And Keep It To Yourself, Kids

The implicit threat of bad things happening if a child reveals to his parents that something happened is the stuff of sick pedophiles.  Or teachers and school administrators.  Via the Bangor Daily News:

South Portland’s superintendent and athletic director told CBS 13 yesterday afternoon that the entire South Portland High School Red Riots football team, rather than practice for tonight’s game against Sanford, were instead taken to a lecture hall, where they were questioned individually by the principal, athletic director and other administrators.

Athletic director Todd Livingston would not say the nature of the questioning, or what, if anything, they may have learned.

Word is that there was an incident of hazing, “where younger players on the team were asked by older ones to take substances.”  Certainly, that’s a matter of serious concern, and the school officials can hardly be faulted for taking it seriously and investigating whether, and what, happened. 

The Portland Press Herald reports that, according to two parents, students were held in the gym for nearly five hours, where they were questioned about reports of pills in the locker room.

They were also ordered to turn over their cellphones.

Five hours seems to be a rather lengthy period of time to hold high school students, and stripping them of cellphones appears to be designed to prevent the students from communicating with the outside world, or receiving outside communications. From, say, their parents.

As this was conducted by school officials, rather than law enforcement, it would appear that it didn’t implicate a duty to have a parent present for questioning, but then the school officials took their actions to an unexpected place:

They went on to say students were warned not to talk about the meeting or the line of questioning and that if they did, they were told they could be expelled.

And here, a line is crossed that should not, that cannot, be, whether by a school, law enforcement or anyone else. By what authority does a coach, a principal, threaten a student with expulsion for telling his parent that he was subject to questioning, to interrogation, in school? Indeed, the cops were quick to note that they had nothing to do with this.

South Portland police say they are not a part of this, that it is solely a school investigation.

So these are the people entrusted with the care of children, and they’re taking a page out of the pedophile playbook to try to keep the parents of students in their care from learning of a five hour interrogation.

There is no information provided as to how or why the school thought that younger players were offered pills by older players, and how that might constitute hazing.  But assuming, arguendo, that there was a credible basis for the belief, it would be incumbent on school officials to act upon it, to ascertain whether something of this sort happened, and to put an stop to it.

For this, the school’s actions are laudable.  But how they conduct an investigation is another matter.  Holding students in custody, deliberately depriving them of the opportunity to reach out to their parents, is itself a deeply troubling concept. While school officials often think very highly of the importance of their own control over students, they remain children and parents remain in control of their children’s lives.  If a child is subject to interrogation, there is no circumstances where the child should be denied access to his parent.

But the final blow, the threat that if they even reveal that this interrogation, these five hours of custody, isolated from their parents, is disclosed to parents, they would be expelled, is beyond comprehension.

Initially, there is no conceivable legitimate justification for such a threat by school officials.  They are not entitled to secrecy, to engaging in conduct relative to their students that no parent should ever know about.  Whether their motive was to conceal the possibility of hazing from parents so as not to unnecessarily worry them if the rumor turned out to be unsubstantiated, or to conceal that their children were held for five hours for interrogation, isn’t clear. It doesn’t matter why.

As it turned out, one student was ultimately suspended for involvement in this “hazing” incident.  Of the two parents whose children told them what happened despite the threat, very different reactions followed:

One parent was upset about how the situation was handled, not necessarily because school officials were asking about drugs, but because the students had to turn over their cellphones and he couldn’t reach his son for several hours.

The other felt differently:

The other parent had no problem with how the school dealt with the issue.

“I think we coddle these kids and are afraid to intimidate them,” she said. “I hope they were intimidated.”

It’s a very different thing to “coddle” children than have school officials “intimidate” children during a secret custodial interrogation.  Clearly, the second parent found no cause for concern by the school officials’ actions, including the threat of expulsion if they reveal that it happened.

Ironically, the second parent’s child did disclose the interrogation, despite having been threatened, and the parent fully supported the school officials’ conduct.  Which leaves open the question of whether the second parent beat their child to a pulp for revealing the school’s secret to her.  After all, she wouldn’t want to coddle her own child.


44 thoughts on “And Keep It To Yourself, Kids

  1. AP

    “The team was led into a school lecture hall and players were ordered to turn over their cellphones, the parents said. The doors were locked.”

    On the face of it that would appear to be a clear violation of fire safety codes. No wonder the school didn’t want to the kids to say something because they saw something.

      1. AP

        See, that second mother was right – more coddling!

        I wonder if she had the courage of her convictions to also insist that the school expel her son for blabbing.

    1. mrjest

      More importantly, it’s false imprisonment. Parents should have called the police and have the school administrators picked up in a SWAT raid.

      1. SHG Post author

        This is a law blog. Even though I’ve allowed some silly comments about kidnapping and false imprisonment, these aren’t things that pop into non-lawyers’ heads because they kinda sorta feel like they should be. There are actual elements involved.

        The tort of False imprisonment has three elements:

        There must have been a willful detention;
        The detention must have been without consent; and
        The detention was unlawful.

        The third element creates the salient issue, whether the school’s actions exceeded its lawful authority or can be justified as a permissible investigation. As much as this is fundamentally wrong as a matter of policy, the question of whether it’s unlawful is one that requires application of law.

        Here, we don’t just spout blind feelings that something is wrong, as so many non-lawyer commenters have done, but apply actual law to the facts. Whether this constitutes kidnapping or false imprisonment is hardly clear or easy, no matter whether you feel it should be.

        1. Ken in NH

          Being a parent and a non-lawyer who finds the behavior of the school officials abhorrent, I would not consider pressing criminal charges from my pitiful understanding of in loco parentis unless they were held beyond school hours or in a place where I would not expect them to be. For example, had the interrogation gone beyond the school day and they kept the students at the school when they were supposed to be bused over to the next town for a game. If I had shown up at the game expecting my child to be there and they were not, I would need a good explanation of why it was necessary for the well-being of my child to not be where they should have been and then some very convincing excuse as to why I was not informed as soon as practicable. Without a convincing story, I would certainly be asking to press charges of kidnapping and/or false imprisonment.

          From the facts of the story as presented, it does not sound like there is a good case for such charges. It sounds like it was during school hours, at a location the parents would expect their child to be at that time, and, perhaps sadly, within the legal authority of the school officials. Sometimes, non-judicial remedies are the only ones available. Pressing the school board for action and finding alternative schooling are always a good first step.

  2. Rick Horowitz

    Five hours locked up, incommunicado, and not by a police officer?

    At some point, I begin to suspect kidnapping.

    I mean, how far does a school employee’s authority extend these days?

  3. Kirk Taylor

    I wonder if the no talking and cell phones was meant to prevent the students from colluding to get their stories straight. My first thought was to assume (oops) that the don’t talk about the incident order was not meant to exclude their parents.

    1. SHG Post author

      So you just kind of imagined a baseless fact (order not meant to exclude parents), stuck it in and thought is was relevant enough to let us know?

  4. Mark

    One of the main claims of American education is that we educated students to be good citizens. Unfortunately, this means depriving them of as many constitutional rights as we can.

        1. SHG Post author

          I remember the first time I went to a high school awards ceremony. There were a couple dozen “awards” given out for good citizenship. Much as I tried, I couldn’t quite understand what that meant, what the criteria was, and why it was so important as to be worthy of so many awards.

          Later, I asked the principal. He said those were the kids who didn’t give them any shit and did what they were told. It made sense.

  5. Terry roberts

    Parens Patria gone amok? No. This is typical school administrator(s) behavior. Do as I say, whether you like it or not or be expelled.
    This is the land of the free? (Except in school.)

  6. BS Simon

    I don’t have kids, if I did I would tell them to insist I be called if they are brought to the principal’so office, and not talk without me being there. Or at least I would need to be on speaker phone.

    1. SHG Post author

      Yeah, they can insist all they want, because school administrators are well known for caring deeply about things kids insist upon.

      1. SDN

        Then I tell my kids to say this:

        “OK. Since you aren’t the cops and have no power to legally detain me, I’m out of here. See you in court when my parents sue you.” And walk.

  7. losingtrader

    Please don’t send me a bill for this answer, but where does the school’s ability to act ” in loco parentis” fit in this, if at all?

  8. Tice with a J

    And here I thought that being afraid to intimidate children was a sign that 1) I’m a a halfway decent parent and 2) my psychiatric medications are working. Silly me. Time to toss out the lithium and start frightening the little brats.

  9. John Barleycorn

    Football is an American tradition. WTF is out of the ordinary here?

    P.S. [out of line but I don’t do email] Take a week or two off from here esteemed one and draft your preliminary greatest angst with the future outline. Reflect on it and take a look at the last few years themes.

    Aggregation commentary needs some rest from itself before it buries you underneath the quest your guild is sworn to. You speak of the trenches often. Hope you know there is still a cold-war going on out there, so very far behind the hot. It can be won.

    Don’t take that the wrong way. Consider it a “cheap seat” banner of respect encouraging reality. A reality even your hardened experience can’t remove from the bench and the never-ending efforts of simple justice.

    Looks like your Fault Lines pitching staff including the relievers are starting to feel the earth beneath their cleats.

    Call me a sceptic but I am impressed with the stamp you were and continue to put on that endeavor.

    Lawyers, who needs um?!

    FFF: If you haven’t taken the time capture your archives, you should!

    p.s.s. Fubar, I am in the bay area again for another month or so, life is short.

  10. David Florida

    Once again, I recall the words of JDog to the assistant principal: “My daughter asked to speak with me and her attorney, but instead you kept asking questions? Do you own your home?”

    I look forward to ‘coddling’ my own children’s school administrators…

    1. Herr Morgenholz

      As a father to several, I plan to appropriate this general line of rhetoric as my own.

      It’s not theft if you announce it publicly, I think……

        1. David Florida

          Perhaps the reference is related to another common JDog expression. He told excellent stories about “filing off the serial number” of this or that plot element… Obviously, I miss him as well.

    1. SHG Post author

      I realize that the leap in the last paragraph requires a bit of extrapolation, which would make it sail over most people’s head who weren’t capable of constructing the logical steps on their own. It happens. You would do better to wonder why you were among those incapable of doing so, and nonetheless felt your opinion was of such importance that you were compelled to express it.

    2. Marc not-R

      SHG even helpfully labelled the paragraph by starting with the word “Ironically”, so I’m not sure how that seems “unhinged”. That preface, plus a memory of any number of movies with over zealous football parents beating the crap out of their kid for some failure, does not require much extrapolation to imagine a violent response from the parents as an outcome for the second child.

      1. SHG Post author

        It could be that SL views beating children as a swell idea. Since SL doesn’t explain, no reason to assume that SL isn’t saying that needless violence isn’t a parent’s right and duty.

  11. Dave Mc

    Yes, the one parent who was not upset will now beat the pulp out of her child because . . . uh . . . uh . . . some kind of leftist logic.

    1. SHG Post author

      A parent who supports her child’s intimidation by authoritarians as an acceptable means of control has what to do with “leftist logic”?

    1. SHG Post author

      Incoming link from Glenn Reynolds, and with it some folks with strong political views and little grasp of law and logic. It’s fine, provided their “legal” feelings don’t serve to confuse actual law. Maybe they’ll come away with the understanding that law isn’t something they pull out of their butts because that’s what they feel it should be.

      1. Onlymom

        Why would you not expect comments pulled out of their butts. Based on the criminal stupidity coming out of Washington the last few decades. That is where the find most of the laws and other carp they come up with

        1. SHG Post author

          See? Don’t threaten to kill anyone and I post your comments, no matter how irrational they are. That’s because I’m a swell guy.

  12. Fred

    So – the author SHG has decided that a kid who can’t talk to it’s parents for five hours is a ” deeply troubling concept”. Finds other circumstances ” inconceivable” and “incomprehensible”. Smears apparently heavy-handed school officials by comparing them to pedophiles. Infers that a parent who is OK with a kid being intimidated would “beat them to a pulp”. Then author just can’t understand why a reasonable person would suggest SHG sounds a little unhinged, so he insults the reasonable observer’s intelligence, or lack thereof.

    Wow – class act, SHG, very classy.

    My parents left me on my own for more than 5 hours at a time almost every day. And they expressly authorized my teachers to discipline me as they deemed fit. Why, oh why, did I not turn out to be the raging neurotic SHG imagines uncoddled kids must necessarily be? Where did my parents go wrong? Was it teaching me to obey the Golden Rule, or the Ten Commandments? Was it all those awful Boy Scout camping trips? Maybe it was the horrible times when all we went and helped out Unicef and Toys for Tots, and cleaned up highways. Maybe it was all those newspapers I had to deliver, _all_on_my_own_!

    Inconceivable!! Incomprehensible !!!!! If only I possessed a superior legal mind like SHG, then I could understand these things.

    1. SHG Post author

      Let me try to explain this to you in very small words. The men who run schools are not your parents. They don’t get to do anything they want. That’s the difference. If any of these words are too big for you, let me know and I will try to make them even smaller. Dumbass.

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