Law Matters / If your child is arrested at school
You get the phone call from the school. You must come right away. Your minor child (under 16) is accused of breaking the law and is being suspended immediately. The police are there, arresting your child, and the school administration is taking action, too.
All of your protective instincts kick in, but you are powerless in this moment.
Rushing to school, you realize you have no idea what to do, or what is coming next. And your emotions are running high -- you feel both angry at your child and frightened for your child. You have no idea how best to protect or punish your child. When you get to the school, your child is in the principal's office, along with the police. You've been protecting this child since the kid was a newborn.
Soon, you will learn that there may be two separate proceedings against your child. The first is a criminal case in the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters. After your child is arrested, depending on the seriousness of the offense, he or she may be given a summons and released with a court date. Or the child may be detained in a juvenile detention center.
If detained, a judge will determine his or her eligibility for release at a detention hearing. Once in court, the case may be handled judicially or non-judicially. If the matter is handled non-judicially, the minor meets with a probation officer, and the probation officer solely decides what will happen. The entire case is handled by probation. If the matter is handled judicially, your child will be arraigned in court in front of a judge, and the case will be handled by the prosecutor.
In Juvenile court, there is no finding of "guilty," rather there is an adjudication of "delinquency" either by admission or by judicial determination. Either the minor admits to the offense and is adjudicated delinquent, or the judge makes a finding of delinquency after trial.
Punishment in juvenile court ranges from probation to remand to a residential facility. Minors do not go to jail, nor is there a jury trial in juvenile court. All decisions are made by the presiding judge. Juvenile courts are closed to the public, and the entire record is sealed. If certain conditions are met, the court and police records can be erased.
How the school proceeds is a separate matter.
If the Superintendent of Schools recommends expulsion, a hearing officer appointed by the Board of Education will hold a formal hearing to address the allegation of misconduct and will determine whether to recommend expulsion for a period of up to one calendar year.
If the child is a special-education student with an IEP (Individualized Education Program), the school must first hold a Manifestation PPT (Planning and Placement Team) meeting to determine whether the student's misconduct was a result of the disability. If it was, the student may not be disciplined or expelled by the school. If it was not, expulsion and disciplinary action may proceed. The Manifestation PPT is a very important and significant opportunity to prevent expulsion and should be handled with expertise. Your child has rights both within the educational system and the legal system that are important to uphold and protect, and you should be well informed.
Teens are highly impressionable and sensitive. They care what their peers and parents think, and they have little concept of consequences in the future. These are tender years. Thus an arrest or expulsion is a dramatic event in the life of a teen. Families would be wise to seek legal advice in either event.