La Cañada schools change rules for police interviews on campus

Three incidents in the past eight months have led La Cañada schools to institute new rules for on-campus interaction between students and police.

At an Oct. 30 meeting the La Cañada Unified School District board of trustees voted to back regulations that would require administrators to warn students of their right to remain silent, demand that police either have a warrant or good cause to interview a student, encourage warrants to be served at students’ homes rather than on campus and offer further protections for younger students.

La Cañada resident Guy Iversen, a federal public defender with a son at La Canada High School 7/8, criticized school officials at the Oct. 30 meeting for a past incident. He said his 14-year-old son was grilled last spring by an administrator and law enforcement officer over the alleged wrongdoing of another student. He believes the schools have not offered enough safeguards for students.

“You have a right not to speak, and you also have a right to not be compelled to speak,” he said.

Supt. Wendy Sinnette, who worked with district administrators, legal counsel and Iversen on the new policy, said three incidents arose over the past six to eight months.

“Parents have expressed concerns with the district’s approach,” she said. “Our goal obviously is to ensure a safe environment for our students and make sure our students’ rights are adequately protected, to make sure the administrators have access and are able to carry out investigations, to clearly define the role of law enforcement, to honor the trust parents give us … and to cover district liability.”

The policy acknowledges that law enforcement officers have the right to interview students on campus, and it spells out a distinct protocol for school administrators and officers.

McCune said officers won’t have “an unrestrained right” to interview students, but must have a court order or show that “exigent circumstances” require an on-campus interaction.

Despite an understanding that subpoenas may legally be served at school, the district’s new policy encourages officers to serve subpoenas at students’ homes if possible.

The revised policy also requires middle school and high school principals to inform students that they have the right to have a parent present if a law enforcement officer wants to question them, and that students can choose a faculty member to be present if a parent is unavailable.

Elementary school principals will seek oral consent from a parent or guardian if law enforcement officers seek to question a student on campus, and parents can insist on being present for any interviews.

The revised policy also contains guidelines for questioning a student who may be a victim of child abuse or when a pupil is on probation for a crime.

Iversen said he is pleased with the new rules.

“I’m a concerned parent,” Iversen said. “I’ve got two kids in the district. It’s a great first step.”

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