Questioning Consistency Needed
Police want to respect the authority of school principals and parents but get all the necessary information they can. Principals want to be seen as cooperating with police and protecting children. Parents want to protect their children and cooperate with police and principals.
It's a circle that suggests cooperation all around when the issue concerns police questioning a student at school.
However, a recent opinion by Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr. is clear a principal does not have a legal duty to notify a child's parent if the child is questioned at school by the police.
Detailed in Sunday's Times Free Press by Todd South, the opinion refers only to off-campus, outside-of school hours incidents and not to in-school, on-campus disputes.
Hamilton County School Board attorney Scott Bennett said such incidents are rare but indicated there is no written policy that requires principals to notify parents before a student is questioned. Principals, he said, are trained to make decisions involving school safety and cooperation with police.
On the other hand, Hamilton County Sheriff's Lt. Shaun Shepherd, who supervises the county's 18 School Resource Officers, said he tries to contact parents before any questioning. However, he says they cannot wait indefinitely for a parent's response.
Part of the problem, according to research, is that cowed children -- especially without parents -- are overwhelmingly likely to agree with authority figures and even make up things the police seem to want to know.
There is a need, it seems, for an across-the-board policy by school systems and some middle ground unless the wait for a parent might endanger other people or heighten an imminent threat.
Parents of elementary school and middle school students, say, could be given a day's notice for the opportunity to be present before a child is questioned. Parents of a high school student -- who might be inclined to have more pertinent information -- might be given half a day's notice. If the parent or guardian doesn't respond within the given period, the questioning could go forward.
Without consistent policies, the possibilities of taking advantage of a child seem possible, if not likely.
Your Move, Mr. Attorney General
It will be interesting to see if Cooper, the Tennessee attorney general, files an appeal of Friday's decision by U.S. District Judge Aleta Traugher to recognize the marriages of three same-sex couples contrary to state law that prohibits marriage between people of the same gender and contrary to a 2006 constitutional amendment. It is telling that, in requiring the state to recognize the out-of-state marriages, she said her ruling would thwart "democratically enacted laws" that were "overwhelmingly" approved by 81 percent of Tennessee voters.
Incredibly, Traugher even cited the U.S. Constitution, saying that "all signs indicate that, in the eyes of the United States Constitution ... proscriptions against same-sex marriage will soon become a footnote in the annals of American history." For 227 years, no one has seen anything like that in the Constitution, whose 10th amendment gives states all legal powers not specifically delegated to the federal government. However, federal judges, as the Supreme Court did in its 1973 Roe vs. Wade abortion decision, have been elasticizing the 14th amendment's due process and equal protection clauses to craft the decision they want in such cases.
Although the ruling is only temporary and applies only to the three couples -- the couples did not challenge the present state laws -- other non-elected judges across the country have overturned voter-approved bans on same-sex marriage in Texas, Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia.
Precisely the Problem
United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, hitting the nail on the head of the judicial activism that is the cause of Roe and other recent decisions like Traugher's in which judges found things in the Constitution that aren't there, said Friday in a speech hosted by the State Bar of Georgia that originalism and trying to figure out precisely what the ratified Constitution means are the only way to interpret it. Otherwise, he said, you're just telling judges to govern. "The Constitution is not a living organism," he said. "It's a legal document, and it says what it says and doesn't say what it doesn't say."