NAACP to hold class on students' rights Police involvement in incidents cited

August 29, 1993|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

Contending that Harford students sometimes need legal protection because of some disciplinary problems, the local chapter of the NAACP plans to hold workshops in churches and meeting halls this fall to teach students and parents their rights, according to its president, Joseph Bond.

He said the workshops, to be led by Bel Air lawyer Stuart Jay Robinson, will tell students that they have the right to an attorney and the right to refuse to make statements when they get into trouble at school.

"Any time an incident occurs which could involve local law enforcement being called in, students and their parents should know what their rights are," Mr. Bond said.

The chapter president called the seminars the NAACP's "top priority" in the county this year, but he said no dates have been set yet. He said all students and their parents will be welcome to attend.

"This is not just a minority issue, it concerns everyone," he said, because the problems can occur at any school, in any part of the county.

Mr. Bond said the Harford chapter decided to hold the seminars because of several incidents last year. One, he said, was the expulsion of a 13-year-old student from a middle school for allegedly holding a paring knife to a student's throat during what he called "horseplay" in the home economics department.

Mr. Robinson, who represents the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said that that case illustrates how a child's constitutional rights can be violated. He said officials at the school called law enforcement officials without advising the boy or his mother that they had the right to refuse to make statements and that they were entitled to be represented by an attorney.

"We feel the school system has an obligation to advise students and their parents of their rights any time the school feels that law enforcement may be involved," Mr. Robinson said.

School officials said last week that about 360 of the school system's 32,869 students -- 1.1 percent of the student population -- were given long-term suspensions or expelled during the 1991-1992 school year.

Deputy Superintendent Albert F. Seymour said law officers are always called when disciplinary problems in county schools involve drugs, arson or weapons or when student safety may be endangered.

Mr. Bond said the NAACP had asked the school board last year to include legal information in its student handbook of policies and procedures, but the board declined.

Mr. Seymour said he did not know whether the NAACP had contacted the school system with that request. He said the student handbook contains information on students' rights and responsibilities, but does not include information on their rights in potential criminal situations.

"The school system has always worked very closely with the NAACP, and we have no problem with them offering this kind of information," Mr. Seymour said.

In another incident, one student was expelled from a middle school because he allegedly raped another student off school property, Mr. Bond said. Criminal charges in that case were dropped, but the student was not readmitted to the school last year, he said.

The school system, citing student confidentiality, would not comment last week on either incident.

In May, the school board formally adopted a policy that gave principals the right to suspend students suspected of or charged with crimes off school property. Principals previously had been making such suspensions when they believed there was a danger to other students.

Mr. Robinson said removing students from school is too harsh a punishment, particularly if they have not been convicted of crimes.

"It takes a long time for a student to move through the system, whether it's the school system or the judicial system," he said. "What happens if the student is never convicted of a crime, or if the school board decides in the child's favor? The damage will already have been done."

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