By Donnie Fetter
Potentially dangerous Columbia County juveniles in the court system could have their names disclosed to the Columbia County Board of Education.
Columbia County Juvenile Court Judge Doug Flanagan agreed to inform school officials of child offenders that might pose a threat to students at a Tuesday school board meeting.
Flanagan and Columbia County Schools Superintendent Tommy Price signed a memorandum of understanding at the meeting that states the juvenile court will release the names of students charged with a felony or a serious misdemeanor to school officials.
Once the school system receives the name and the circumstances of the crime, the board will then decide if an accused student should be taken from a mainstream school and placed in Crossroads Academy, the county's alternative school.
"Basically, what we're doing is providing the names of students that I think could be a problem," Flanagan said.
Recent changes in the law allow his office to better communicate with the school system, he said.
Also serving as a juvenile court judge in Richmond and Burke counties, Flanagan estimated he had presided over 1,500 cases in Columbia County during the past year.
"The number of serious juvenile offenders in those cases is a small percentage, but some of these cases need to be brought to (the school board's) attention," he said.
School Board member Lee Muns said he was apprehensive about the memo and questioned whether the school system was infringing upon a student's rights by judging them before they were found innocent or guilty in court.
"I think there are students that are going to fall through the gaps," he said.
Price said school officials will only determine an accused student's placement in the system.
"We're not going to deny a child's right to an education," he said. " There just may be a more proper place for them."
Trustee Wayne Bridges also reiterated that the board should only take steps regarding placement during a juvenile's trial process.
"We're all agreed a child is innocent until proven guilty," he said.
The board unanimously voted to accept the memorandum.
However, the board postponed a vote on a policy change that would prevent students accused or arrested for a felony from participating in extracurricular activity.
Muns disagreed with certain language in the policy, which states a student must undergo an appeal process if exonerated from the court before being allowed to rejoin school clubs or sports teams. Muns said he feels reinstatement should be automatic.
"That's a no-brainer," he said.
He also said the policy could result in legal action from banned students and their parents.
"You're opening yourself up to a legal Pandora's box," he said.
School Board Chairman Roxanne Whitaker said Muns was wrong.
"We're not mandated by law to let (students) participate in extracurricular activities," she said.
Muns also said the tense of the policy's wording would require school officials to run background checks on the entire student body.
Board members postponed a vote on the change until the policy can be reworded to only include the present tense.
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