We have discussed many times that the criminal justice system is getting a bit close to our academic institutions. Usually I am talking about the criminalization of matters that should be handled by schools and parents.

Well, things are now changing in Dedham from the other direction.

Now, it is law enforcement turning to the schools for an extra kick in the pants for kids in trouble. Effective yesterday, Dedham public school students who get in trouble off campus may find themselves punished in school for the same offense.

This agreement between Dedham law enforcement and school officials, known as a “Memorandum of Understanding” , creates a long list of incidents that now must be reported to school principals, whether or not those incidents happen in Dedham. That list includes fights, or threats of fights, off school grounds.

Students, not surprisingly, do not like it. “I don’t think you should really get in trouble for something out of school,” says Dedham High School senior Annie Joy Abbott for example. “You’re not even on school property.”

Many patents are not fans of the “understanding” either.

Camilla Rush, for instance, is a mom with three sons, one of whom has already graduated from Dedham public schools; the other two are still students there.

“I do think that it’s good to have a backup,” Rush said. “But I think sometimes they need to let us parents be parents. Let us punish the kids. I do like if you need help, you can go to someone for backup, but let us be parents too.”


Popular or not, the measure passed 6 – 1 Wednesday night, ending months of debate. The only school board member to vote against it did so because he wanted the agreement to be even tougher.

Principals now have the most power to punish kids who are caught with drugs or booze outside of school. Those students can face up to a month’s suspension.

The version approved on Wednesday had been changed from earlier drafts which many parents found more objectionable. This version of the Memorandum of Understanding is in effect only during the school year, whereas prior drafts would have had these rules in place year round. Also, former versions of the plan would have had students get into serious trouble for merely being “in the presence” of alcohol or drugs (as in at a party). The version adopted specifies that kids must be “in possession” of the substance in question.

Of course, as we have also discussed, definitions of “possession” differ.

Attorney Sam’s Take On Student Offenses On And Off Campus:

The concept of a school punishing a student for criminal acts taking place off campus is not really new. For example, although it actually creates no specific crime and provides for no potential punishment, the so-called Anti-Bullying Statute mindlessly shoved through into law over a year ago specifically instruct schools to get involved in bullying allegedly taking place online when the offenders are home or elsewhere other than school.

Further, offenses like fights, assaults and gun possession are offenses for which colleges often suspend or even expell students.

However, the effect of this new agreement basically partners up schools and police. I am also willing to bet that the Constituional safeguards afforded criminal defendants are not afforded students disciplined under this agreement.

Let’s say that Alex Angerissues has been charged by the police with assault and battery. Alex is, naturally, presumed innocent while the matter is pending. Further, he has a 5th Amendment right not to speak about the incident. The fight, by the way, took place way out in Newburyport. In fact, Louie Liar is not particularly cooperating with thw Newburyport DA’s office. There is no way he is going to travel to Dedham for a school hearing.

So, Alex faces his tribunal, long before his pending criminal matter for which he is presumed innocent and no live accusers are there to accuse him. The school does have, however, a police report drafted by Newburyport Police Officer Michael Miminalist. officer Minimalist is not known for getting into much detail when he writes reports.

Now, Alex faces some kind of tribunal. They ask him what happened.

Alex has the absolute right not to testify.

Alex’ criminal defense attorney does not want him to testify.

Care to wager how the tribunal will take Alex’ refusal to explain himself?

Of course, Alex could testify…and so give the prosecution his entire forced testimony to use against him at trial.

These are just a couple of issues that make the problem of a student in trouble more compiles than people think.

The stakes? That student’s entire future.

Need I suggest that if you or a loved one is in such a mess, you want an experienced defense attorney who can help sort it all out with as little career carnage as possible?

Have a great, safe and law abiding weekend!

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