Oak Park’s village board unanimously approved an intergovernmental agreement to codify security and safety standards across public schools located in Oak Park. Securing the village board’s approval was the IGA’s final hurdle before implementation; the governing boards of Districts 200 and 97 both approved the agreement prior to the village board’s Nov. 29 meeting.
The agreement impacts all students in the public school system, from kindergarten through senior year of high school. And like the two other boards, the village board’s approval did not come without some concern and some concession. Namely, how police officers would treat 18-year-old students in situations where police interviews are deemed necessary.
The IGA does not reinstate school resource officers in schools, but rather opens up the flow of communication between the schools and the Oak Park Police Department. However, under such circumstances as a student having witnessed a crime taking place in school or a student being suspected of committing a crime on school property, police can interview students under prescribed circumstances.
“We will make arrangements to interview any juvenile in the presence of their parent,” said Police Chief Shatonya Johnson. “There is no need to interview a juvenile immediately. We will make arrangements to pause any type of interview, interrogation until a parent is available unless the parent says you can interview [the student] in the presence of a school official.”
In a school setting, however, Trustee Cory Wesley felt uneasy that the IGA does not specifically allow the right of having a guardian, parent or school official present with an 18-year-old high school senior in the event of a police interview or interrogation.
The IGA does not specify different treatment of 18-year-olds, meaning they will be treated the same as younger students while in school, but it was only after much discussion that a mutual understanding of that was reached.
Seniors in high school range in age up to 18, an age which makes them adults in the eyes of the law. Unlike their younger counterparts, 18-year-olds can legally be interviewed or interrogated by police without a parent or guardian present.
“It’s a legal kind of adulthood, but to me, it’s kind of a gray area since they’re high school students,” said Wesley.
“Would those individuals be Mirandized in the context of a school setting if they were to be interviewed or interrogated?”
Under the IGA, yes, they would. People of all ages have the right to be Mirandized, the police chief explained, but juveniles get an explanation of what the Miranda rights afford and in the presence of a parent or guardian.
“Not if they’re 18,” said Johnson. “That’s the same that would happen on the street.”
Wesley admitted he had “a bit of a problem with that” occurring in Oak Park and River Forest High School.
“Are the kids in high school being taught that there is a magical change that happens once they turn 18 but they’re still in school?” Wesley asked. “I’m sure they don’t think of themselves as adults, but they are now legally being treated that way.”
OPRF students are not being formally taught the legal differences between an adult and a minor but a school counselor or dean would provide that information to the student, according to a D200 representative.
Should a police officer have to interview or interrogate a student, regardless of age, the school does have the obligation under the IGA to inform the parents or guardian of that student.
“We are guests in their building, so we are going to operate under this IGA under their policies, their values,” said Johnson.
Ultimately, however, the chief was able to ease Wesley’s discomfort, telling him that police would stop or postpone the interrogation or interview of 18-year-old students should parents or guardians tell the school to have police do so.
Wesley voted in favor of the IGA, as did the rest of the village board.