Teachers in North Dakota aren’t told if one of their students is a killer, or a rapist. They are told who was caught drinking a beer or smoking a cigarette, but they don’t know if a juvenile has a history of assaulting authority figures.
Under state law, authorities cannot share juvenile records or files with school officials. An exception is made for certain alcohol- or drug-related offenses, but no other crimes.
A bill introduced Jan. 15 in the state House of Representatives would change that. It would allow schools and law enforcement officials to better communicate by legalizing the sharing of confidential records between schools, law enforcement agencies, and juvenile court officials at the discretion of the courts. The result, proponents say, would be safer schools.
“Teachers are true professionals and should definitely be included in the loop,” Sen. Linda Christenson, D-Grand Forks, told the Bismarck Tribune for a Jan. 21 story. Christenson is an English teacher at Red River High School in Grand Forks. “I’m very adamant about privacy, but when it gets to the point where students are in danger, some sharing of information is necessary. The children should be the bottom line.”
The bill would create two new ways information could be shared. The first is from law enforcement to schools. If the bill is enacted, law enforcement records and juvenile court records could be viewed by school officials where the student is enrolled or wishes to enroll.
The second avenue is from schools to law enforcement. As it stands, a federal law called FERPAthe Family Educational Rights and Privacy Actgenerally makes all school records about students confidential.
An exception is made for school law enforcement units, however. Those units could record incidents and share that information with law enforcement personnel. No such units exist in the state’s schools, however, because according to the state’s open-records law, they’d have to release any recorded information to anyone requesting it, which would run contrary to the protection of juveniles. The bill before the House would place restrictions on the release of those records.
The bill says schools, law enforcement agencies, and juvenile courts can share records, but only between each other and the student’s parent or legal guardian.
Opening another line of communication between schools and law agencies shouldn’t create any privacy violations, a Mandan High School counselor told the Tribune.
“We’re ethically bound to keep any information we see confidential,” Vicki Roehl said. “The confidentiality of the student is of the utmost importance. It’s true that anytime there’s another chain of information open that [leaks] could happen, but that would be very rare.”