Governor Pritzker Signs Law Requiring Parental Notice Before Police Questioning at School of Students Suspected of Crimes
Governor Pritzker recently signed a law requiring notification or attempted notification of the parent or guardian of a student suspected of criminal activity prior to detaining and questioning the student on school grounds about the suspected crime by a law enforcement officer, school resource officer or other school security personnel. Signed into law on Friday, House Bill 2627 (which we issued an alert on in June), amends the Illinois School Code to require law enforcement officers, school resource officers or other school security personnel to notify parents and take reasonable steps to include parents or school mental health professionals when detaining and questioning students on school grounds. The law covers any detainment and questioning of students under 18 years of age by a law enforcement officer, school resource officer, or other school security personnel on school grounds when such students are suspected of committing a criminal act. Prior to any such detainment and questioning of a student who is suspected of committing a crime, the law enforcement officer, school resource officer or other school security personnel must:
- Ensure that the student’s parent or guardian is notified regarding the questioning and detainment or an attempt at notification is made;
- Document the time and manner in which notification occurred or was attempted;
- Make reasonable efforts to ensure that the student’s parent or guardian is present during the questioning, or if the parent or guardian cannot be present during questioning, ensure that a school social worker, school psychologist, school nurse, school guidance counselor, or other mental health professional is present; and
- Make reasonable efforts to ensure that a law enforcement officer with training in promoting safe interactions and communications with youth is present during the questioning, if practicable.
School grounds means school property during regular hours when school is in session and students are present. Notably, the law does not affect or limit the ability of a law enforcement officer to make arrests on school grounds. The requirements under the law also do not apply to circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to believe that urgent and immediate action is necessary for any of the following reasons:
- to prevent bodily harm or injury;
- to apprehend an armed or fleeing suspect;
- prevent the destruction of evidence, or
- address an emergency or otherwise dangerous situation.
Although the interpretation of this law will almost certainly evolve over time, this alert includes some preliminary answers to some of the frequent questions we have heard about this new law.
Does this law apply to school administrators?
The law does not apply to the questioning of students solely by school administrators. The parental notification requirements apply to the detainment and questioning of a student, suspected of committing a criminal act, by a “law enforcement officer, school resource officer, or other school security personnel.”
What is a “Criminal Act”?
There is no definition of a “criminal act” in the statute. In some cases, it will be more obvious that the suspected conduct is criminal, such as possession or being under the influence of drugs, theft, or other obvious criminal activity. Other types of conduct, including bullying, sexting, and harassment, may be a crime in some circumstances but not in others. Until these boundaries are refined, in ambiguous cases schools should consider applying the parental notification requirements prior to a school resource officer questioning and detaining a student, or contact their legal counsel for guidance before moving forward without applying the parental notification requirements in such circumstances.
What do we do if the parent can’t be reached?
Under the law, if the parent or guardian is not present, the school resource officer, law enforcement officer or other school security personnel must ensure that school personnel, including, but not limited to a school social worker, a school psychologist, a school nurse, a school guidance counselor, or any other mental health professional, are present during the questioning. It is unclear from the law how many of these “personnel” are expected to be present in such circumstances, but schools should at least have one such person in presence. Although not required, schools may want to consider designating a person to serve as the parent/guardian substitute and consider some training, whether formal or informal, for that person as soon as possible so they are clear of their role in such a meeting.
The law contains an exception to address an emergency or otherwise dangerous situation. What might that include?
The law does not contain a definition for “emergency or otherwise dangerous situation.” It is likely that incidents involving weapons or serious bodily harm against others would fit this definition. What is less clear, however, is whether cases involving drugs or other controlled substances would ever meet the definition. Unless a significant amount of drugs, an extremely dangerous drug such as fentanyl or other controlled substances are present, cases involving possession or being under the influence of such substances may not meet the definition. School officials should contact legal counsel to discuss situations on a case-by-case basis until there is more guidance on how the terms will be interpreted.
What about law enforcement officers who do not actually question a student during a meeting? Interviews of students that were not suspected to involve a crime but that uncover information that they may have committed one? Or the potential implications of noncompliance?
The law is silent on these and a number of other issues that will almost certainly come up on a case-by-case basis. Because there is no obvious answer based on the law, it is particularly important for schools to engage legal counsel to work through these questions before interviewing students in a manner that implicates the law.
When must schools come in compliance with the law?
The law went into effect immediately upon its signature by the Governor. Schools should contact their legal counsel now to review and/or implement policies and procedures to address compliance with the law going forward.