Schools Targeting Off-Campus Crimes! 

Schools Targeting Off-Campus Crimes! 
Posted by FoM on February 15, 1999 at 11:36:26 PT

Authority over students is expanding as zero-tolerance rules cover night, weekend incidents.  Assuming a role usually assigned to parents or police, a growing number of public schools are disciplining students for their misbehavior off campus. 
Students driving drunk on a weekend or caught fighting at the mall not only risk arrest and further consequences at home. Now, as the call for safe schools intensifies, they also may be suspended or expelled.   Police stopped the car of a Newport Beach high school senior last February for playing the Grateful Dead too loud. It was a Tuesday, after the teen's school day had ended, and he was running some errands for his mother. The officer found a pipe and marijuana residue that was insufficient to issue Ryan Huntsman a citation, but school officials decided it was enough for a disciplinary transfer to another school 89 days before graduation.   Similar cases are cropping up across the nation. A middle-school boy near Syracuse, N.Y., made an obscene phone call to a classmate. A Connecticut teen was arrested for possessing two ounces of marijuana in the trunk of his car. A Virginia student spray-painted homes and churches.   In every instance, the schools moved to bar the student from campus for several months.   Zero-tolerance policies already in place at many schools generally prescribe suspension, transfer or expulsion for the first time students are involved in the use or possession of drugs, alcohol or weapons on campus. Now, educators across the nation say they are expanding their authority off-campus and off-hours to keep delinquent behavior from creeping onto school grounds.   "We have a new breed of violence standards," said Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center in Westlake Village, Calif. "Parents, teachers and students are concerned about troublemakers. The public is concerned about school safety."   Practice Raises New Legal Issues   No figures are available on the incidence of such cases. But the first ones already are reaching courtrooms, where they pose a new set of legal questions: Do public schools have any business getting involved in a student's behavior away from campus? What about when that behavior directly affects the well-being of other students whom the schools are charged to protect?   "School districts believe that they can do whatever they feel like doing," said Veronica Norris, a Tustin lawyer who specializes in education law. She predicted that school boards will continue to expand the boundaries of their authority "until the courts make them stop doing it."   The outcome of individual court challenges has been mixed so far as the issue is debated in a spate of cases across the country. Some judges have ruled for the families; others have sided with school authorities.   In a Santa Ana courtroom two months ago, a Superior Court judge upheld the Tustin Unified School District's right to remove three high school seniors from Foothill High--forcing them to complete their final semester at another campus--because they allegedly smoked marijuana off school grounds during lunch period. Tustin Unified's zero-tolerance policy governs student behavior at lunch, on campus or off.   Newport-Mesa Unified school officials said Ryan Huntsman violated that district's zero-tolerance policy and they transferred him from Corona del Mar High School to Newport Harbor High because of his brush with police.   But in court, Huntsman's lawyer, David Shores, successfully argued that school administrators had transferred the teen without a hearing, denying his due process rights. A Superior Court judge agreed, and Huntsman graduated from Corona del Mar High in June. He now attends Marymount College in Rancho Palos Verdes.   $10-Million Suit Leads to Tweaking of Policy   The school district appealed the case to the state Court of Appeal, which declared it moot because Huntsman already had graduated.   He also filed a $10-million civil-rights lawsuit against the Newport Beach Police Department, the city and the school district to pay legal bills, said his mother, Kathleen Huntsman. That suit is still pending, although a federal judge last week dropped the school district from the list of defendants.   As a result of the Huntsman case, the school board tweaked its zero-tolerance policy to ensure that students have a hearing before they are disciplined, said board member James P. Ferryman.   But it stands by the decision to transfer Huntsman because "his next stop was to go into school," Ferryman said. Huntsman disputes that. He said he was running some errands for his mother and was on his way back to her office when police stopped his car.   Ferryman said the district's zero-tolerance policy is ambiguous, and this month the school board plans to reexamine it.   Huntsman, meanwhile, had another run-in with Newport Beach police when he was home for Christmas break. On Dec. 29, he was charged with possession of marijuana and alcohol while parked in a no-stopping zone. Because police found less than one ounce of the drug, Huntsman wasn't arrested but could face more than $500 in fines.   The crackdown on students originated in 1987 after Congress passed the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, educators said. The law funnels an average of $500 million a year to school districts to discourage drug use and violence. As part of that movement, many districts adopted zero-tolerance policies to put teeth into their anti-drug efforts.   Frustrated school officials said they have been further pushed into policing off-campus behavior because out-of-school misconduct eventually spills over onto their campuses.   "It's a way of trying to control the kid who holds up the 7-Eleven Saturday night and walks into school Monday morning," said Supt. George Counter of the Thomaston, Conn., school district. "We need to have some way of controlling those kids to protect the . . . others."   Kyle P. Packer, then a Thomaston high school senior with good grades, an athlete's poise and a penchant for partying, was headed home with his younger brother after a drive at dusk in September 1997 when Connecticut State Police troopers caught him with two ounces of marijuana in the trunk of his car.   It wasn't the first time he had been in trouble.   The 19-year-old was caught drinking beer at an off-campus party when he was a freshman and was cut from the team for the remainder of the season.   Now he was being suspended for four months.   His parents hired lawyers who obtained an injunction and, after three weeks, Packer was back on campus. His criminal case was dismissed.   "As a mother, I couldn't rest," Jane Packer said. "Who are these people who can selectively persecute and prosecute whoever they want?"   The Connecticut Supreme Court agreed, ruling that students could be expelled for their out-of-school behavior only if it "markedly interrupts or severely impedes the day-to-day operations of the school." The Thomaston school board's decision to suspend Packer did not meet that legal threshold, the court ruled.   "Kids have a tough-enough time in high school, and teachers have a tough enough time educating kids," said William A. Conti, the lawyer who defended Packer. "But this is crazy."   School officials said they had previously tried to curb Packer's behavior, with little success. His arrest warranted further punishment, they said.   "Given the prior disciplinary action . . . we felt that we needed to send a clear message," Supt. Counter said.   Kyle Packer now is a freshman at the University of Connecticut. After her younger son graduates from high school in two years, Jane Packer said, she and her husband plan to move from the town they've lived in since 1970.   "I don't want to live here anymore," she said. "You feel like you're branded."   While some cases involve victimless drug offenses like Packer's, others put school officials into difficult legal quandaries. They can be sued for failing to protect students not only from violent behavior on campus, but from various forms of harassment, from sexual to racial. But they also can be sued for moving to discipline students whom they see as harassers.
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