. Mark Browning and Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle seemed to suggest that authorities be informed about a student's emotional, psychological or mental-health problems.
Under Carlisle's model, such information "doesn't just stay with the school system; it goes to the police, the prosecutor." Kim Coco Iwamoto, a member of a school board advisory committee, questions assurances that such information on children would not be used "to prosecute them down the line. Don't believe them."
A state law is needed to increase sharing of information, but it should be strictly limited and made mandatory in order to protect school officials from lawsuits by parents.
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