The city of Saline’s school district, Saline Area Schools, is facing harsh criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union over an addition to the district’s Student Code of Conduct. The new rule allows for school administrators to suspend students who choose not to answer questions school administrators ask in the course of an investigation or interview. Saline school administrators need to heed the advice from the ACLU and discontinue this practice that coerces students into self incrimination.
Thus far, the ACLU has sent a letter, written by an Ann Arbor attorney and co-signed by the president of the Washtenaw branch of the ACLU, to the Saline schools protesting the practice. The letter criticizes the school district for this policy, pointing to a potential Fifth Amendment violation of the right to avoid self incrimination.
Suspending students who refuse to incriminate themselves or their friends when questioned by their school leaders is counterproductive. Many students who would be questioned under this policy are already at risk. Kicking them out of school for a period of time is only going to drive them further away from the school community and into more danger. Schools instead need to strive to create an open dialogue between students and administrators – an atmosphere in which students feel comfortable coming forward with problems and concerns.
In the cases in which school administrators believe that a threat is significant enough to suspend students who choose to remain silent, the police should step in. Law enforcement agents are trained in the proper procedures for dealing with these cases and would do a better job. Furthermore, police are held to higher standards in questioning procedures than school administrators; some school districts specifically exempt administrators from informing students about their constitutional rights.
While courts have previously held that high school students do not enjoy full constitutional rights, they deserve the right to avoid self incrimination. The information school administrators reveal with a threat of suspension could later be used against a student in a criminal proceeding. School administrators should not have the authority to strip students of their Fifth Amendment rights. Saline Area Schools administrators need to review their Student Code of Conduct with the rights of students in mind. Suspending students for refusing to incriminate themselves is ultimately contrary to the interests of students and administrators alike.