Legislature(1995 - 1996)
03/29/1995 01:09 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 125 - JUVENILE CRIMINAL RECORDS TO SCHOOLS CHUCK COONS, School Principal from an undisclosed Alaskan village, testified via teleconference from his hospital bed in Seattle. He described a situation in which he had been assaulted on the school grounds. He noted that he has been a school principal for 12 years. Over the years, he said they have not been allowed to work closely with Public Safety Officers and with the Division of Family and Youth Services (DFYS) in obtaining information on potentially dangerous students. As a school employee, he is concerned that there are children coming into the building who are putting others at risk. From a village point of view, rural educators are the greatest advocates for children, and we need to protect other children as well as ourselves. REPRESENTATIVE CON BUNDE asked Mr. Coons if he supported HB 125. MR. COONS answered that yes he does. He added that teachers in the village many times become the counselors, the nurses, the big brothers, fathers, you name it. There are a lot of problems these children have that we are totally unaware of. For the kids involved, it is important for the schools to know about problems these children have. REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE asked him if he felt having this legislation in effect would have been an asset to him. He also asked Mr. Coons if he had seen the committee substitute changes. MR. COONS answered that he had not seen the bill nor the changes. His total knowledge of the bill is that it would mandate disclosure of juveniles who had previous problems with whatever agency. REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE said one change would remove the mandatory disclosure. MR. COONS did not feel that disclosure of records was necessary every time a youngster commits a crime, but he was concerned about the ones who are repeat offenders. These are the type of children they should have access to information about, kids who have repeatedly committed violent acts. REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE asked Mr. Coons how it would have helped him in his particular assault situation, to have known about the criminal record of the student. MR. COONS said if he had known that this particular youngster was prone to use his fists, he might have taken a greater physical distance from him. He would not have been caught so unaware and unprepared. REPRESENTATIVE JOE GREEN asked MR. COONS if he dared speculate what would have happened if this had involved a woman teacher. MR. COONS answered that he is not a small man, but he would imagine that if this type of confrontation had happened to a female teacher, the student could have killed her. DOROTHY OETTER, Assistant Principal, Service High School, testified via teleconference. She said that they run into this problem of nondisclosure of information, which results in the unfortunate situation where they do not have all of the agencies working together for the benefit of the child. Each agency has a little piece of the puzzle, and none of them have a full picture of what is happening with the child. After committing a crime, children are being dropped back into situations in school that were not positive for them to begin with, and no one even knows it is happening. We are speaking in support of the students. We need to set up a situation where we are made aware, and can then set up some kind of program to help them through at each level, to succeed in school. She feels strongly about sharing the information amongst agencies. Number 300 RICHARD HEABHARD, Principal, Haines High School, Testified via teleconference. He felt this legislation was a matter of urgent importance. Because of the growing violence all across this nation, including communities such as Haines, he is wholeheartedly urging the Legislature to make it a requirement for law enforcement agencies, as well as DFYS, to disclose to school officials information concerning elementary or secondary school age juveniles who have committed acts of violence or serious offenses. In doing so, schools would be able to provide an environment more protective of students and staff. He worked in a school in California for eight years prior to taking his current position in Haines. The on-campus violence was reduced drastically when legislation and a local ordinance were passed, requiring full and complete disclosure of this essential information. Because teachers were alerted to be watchful of these students, they were able to place potentially dangerous students into special programs that would help them. CHAIRMAN PORTER asked Mr. Heabhard if he was aware that the prohibition of disclosing this information had been lifted last year, and became effective four months ago. MR. HEABHARD felt giving out the information should be mandated, and not left up to the discretion of local law enforcement agencies or to the Division of Family and Youth Services. REPRESENTATIVE CYNTHIA TOOHEY asked Chairman Porter if this gentleman could be refused that information. CHAIRMAN PORTER said that in developing this legislation, there has been at least one instance where the police department has indicated the desire not to release this information. Number 400 LOU MATHESON, Principal, Dillingham School, testified via teleconference. He agreed that they need the information in order to support the students, and to place them in an environment that does not enhance their bad behavior. If we do not know about the problem, there is no way we can do that. We are allowed to have this information now, but in order to have it, we must request it, and many times we do not know to request it. If disclosure of this information is required, information on a student will come to them that they would not have known to request. REPRESENTATIVE TOOHEY suggested sending a request for information on all students. There must be some type of blanket form that you can use to request information on all children who seem to be violent. LARRY LEDOUX, President of the Alaska Association of Secondary School Principals, also the School Principal in Kodiak, Alaska, testified via teleconference. In doing this for ten years, he has seen a tremendous increase in violence in schools. This year alone, they have expelled seven students for violence, including knife assaults, brass knuckles, and firearms. Four years ago, he did not even know the expulsion procedure. Now it seems to be the norm. Teachers have been threatened with weapons. Some of these students have a criminal history and some of them do not. His business is kids, and for him to be successful, he has to know what is happening in their lives. The greatest chance for success for children who get into trouble with the law, is the schools, and we have to know what is going on with them. For example, a gang of kids assaulted a fisherman, and put him in the hospital with stab wounds. The school was not contacted as to what happened, although the police had interviewed the kids. Those kids were in his school the next day, walking around. In the newspaper one night, he read that a child had tried to shoot a parent with a shotgun. The teachers and kids all knew it had happened, but nobody knew who it was, because the information on a juvenile could not be released. Kodiak, like many other communities, has experienced a tremendous increase in gang activities; something Alaska has never faced before. What he has seen is that this information MAY be released. There is a big difference between MAY and SHALL. If you are a police officer or if you are working for DFYS, you are not going to risk your job by sharing too much. If there is doubt, you would not share the information. Like many principals across the state, Mr. LeDoux believes we must have mandatory communication. We will not be able to handle the new violence in Alaska unless we work as a team. If we do not start mandating that and enforcing it, it is going to be business as usual. BRAD SNODGRASS, Principal, King Career Center, who testified via teleconference, has been a long time educator in the state of Alaska, and began his career in Juneau in 1969. He has been a school administrator for 17 or 18 years. He gave examples of students he has had to deal with just this year, to give the committee an idea of the changes in their student body. In the course of this year, they have had one student murdered, they had four students go to jail for that murder, and two students in jail for attempted murder. One student was arrested in his office one day for attempted murder, and was returned to school the next day without notification by a police officer, which is not unusual. He finds out about these things through the grapevine. The law enforcement agencies do not tell the school about these potentially dangerous students. We had two students in the same class, of which one of them had shot at the other over the weekend. A victim and her assaulter had been placed in the same class, due to the fact that the school had not known about the incident. We have also had students come to school the next day after a gun point robbery. A positive example is that we had prior notice of a sex offender, and because of that knowledge, they were able to alert the teachers to appropriate placement and appropriate surveillance as well. We need to provide a safe environment for our kids, taking into account that our doors are open to virtually every type of offender. He mentioned that AS 14.30.040 states that a student can be denied admission for cause, one cause being conviction of a felony, in which the governing body of the district determines that admitting the child into school would be inimicable to the welfare and education of other people. That has never been able to be enforced, because of the fact that they do not have this necessary information. Number 600 RANDY ROSENKRANTZ, Police Officer, City of Homer, testified via teleconference. He told the story of three Homer boys, ages 11, 12 and 13, who were charged in Juvenile Court in 1993, for sexually assaulting a five year old girl. The case came to light when the girl began having nightmares, and suddenly feared being left alone in public. The girl's mother brought her into counseling, and this brought about a disclosure that was reported to the police. After the boys were charged in juvenile court, they were released to the custody of their parents or guardians with certain conditions of release, and were placed back into public school. School officials and parents were quickly made aware of the circumstances through reports and rumor, and understandably became upset that these juveniles would be attending school with their own children. School officials had no way to even make an attempt to diffuse the situation, because when they called the police department or DFYS, they could not even be told the identity of the juveniles due to confidentiality requirements. Similar problems arose in 1994 when certain juveniles who attended high school were charged in a burglary where several handguns were stolen and not yet recovered. The suspects, quite possibly in possession of handguns, were attending school with no information provided to school officials. HB 125 would alleviate this problem by making it possible for law enforcement agencies to notify school principals when students are charged with felony crimes. Not only would this increase the safety of school students and staff, but it would also enable school counselors to identify and assist students who have been charged with crimes. CHAIRMAN PORTER asked Mr. Snodgrass if he was aware that current law provides for that to happen. MR. SNODGRASS answered that as he understands it, current confidentiality requirements do not allow the police departments to provide that information to our school officials. CHAIRMAN PORTER said we definitely are not getting the word out, because that it is not the case. The law passed last session and became effective four months ago, allowing agencies to share this information. REPRESENTATIVE TOOHEY asked if there is some way they can alert the Department of Education that this information is out there, and that the department should become responsible for getting the word out. Otherwise Representative Toohey will go to the telephone and call all school districts. CHAIRMAN PORTER thought there was a mechanism in place that will start that information sharing process. Number 700 MARGOT KNUTH, Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division, Department of Law, said there are two issues before the legislature. The first one is getting notice to school officials about dangerous students, and the second is whether to pass a law making this disclosure mandatory. Last year, SB 54 passed through the legislature, and for the first time, law enforcement officials and state agencies were authorized to make disclosures to schools about students for the safety of students and staff. The problem is that after the law passed, nothing was done right away in response to the change. The Department of Health and Social Services first began by working on a regulations project, which is now almost complete. However, in the interim, steps are finally being taken, and very rapidly at this point, to address this problem. DFYS has developed a form that goes to the principal of the school and it will identify the probation officer and provide the probation officer's telephone number. It also identifies the youth, by name, date of birth, and what offense the youth has been charged with. It indicates whether the victim is a student or staff member, and tells the school where the child is placed. There is a notice on it that the information is confidential, and can only be placed in the student's record, and disclosed to school officials as necessary to protect the safety of school students and staff. Other dissemination is not permitted. This form has been printed in the past week and is going out within the next seven days. It will be used statewide, and will get to schools within ten days of an incident, in virtually every incident you can think of. MS. KNUTH pointed out that there is a gap. There is a problem where a particularly dangerous incident occurs, and you need to know immediately. Law enforcement has taken it upon themselves to create a form, a confidential alert to possible safety issues for students or staff at your school. This is a form that the Troopers have prepared which will be made available to all law enforcement agencies in the state to use for themselves. There are over 50 different law enforcement agencies in the state. The form provides the agency, its case number, who the officer is, and a telephone number the school can call for more information. It gives the principal's name, the school telephone number, and fax number where the information is going to. It will identify the individual and indicate what the alleged offense is, whether the victim is a student or staff member, and whether the offense involved use of a deadly weapon. This has been done because the state does care about the safety of students and staff, and as we have heard, this violence in schools, though fairly recent, is escalating at a frightening level. Unfortunately, incidents occur where there is not enough information in the past that would allow you to foresee this particular incident. MS. KNUTH recommended against making this a mandatory duty provision, from a liability point of view. We are now in a situation that, just as we have escalating violence that we have never had before, we also have escalating tort liability that we have never had before, and it is out of control at this point. If we pass a mandatory statute that says there shall be mandatory disclosure, somebody is going to be injured, and a suit is going to filed, and the question of whether there was a breach of the duty, under the statute, is going to be duked out after that, and we will have to go through litigation to find out that, in fact, the former offenses were all misdemeanors, and that it was not a situation in which notice was required under the law. TAPE NO. 95-37, SIDE B Number 000 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN asked what assurance there is that this will continue once it is established. The law passed last June, and for the next six months nothing happened, and then it became effective toward the end of the year, four months ago, and still nothing happened; and now that the introduction of HB 125 is gaining momentum in the past week or two, we are really catching fire. His concern was that when the brushfire is over, so will those things be over. He asked Ms. Knuth about the potential litigation that could occur because of a provision. What about the other side of that coin? What about the fact that a man who weighed over 200 pounds was beaten up so severely he had to go to a hospital, and that a little girl was raped? What about the duty there to notify a school system which children are required to attend, and they can become victims because of lack of information supplied to that school? That is an atrocity, and very litigable. MS. KNUTH agreed. She said they were all familiar that bureaucracy is unwieldy, and it takes a while to get things set up, but once you do come up with a procedure, the new forms will be distributed and become a part of the new bureaucracy, and the inertia says that once you start something, it is going to go forward and continue. Number 200 JOHN CYR, School Teacher, Wasilla High School, testified via teleconference. He started teaching in 1971. The young people he works with today are more violent and callused than anything he could have imagined in his earlier days of teaching. This year, he started with more than 160 students on the class role. More than 50 percent of them come from non-traditional homes. Nearly 15 percent of them are on their own. They share apartments with friends, or move from house to house as the occasion and the opportunity arises. Some of his students have probation officers, and more than a few of them have been through the juvenile court system. He has had more than one student this year who has had to wear a court ordered bracelet that allows the court to monitor their activities at all times. The days of Ozzy and Harriet, if they ever existed, are long over. How do I know about probation officers and ankle bracelets? Kids tell me, and they brag to each other. But what about the violent students who do not brag to their friends? Which ones are they? How many handguns are taken from students in Anchorage who later end up in my history classes? MR. CYR said that to some degree, his concern is for these young offenders, but his primary concern is for the education and safety of all of the students he sees every day. Schools must be a sanctuary. Young people must be safe in the school environment. The only way for our young people to be safe is for those of us who are in the trenches, teachers and classroom aides, to know who we are dealing with. If a student has a history of violent behavior, we have to be made aware of the situation. We must be given the opportunity to educate and protect everyone in our classes. We all want our students and employees to be safe, and if we do not look at who we are dealing with, we cannot do our job. Number 275 MARGARET BERCK, Attorney, spoke on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She believed the ACLU would be in support of the position taken by the Department of Law. It seems that there is existing law that requires this kind of information to be automatically distributed onto the forms that Ms. Knuth described moments ago. She also thought a space should be included that would tell the school officials whether or not, as a condition of release on probation, the student is required to attend school, so that if the child is not attending school, the school officials can alert the probation officer of this probation release violation. As it stands now, it is up to the probation officers to contact schools periodically to see if the people under their charge who are required to attend school, are in fact, attending. But it would be very beneficial for the schools to immediately notify the probation officer when that student does not attend in the morning. Getting that information to a probation officer would essentially get the case back in court, and would question the continued release of the child for having violated conditions of release, which is, in fact, a separate crime. She supported the position on this legislation taken by the Department of Law. ELMER LINDSTROM, Special Assistant, Office of the Commissioner, Department of Health and Social Services, explained that there is a new process for implementing the new policy that the Department of Law previously spoke to. He read the first paragraph of a handout he provided to the committee: "To:All Regional Administrators in DFYS "From: Acting Director of DFYS "Subject: Policy, Disclosure of records to School Districts "This memo is a policy change regarding disclosure of information to school districts, regarding youth who are alleged to have committed violent offenses and who may pose a danger to students or staff. Policy: Effective immediately, probation officers are to notify school administrative staff if there is probable cause to believe that a youth has committed one of the following offenses, and may pose a danger to staff: murder, assault, sexual assault, sexual abuse of a minor, robbery, theft, burglary, arson, criminal mischief, misconduct with a weapon, felony drug violation, and disorderly conduct." MR. LINDSTROM said the memo further explains how this will be implemented. The point is that we are going to make every effort to implement the disclosure provisions contained in SB 54 from last year. We appreciate the effort this committee put into that bill, as well as staff from the Department of Law, school administrators and staff, and we believe we can go forward with this policy, and make the progress that everybody recognizes needs to be made. Number 540 STEVE MCPHETRES, Alaska Council of School Administrators (ACSA), spoke in support of having mandatory language in HB 125 so they can have some assurance. He said this legislation just tips the edge of the iceberg. We are talking about a juvenile system that needs to be looked at through and through. Young people now are more involved with situations that are more complex and have to be dealt with in some other structure than what we currently have. It is time to drop the walls on these boxes that each agency has built around itself, and consider the fact that in the center, is that child. We have to start setting up a structure in which we can work with that child in an open, responsible fashion. He hoped this legislation would only be a catalyst to more legislation coming down the line that will help school officials do their jobs. Number 600 LEE ANN LUCAS, Special Assistant, Office of the Commissioner, Department of Public Safety, followed up on some comments made earlier. The Department does support disclosure of information by law enforcement, on juvenile cases, as is necessary to protect the safety of students and teachers. The form, developed as a result of concerns, has been sent out to the field for detachment commanders to do a final review on it. It is the Commissioner's intent that this procedure be implemented immediately. They will also be providing information packets to local law enforcement agencies for them to start a policy development and to get procedures in place. The Department has developed a model set of procedures that any local law enforcement agency should be able to adopt. Their goal is to make it as easy as possible for everyone to get on line with this as soon as possible. There are a couple of opportunities coming up in the next couple of weeks to share this information with law enforcement officers. One is the Alaska Peace Officers Association in Anchorage, in May. We have requested time be set aside to provide a training and briefing period for law enforcement officers in this area. Since the information has not been put out there, law enforcement officers are not aware of what they can do. SB 54 is a departure of what law enforcement practices have been for years, and with some education, policies and procedures, we can make this happen. She thanked Representative Green for bringing this to the forefront and getting this dialogue process started. Number 620 CLAUDIA DOUGLAS, President, National Education Association of Alaska (NEA-Alaska), testified representing school employees in the state. She said all of them are shocked, alarmed and dismayed at the acts of violence, not only toward children, but by children in the schools. As a school counselor, it is hurtful to know about the things that happen in our schools. Children and school employees are afraid. She felt reporting to be mandatory within the schools. She said they do not want to just throw students out of school, they want to work with the families and come up with alternatives. Number 680 HELEN MURKINS, Program Manager, Safe and Drug-Free Schools, Department of Education, has been increasingly aware of issues related to student safety in the last couple of years. It has been escalating. She is also responsible, at the state level, for implementing the federal law in regard to the Gun-Free Schools Act. The Department of Education is in support of this legislation. She said that by the time a student has gone through all the elaborate processes of investigations and hearings prior to being expelled from a school district, the attempts to help that child are at the point where they are a broad, inter-agency responsibility. The schools have exhausted their resources at that point, and are truly desperate and concerned for the safety of the general student population. REPRESENTATIVE GREEN explained that the committee substitute does what the Department of Law indicated, that the avenues for communication established, will still operate on a voluntary basis, because of the recent effective date of the Senate bill. The committee substitute goes further in the direction of a compromise, in that it gives a deadline for establishing that protocol. Number 750 MELINDA GRUENING, Administrative Assistant to Representative Green, explained CSHB 125, Version U. She wanted to correct some testimony heard in the meeting. The original HB 125 mandated felony crime disclosure, but certainly did not limit disclosure of misdemeanor crimes. They would also be allowed to be disclosed, but would not be disclosed mandatorily. She stated the language would require that a mutually agreeable protocol be set up between DFYS, local law enforcement agencies, and the local school districts that they would disclose to. That would provide each area to have a means of disclosure that would work for them. As it has been previously stated, what would work for the Anchorage school district, and the Anchorage law enforcement, would be very different than what would work for Juneau or for a village. The committee substitute does have a 90-day deadline running from the date of the bill's effective date, for establishing the protocol, due to the urgency of this need. Number 840 REPRESENTATIVE DAVID FINKELSTEIN asked Ms. Knuth if there was any deterring language in this bill that would derail the current process going on, administratively, to get this system in place. MS. KNUTH believed so. It is the use of the `protocol' language. `Protocol' does not have a legal meaning. It is not one of the devices that is currently in use. What the state does is adopt `regulations', so to the extent that this requires the Department to enter into a protocol, she interprets that to be something different than what we are doing at this point. She would have to decide what a protocol is. It sounds like an agreement with some form or formality with school districts, that would take some time to develop. TAPE 95-38, SIDE A Number 000 REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE felt they should choose another word to replace the word `protocol'. What would be a more usual term, that the Department of Law would see fit? REPRESENTATIVE GREEN said that in the meetings they had about this language, which Chairman Porter and the Representative from the Department of Law were at, the word protocol was used. If the word is not appropriate, it seems that would have been the time for the Department of Law to have mentioned that a different word was needed. The intent was expressed over and over and over again at these last two meetings, so he did not feel that was the issue. And if the word 'shall' on lines 4 and 5 of Page 2 need to be changed to 'may' so that what we are trying to do with this amendment is to take a giant step backwards from what the school systems have repeatedly told you they need, to make sure that, for the lack of a better word at this time, a 'protocol' is established, that these agencies may notify the schools. If it is that important, if there is still this concern over legality, he would certainly entertain a friendly amendment to this proposal, because what he is beginning to see unravel again, is the intent by which everyone seemed to agree to at one time. And now, just a week later, it is starting to unravel, and a month from now it will unravel even more. That is why he is pushing so hard to establish this as law, to be sure that we get accomplished this avenue. The intent is that we mandate that there will be an avenue of communication established to break the walls of these boxes down. The committee took a brief at ease. CHAIRMAN PORTER stated that, with permission of the sponsor, he would like to hold this over, and come up with another committee substitute on Friday.