CAN THEY DO THAT? SCHOOL SEARCHES OF STUDENTS FOR DRUGS AND WEAPONS

Your high school student just got into the worst trouble of his life. School security searched his locker. After finding some narcotics, the principal demanded the keys to your 17-year-old son’s car and then proceeded to rip apart your trunk. That’s when the principal found a weapon: your husband’s favorite camping knife. Now your son faces expulsion from school. Worse yet, the school turned the matter over to the police, and your son is now being charged with a crime.

While you don’t condone the use of drugs and the Swiss knife was an oversight, you think the school overreacted. Anyway, doesn’t your son have any rights? And what can you do now?

While Illinois schools are bound by the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, they may have greater leeway in conducting a search than your local police. For one thing, a school official need not obtain a search warrant provided he or she has reasonable grounds for believing that the search will turn up evidence that your child has violated school rules. For another, because lockers are considered school property, the school is allowed to randomly search your child’s locker.

But this doesn’t mean that a school can get away with everything. The school cannot search your car without your permission if your child is a minor. If your child is an adult, he or she must consent to the search unless the school obtains a warrant. The school must also point to specific facts, which led officials to infer that your child had done something wrong.

If your child is being disciplined and/or prosecuted as a result of a search or seizure, there may still be hope. In Illinois, a school generally cannot suspend or expel your child without some form of hearing. Your are also entitled to a hearing in the criminal or juvenile court. An attorney can help evaluate your child’s case in order to determine the best defense strategy before the school and the criminal court. Did the school have the specific, articulated facts required to justify the search? Can the search of the car be suppressed because the school lacked the appropriate consent? Does your child have exclusive access to his locker or could someone else have slipped the drugs into it?

Whether the incident is or isn’t charged in a criminal or juvenile court, you and your child should not communicate with anyone but an attorney about the incident, whether by speaking, texting or emailing. Statements made to friends could end up as evidence against your child. Equally important, you and your child should refrain from discussing the incident on any Facebook, Myspace or similar pages. Any references to the incident should be removed.

If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com for advice.

BUT MY CHILD DIDN’T START IT: WHEN YOUR CHILD IS FACING SUSPENSION, EXPULSION OR JUVENILE COURT CRIMINAL CHARGES FOR FIGHTING

You’ve been hearing complaints from your high school student about some other kids at school. They keep harassing him, and the school doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it. While you don’t condone violence, you really can’t blame your child for not wanting to take it anymore. But now your student is facing academic discipline: a suspension and even possibly expulsion and/or juvenile court charges for fighting.

If your child is expelled, you will have to deal with finding an alternative place for them to go to school. This can be costly. An expulsion could also affect your child’s choice of college. Even a suspension can cause difficulties with later life choices. If your child gets in trouble at school a second time, the penalty might be that much more severe because of the initial incident.

In some cases, your child may be charged in juvenile court. Your child could end up with a juvenile criminal record.

What can you do? If the incident is charged in juvenile court, your child will be entitled to a hearing before a judge. At the high school level, your child cannot lose his or her right to attend school without first receiving procedural due process. In most cases, your student is entitled to a hearing, although not always before the suspension takes effect. In many districts, only the school board may expel your student, and you may have a right to a hearing at that stage as well.

An experienced attorney can help evaluate your child’s case to determine the best strategy to defend your child. Did the school follow its own procedural rules? Was your child an innocent bystander or acting in self defense? Even if your child started the fight, an attorney can help judge the strength of the evidence against them and can help challenge the severity of the penalty. Maybe your school has some alternative conflict resolution program.

If there is a juvenile court case, an attorney can evaluate how to proceed. You may wish to take the matter to hearing in hopes of getting the charges dismissed. If the evidence is extremely strong against your child, it might be advisable for the attorney to work out a plea arrangement.

Whether the incident is or isn’t charged in juvenile court, you and your child should not communicate with anyone but an attorney about the incident, whether by speaking, texting or emailing. Statements made to friends could end up as evidence against your child. Equally important, you and your child should refrain from discussing the incident on any Facebook, Myspace or similar pages. Any references to the incident should be removed.

If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com for advice.

“BUT IT WASN’T A REAL GUN”: WHEN YOU ARE ACCUSED OF BRINGING A WEAPON TO SCHOOL

You and your friends love playing gags on each other. Today at school, you brought a squirt gun, and you thought it would be a riot to soak your best friend between classes. The squirt gun, while gray, looks too cheesy to be real, so you figure no one could possibly mistake it for a real gun, and besides, it only shoots water. But just as you take the squirt gun from your locker, school security pulls you aside. Next thing you know, you’re in the principal’s office facing expulsion.

What went wrong? What can you do?

With high profile school shootings in the news, schools have an understandable interest in maintaining school safety. The school feels it cannot be too careful in keeping weapons out of school. Besides that, the Gun-Free Schools Act requires any school receiving government aide to expel for at least one year any student determined to have brought a firearm to school.

But it was only a squirt gun, right? Nonetheless, under some the policy of some schools, even a look-alike weapon can result in disciplinary action.

If you find yourself in this situation, there is still hope. Maybe classifying your object as a “weapon” or “look alike” is too big of a stretch even under the school weapon policy. Maybe the school failed to follow proper procedure in disciplining you. Maybe you can still obtain a reduced sanction. An experienced attorney can help determine the best strategy to fight the charges. Besides evaluating your options, an attorney can help prevent you from digging yourself into a deeper hole by advising you not to talk about the case or to take down your Facebook or My Space page.

If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com for advice.

BUT I WASN’T AT SCHOOL: WHEN YOU ARE DISCIPLINED FOR SOMETHING YOU DID OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL GROUNDS

You were at a party at your friend’s house, while his parents were out of town You were swigging on some beer having a blast, when someone took a picture. Next thing you know, someone emailed that picture to your high school principal, and now the school is threatening to suspend you.

How is that possible? What are your options?

The reality is that schools have a lot of leeway in disciplining someone for violating their rules, even if the student is off school grounds. If the event is somehow school sanctioned or initiated, like a parade or a club, you can be held responsible even though you weren’t at school. One important Supreme Court decision upheld the disclipline of an Alaska student for marching in a school parade with the sign “Bong Hits for Jesus.” The Supreme Court felt that since it was a school parade, the school had a valid interest in preventing the promotion of drug use. Therefore, the student did not have First Amendment rights and could be punished.

While usually there is some connection between the school and the student’s actions, that is not always the case. The party in the example above is not connected to the school in any way. However, some school officials take the position that once the picture is sent to them, the illegal drinking has come into the school and is now open to discipline. This can be true even when the person only sent the photo to get you in trouble.

The Glenbrook Powder Puff case is a locally famous example. At a “powder puff” football game, some seniors bullied junior students in several ways including kicking, beating and spraying them with animal urine. While the acts did not take place on school grounds nor at a school-sanctioned event, the district suspended the girls under its hazing policy.

If you should find yourself in one of these situations, the best thing to do is contact an attorney immediately for advice. Maybe there is some question about whether you actually committed the acts being disciplined. Or maybe the school has failed to follow its own discipline procedures. A careful review of school policy can sometimes yield a solid avenue for a defense. A skilled attorney can help you navigate through this minefield and help improve the outcome.