Category Student/Enrollment Issues
Title Do Students Need to Be Given Miranda Warnings
Preview Article discusses the ethical and legal implications of not giving cersus giving a student miranda warnings during school disciplinary proceedings.

Winter, 2006-07

You Be the Judge
Do Students Need to Be Given Miranda Warnings in School Disciplinary Proceedings? 

T.M.M., a freshman student at Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego, Oregon, was in trouble again. Earlier in the school year, he had been subject to adjudication in the juvenile court for conduct that resulted in his temporary suspension from school. Now in December, Vice Principal Hays called T.M.M.'s mother to let her know that her son was in the office for another "situation." Since she was outside waiting for him in her car, she immediately came into the school office. At that time the mother told Hays that she was "very uncomfortable with [Hays'] talking with her son without his attorney present." Apparently the boy's situation was resolved at that time.

Just weeks later, in January 2003, T.M.M. was brought into Hays' office again after a teacher smelled marijuana smoke coming from a restroom where T.M.M. and another student were. T.M.M. was questioned by several members of the administrative team for a two-hour period. Initially he denied smoking marijuana, but he later admitted to using it. During the two hours of questioning, no administrator asked T.M.M. if he wished to have his parents or an attorney present. School officials reported the information about marijuana use to the Lake Oswego Police Department pursuant to district policy, which reads as follows:

In cases of possession, use, or selling of alcohol or drugs, violators shall be referred to legal authorities or to the appropriate law enforcement agency unless there is a compelling reason not to refer.

At an expulsion hearing, T.M.M. and his parents argued that "the school officials by their policy and practice have rendered themselves police and state agents." Proceeding from that premise, they argued that T.M.M.'s rights were violated by the school officials when they (1) didn't give T.M.M. the Miranda warning and (2) questioned him without an attorney present, because his mother's statements to Hays in December constituted a blanket invocation of counsel on the plaintiffs' behalf. The plaintiffs then alleged that the proper remedy for these failings was to suppress any evidence gathered by Hays and the school officials.

T.M.M. was expelled for one semester with the provision that it would be shortened to one quarter if he completed a substance-abuse assessment and adhered to any recommendations resulting from such an assessment. In the meantime, the district offered T.M.M. alternative educational options paid for by the district during the expulsion period. T.M.M. was eligible to reenroll in public school the following fall.

T.M.M. and his parents appealed the hearings officer's decision to the Lake Oswego School Board. At that time they argued that the "confession" to Hays and the others was not competent evidence because (1) T.M.M. had not been given the Miranda warning, (2) he had not been given the opportunity to consult with counsel, and (3) his statements were involuntary. The board simply reaffirmed the expulsion.

The family filed a petition for a writ of review with an Oregon trial court, once again making the same three allegations. The judge reaffirmed the decision by the Lake Oswego School Board. The family appealed the decision to the Oregon Court of Appeals. You be the judge!

T.M.M. v. Lake Oswego School District, 2005 Ore. App. Lexis 345

Answer: Do Students Need to Be Given Miranda Warnings in School Disciplinary Proceedings?

Do students facing disciplinary questioning have to be given Miranda warnings? Do they have a right to have an attorney present when being questioned by administrative staff? The simple answer for both questions is no, according to three judges on the Oregon Court of Appeals.

The court ruled that T.M.M.'s constitutional rights to counsel and advice of Miranda rights were not violated because law enforcement officers were not involved in the interrogation and the matter before the court was not a criminal prosecution. For this reason, "evidence" obtained through the questioning by Hays and other school officials did not have to be excluded from the expulsion hearing. The court affirmed that the "exclusionary rule," normally used in criminal proceedings to try to suppress evidence, does not apply to school expulsion proceedings.

Some Concluding Thoughts

While the results of this case specifically apply to schools located in Oregon, it would seem reasonable to assume that the results would be typical if a case with similar facts were brought to courts in other states. Basically, the family was trying to get the Oregon courts to "make new law" regarding student discipline. The courts wisely pulled back from being put in that position. Courts across the country typically give schools a great deal of discretion in disciplinary matters.

You may recall in several recent court-case columns that there has been discussion about private schools' not being "state actors," that some constitutional protections afforded to public-school students don't apply to students in private schools because they are enrolled under private contracts in schools that are not extensions of the state. For this reason, private schools have even more protection in their disciplinary procedures and questioning of students. If private-school administrators follow their school's written disciplinary policies, as outlined in board policy manuals and parent/student handbooks, and they strive to be consistent and fair in such inquiries and proceedings, secular courts usually allow them to proceed unhindered.

Please take another look at Lake Oswego School District's policy regarding the referral of some student matters to the local police. Has your school board ever had a discussion on this topic? Does it have a written policy about police referrals? If not, perhaps this court case is a reminder that it might be a good idea to initiate such a discussion and create such a policy.

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