Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

May 3, 2013

School officials criticize Kentucky Supreme Court ruling

Mike James
The Independent

ASHLAND — A school administrators’ group criticized a recent Kentucky Supreme Court ruling it said could hamper effective school discipline, but civil rights advocates applauded it.

The ruling requires that students be informed of their legal rights before being questioned by school administrators when police or school resource officers are involved.

Under the ruling, in a situation with the potential to result in criminal charges, administrators and police would have to offer the same Miranda rights warning as in an arrest.

“Their job has just become way more difficult and their school has become less safe,” said Wayne Young, executive director and legal counsel for the Kentucky Association of School Administrators.

Administrators now will have to second-guess themselves instead of dealing immediately with a discipline or safety issue, according to Young.

For instance, he said, a principal wanting to question a student about a pill bottle found at school — which is what happened in the case that generated the ruling — would first want to know whether other students had any of the drugs.

The student could be less likely to offer the information once apprised of the right to remain silent, he said.

The ruling leaves unanswered questions, he said. Among the gray areas are commonplace school discipline situations like hallway scuffles.

Such disputes might be simple disagreements or could relate to drugs or other serious issues, he said. In the wake of the ruling, administrators would be hard pressed to know when or whether to inform the students of their rights.

Attorneys at the Kentucky American Civil Liberties Union were still reviewing the ruling Thursday, but were generally supportive. "The ACLU of Kentucky applauds the recent Kentucky Supreme Court ruling clarifying that children, like adults, are entitled to basic constitutional protections when interrogated by law enforcement officials,” said spokeswoman Amber Duke. “Schools are not constitution-free zones, and this ruling reaffirms that students do not shed their rights at the schoolhouse door."

Young hopes the Kentucky attorney general will take up the issue and appeal it to the Supreme Court. “It’s a federal constitutional issue,” he said.

Meanwhile, local school officials were not overly concerned. Greenup County High principal Jason Smith said he maintains strict separation between school rules issues and legal matters. School resource officer Greg Virgin, a county deputy, steps in as soon as the latter occurs.

“I don’t think (the ruling) is a hindrance. It’s an extra precaution. When we investigate an incident, we have to be very careful to get it right,” he said.

Fairview principal Garry McPeek called it “another hoop” but said the long-standing practice at his school has been to notify parents and get them involved as soon as possible. “Very seldom do I have to call law enforcement, but when I do I call parents first,” he said.

 A Miranda warning already is standard procedure at Paul Blazer High in the event of a potential criminal matter, principal Derek Runyon said.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.