Jim Kenyon: Hanover High School Acts in Loco Police
Hanover taxpayers could save themselves a lot of money by just eliminating the town’s police force. Who needs cops when you have school administrators willing to do their legwork for them?
For the last couple of weeks, Hanover High School Principal Justin Campbell and his lieutenants have kept busy conducting an “administrative investigation” into what they fretted was a hazing incident involving the football team.
In a letter sent to parents, school officials said that “egregiously inappropriate” skits of a “sexual nature that objectified women” had been performed during an afternoon gathering at a player’s home on Aug. 24. The players-only luncheon, used to celebrate the end of two-a-day practices, involved no alcohol or drugs, Campbell said.
After a male student who didn’t attend the luncheon apparently came forward with concerns, school officials notified Hanover police. They said state law requires administrators to do so in cases of suspected hazing, a misdemeanor crime in New Hampshire.
But they went much further than making a phone call.
They questioned (you might even say grilled) players, most of them minors, behind closed doors and without parents’ permission. Then they used those interviews to write a report, which included the names of students, that they handed over to police.
Hanover school administrators shouldn’t be acting as agents of the police.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing in the law books to stop them. But is it ethical to question students and then turn the information over to police for possible criminal prosecution, without alerting students and their parents to the possible legal consequences?
I think they’re on shaky ground.
Kids are a lot more likely to spill their guts in the principal’s office than a police station. Cops know that. They also know that school officials don’t have to bother with issuing a Miranda warning (“anything you say can and will be used against you”) that can make suspects clam up. No wonder Hanover police are only too happy when school administrators offer their interrogation services in cases of potential criminal wrongdoing. Free of charge, I might add.
Some parents of Hanover High football players have gone to the administration to voice their dissatisfaction with the way the investigation has been handled, or in this case, mishandled.
I talked with an underage player’s mother who contacted the school after learning her son had been questioned without her knowledge. “I expected a phone call” prior to him being called into the office, she said. When she relayed her concern to a school official, he told her that questioning students without parental involvement was the “only way they could do their job.”
The administrator also assured the mother that students’ names wouldn’t be turned over to police. A few days ago, she learned that promise had “gone out the window.”
It’s well known in the legal world that students check their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door. School officials are free to search students’ lockers and backpacks with little cause. They can detain students and confiscate property without a warrant. They don’t have to advise students of their right to consult with a lawyer prior to being questioned in possible criminal cases. All this, supposedly, in the name of school safety.
I hoped to talk with Campbell about the way the school had conducted its investigation, but he wasn’t in his office when I stopped by last Wednesday afternoon. Later, he informed me by email that he didn’t have time to meet. He did, however, give a brief assessment. “Our community, school, and football team most of all, (are) working hard to learn from the incident,” he wrote. “I’m pleased by our efforts.”
I wish that I could share his optimism.
For me, the case is a reminder that the relationship between students and school administrators, teachers and even coaches has changed. The days when every effort is made to handle school matters at the school, at least at Hanover High, are over.
I speak from personal experience. In 2007, my then 17-year-old son was among 10 students who went to court for their alleged involvement in a Hanover High cheating scandal, which school administrators turned over to police rather than handle themselves. My son was charged with “criminal liability for the conduct of another,” a misdemeanor, and went to trial. A judge found him not guilty.
Six years later, it’s a different Hanover High administration (Campbell arrived last year), but I’m afraid not much has changed. Administrators worried about covering their own you-know-what are still only too eager to cooperate with overzealous cops. Even if it means throwing kids under the bus.
This time, Hanover football players were fortunate. Their gathering took place in Norwich, where Hanover police have no power. (School officials still gave Hanover police a copy of its report, complete with names, which is a little scary.)
On Friday, Norwich Police Chief Doug Robinson told the Valley News that after reviewing the report put together by Hanover High’s administration, he won’t be pursuing the hazing case.
Some of the skits, as Robinson put it, were “tasteless and inappropriate.” But that doesn’t make what happened a police matter, he concluded. It was a school matter that needed to be dealt with strictly in-house.
A house, in the case of Hanover High, where administrators all too often think and act like cops.
Jim Kenyon can be reached