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Considerations for Law Enforcement Referrals

Education K-12 Education

School district practices on referrals to local law enforcement for student misconduct in schools are facing intense scrutiny in the wake of the ProPublica investigation reported these past weeks in the Chicago Tribune.  Following the initial report, Dr. Carmen Ayala released a statement imploring school districts not to refer certain student matters to law enforcement in consideration of the costs and consequences of the fines. In her statement, Dr. Ayala identified various student behavior supports and resources available to schools through ISBE. She highlighted the recent guidance issued by the Attorney General’s Office to assist school districts with applying student discipline policies in a non-discriminatory manner. ISBE also indicated its plans to issue a survey to all districts on their disciplinary practices and policies, and intends to investigate any complaints of unlawful practices. Dr. Ayala’s statement noted that ISBE will “work with lawmakers to close loopholes in state law.” 

There are certain circumstances in which school officials are currently required to report student activity to local law enforcement. These include:  

  1. Written complaints of battery committed against school personnel.  
  2. Verified incidents involving drugs on school property, within 1,000 feet of a school, or on a school bus.  
  3. A firearm on school property or on a school bus.  
  4. Hazing that results in death or great bodily harm.  
  5. When a student poses a clear and present danger to themselves or others.  

There are also other circumstances where individuals who are victims of crime on school property should be supported in making complaints to law enforcement, such as in cases of sexual assault. 

Many school districts also have reciprocal reporting agreements with local law enforcement agencies that may require or recommend additional reporting for student misconduct that occurs in school, such as alleged or suspected criminal activities committed by students. Be mindful of whether your district has a reciprocal reporting agreement, the types of conduct required to be reported under the agreement, the distinction between suspected criminal code and municipal code violations, and the effects of such reporting. We recommend reviewing these agreements often with those questions in mind and considering updates as appropriate in accordance with the process set forth by the district’s parent-teacher advisory committee. Such agreements should also be reviewed for necessary updates in light of Dr. Carmen Ayala’s recent statement. 

Finally, we recognize current concerns regarding truant students, particularly as schools have returned to in-person instruction following the COVID-19 pandemic. Illinois law prohibits school districts from referring truant students to local law enforcement for the issuance of a fine or fee as punishment. Instead, the Illinois School Code sets forth specific requirements and processes to identify and report truant and chronically absent students. However, school districts are permitted to refer parents/guardians of a truant student to law enforcement for issuance of a fine or fee if appropriate and available resources have been offered to the student. 

If you have questions about reporting student misconduct to local law enforcement, reciprocal reporting requirements and agreements, and/or truancy, please reach out to any Franczek attorney.