Tuesday, March 19, 2013

School Discipline For Harassing A Witness In A School Matter

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

Can a student say what they want about witnesses who report a problem at school?  What about statements which may intimidate that student: comments such as "nark," "snitch," or other modern equivalent?   Intimidating a witness is strictly prohibited and could result in suspension or expulsion for the student uttering such statements.

Per Education Code section 48900(o) witnesses to a school discipline matter who come forward cannot be threatened, harassed, or intimidated because they are, or were, witnesses.  Specifically, this section states that a student can be suspended or expelled if a pupil:

Harassed, threatened, or intimidated a pupil who is a complaining witness or a witness in a school disciplinary proceeding for purposes of either preventing that pupil from being a witness or retaliating against that pupil for being a witness, or both.

This can lead to a tricky situation if a student is trying to gather evidence to defend himself in a pending expulsion matter.  For, what if they call a friend who was a "witness" against them to ask about their testimony, or question that person on what they saw (e.g. for their defense)?  How may this be perceived?  Chances are the "witness" may feel pressured, upset, or even threatened merely by a phone call from someone they "told" on.  As such, contacting witnesses is a dangerous activity for an accused student.  

To complicate matters, often the identity of the complaining witnesses are not disclosed to the accused student, so when they think they are calling a "friend" for help, they may actually be calling a witness in the matter against them without knowing it!

Tricky.

If a student breaches §48900(o) or is even perceived as having breached it via contact with a witness, they may be charged under this section with a violation and disciplined.

What if students not accused of a wrong go on social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), or just talk amongst themselves, about how "bad" another student who "told" is and/or make threats to beat them up?  This could land the students talking in hot water with the school or other authorities.  See the recent reports of arrests of students threatening a rape victim in Ohio when their rapist friends were convicted.

The bottom line is that if someone provides information to the school administration or others about a discipline matter, they are not to be threatened or intimidated.  However, what is a "threat" or "intimidating" is sometimes a vague matter at best.  Tread lightly!


Best,

Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916-444-9064
Fax: 916-444-1209
Website: http://www.edlaw4students.com/


Please see my full disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting, etc. etc.!  This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship.