Editorial: Law change an important step in protecting students questioned by police
A change in state law signed Friday by Gov. J.B. Pritzker goes a long way toward protecting the rights of students when they're questioned by law enforcement officials on school grounds. But the change, which requires a parent or guardian to be notified, seems so necessary -- and so "overdue," as its sponsor points out -- that it raises important questions: Why wasn't it already part of the law? And what can be done to take the push nationwide?
Sadly, the move is rooted in tragedy.
Sponsored by State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, an Oswego Democrat, the law was inspired by the January 2017 death of 16-year old Corey Walgren. The Naperville North student was questioned before his mother was called because officials suspected he had made a video of himself having sex with a classmate without her knowledge.
Warned he might have to register as a sex offender, Walgren left school before his mother arrived, walked to the top of a five-story parking deck and fell to his death.
Under the new law, which took effect immediately, police, school resource officers and school security personnel must notify parents and make "reasonable efforts" to ensure they are present before detaining and questioning a student under 18 who is suspected of a crime. If a parent can't be reached, a school social worker or other mental health professional should be present, according to the amended law. Importantly, the change would not apply to officials trying to address an urgent threat or emergency situation.
"I think it's a step in the right direction, and I think it's an overdue piece of legislation," Kifowit told Daily Herald reporter Mick Zawislak.
We agree. Teens' understanding of their rights may be limited, and their ability to see beyond the fear of what's to come may be seriously obscured. Our laws should have recognized that sooner.
Parents who have weathered their children's adolescence know that teens can be impulsive, even foolish, making decisions that can affect the rest of their lives. As a society, we can't condone bad behavior but we can give young people the support and experience of a parent beside them when questioned about it. And we must give teens the presumption of innocence that our judicial system demands.
Corey's parents are honoring his memory by fighting for the rights of students and reminding school officials on their website, coreysgoal.org, that children can lack the skills necessary to make good decisions under stress.
Corey's father hailed the new law as a "wonderful first step" that could save lives. "A natural next step for us," Doug Walgren added, "is to pursue a similar change at the national level."
We look forward to that step being taken.