Last Updated on September 7, 2022 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995
Parents often are confused when they hear that their child was questioned at school by administrators “without their consent.” Can a parent restrict a school from questioning a student? Can the school question a student anyway? No, but they can try, and, unfortunately, yes.
Schools Stand in the Place of the Parent
When students are at school, the school stands “in loco parentis.” This fancy Latin term means basically that when students are at school, school staff stand in the place of parents, with equivalent rights to control the student, to regulate their conduct, and yes, to question them.
Someone has to be in charge of minors, and if the parents are not present and the student is at school, schools and school personnel are in charge.
Schools Investigate Allegations
When a student wrong is reported to a school staff member, they are supposed to investigate. In fact, one could say schools have a DUTY to investigate.
Sadly, the types of reports that schools get are sometimes based on rumors or guesses, or even from students lying to get another student in trouble. Some are valid and some are not, but schools may still investigate.
Did they get an allegation of student bullying? The school must look into it. Did someone report a student has drugs a gun or a knife? The school staff need to take action. Was there alleged harassment of a gay person? Schools should find out what is going on!
This means the school version of an investigation must proceed.
School Investigations Involve Student Interviews
What do school investigations of student wrongs entail? Interviews with witnesses, who are usually students. Perhaps a review of cameras and documents (emails, reports, letters), inspection of the scene and interviews of school staff.
But, the main bulk of school investigations involves student interviews.
Is Parental Permission Needed to Interview Student Witnesses?
No- unfortunately, parental permission is not needed for school staff to interview students at school.
Can Parents Stop School Interviews Without Their Consent?
Parents can try to stop interviews of students by sending a letter to the school telling the school that the student cannot be interviewed without their permission. Maybe the school will honor it. Maybe they won’t. It depends on the people involved.
Ultimately, parent commands on not interviewing a student may be ignored by school staff.
Parents Should Have Back Up to Stop Interviews
Parents, knowing that their instructions may be ignored by inquisitive school personnel, should have a back up to try to prevent student interviews.
Parents can educate their kids to not talk to school officials if they are called in to be interviewed. They can also give the student a card with their contact information and a statement telling the school the student has been told not to talk and to call the parent instead. Then, hopefully all the student has to do is sit quietly, be polite, and repeat the request that their parent be called.
Whether the school will try to strong-arm and threaten the student to talk is another matter- I have heard many twisted stories of how far school personnel will go to get a student to talk, and they are not pretty.
Does a Student HAVE to Talk?
No. Just because a student CAN be interviewed by school staff without parental permission, does not mean they have to say anything.
Can Students Be Punished for Not Talking?
Students should not be punished for not answering school questions, but I have heard of a school punishing a student who did not answer for “disruption.” Is that legal? It is questionable at best as how is not answering invasive questions and confessing your guilt disruptive?
But, could schools suspend? Schools do all sorts of technically illegal things. If they did suspend a student for refusing to talk, the suspension would have to be challenged.
Michelle Ball is a lawyer for students, upholding student rights since the 1990s. As an education attorney located in Sacramento, she can reach all across California to Roseville, South San Francisco, Burbank, Fresno, and many other locales.
Education Attorney for Students
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717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Please see my disclaimer. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting. This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.