Members of the community have occasionally been concerned when word has gotten out that a young criminal was attending one of our schools -- especially when the juvenile was involved in more criminal activity.
Secrecy surrounds juvenile court cases. The same process that recognizes the potential for rehabilitation of young offenders also keeps information about those kids' criminal records out of the hands of school officials whose job it is to keep other children safe. That secrecy, unfortunately, provides grist for the rumor mill, too, often blowing fears of such kids way out of proportion.
The solution comes from Juvenile Court Judge Doug Flanagan -- and if it works like it's supposed to, it should help put parents' minds at ease and make schools safer.
After considerable negotiations with school officials, Flanagan's office has worked out an agreement in which the court will share information about potentially dangerous juvenile offenders with the school system. In turn, system administrators then will be able to make better-informed decisions about placement of those children in -- or out of -- the school system.
"Basically this memorandum says I'm going to cooperate and give you the names of children we think could be dangerous," Flanagan recently explained to School Board members.
While there has occasionally been an ill-informed outcry about educators "failing" to warn other parents about kids with legal problems -- thanks, again, to that ever-churning rumor mill -- the reality is that such cooperation with the court hasn't always been possible. It is only because of recent changes in federal law that the court is allowed to share juvenile offender information with the school system.
The previous way of doing things never made sense; juvenile offenders' records were sealed from public view, and "the public" even included school officials. That sometimes meant potentially violent criminals could be in the classroom, and teachers had no way of knowing to exercise caution.
That, fortunately, should change. School trustee Lee Muns, whose own son recently took a turn through adult court, reasonably worries about a stigma being attached to kids who are charged but not convicted.
Flanagan's agreement allays that worry; unlike adult court, juvenile justice is remarkably swift, so charges don't just hang over the head of the accused. And, under the agreement, only the information on juveniles whose cases are completed will be turned over to the schools. Those who are still innocent until proven guilty will remain that way.
Are there still cracks in the system? Probably. But the agreement between the juvenile court and the schools will do much to fill them, and to make sure dangerous juveniles don't slip through them and back into the classroom.
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