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posted: 12/12/2011 5:00 AM

Why sharing about students should be mandated

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Your daughter is being victimized by cyberbullies and her teachers know about it. Should they tell you?

You know your daughter is being victimized by bullies at school. Should you let her teachers know?

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In the vast majority of cases, the answers to those questions are "yes." Teachers can help protect our children and they often do. Parents can help protect their children by sharing information with the school officials who are their guardians for much of the day most of the year. And the same situation, in most cases, also applies to law enforcement. If local police know a student has been in trouble for fighting at the local mall or is suspected of being in a gang, or is under investigation for sexual assault, shouldn't the student's parents know that? Shouldn't the student's teachers know that?

Some juvenile justice and civil liberty advocates think some information sharing of this sort can be a violation of students' privacy. We can appreciate that concern. With more cameras added everywhere and people's behaviors tracked and targeted online, we can understand wanting to protect privacy, including students' privacy. We also get that some adults have the power and will make lasting judgments about students who might be experiencing a rough spot that can follow and negatively affect that student for years.

But we've also seen enough evidence of violence in our communities and changes in our culture to determine how critically important it is that local officials craft a better law mandating the sharing of information between school and police officials.

Such information sharing could conceivably prevent a future Columbine school shooting. It might have prevented the attack on Elgin High School teacher Carolyn Gilberts, who lost an eye after a student stabbed her a few years ago. As Daily Herald staff writer Kerry Lester has reported, Gilberts' attacker, Angel Facio, was being investigated for two previous sex assaults at the time he attacked his teacher. Yet not even the school police officer knew about those investigations into Facio's prior violence.

Mundelein Police Chief Ray Rose has joined suburban officials working to improve mandatory communication between police and school officials. He told Lester about a troubled student who ran from his home and onto a football field with a knife recently while a game was being played. And of another teen and his older brother who were known at school for acting out, but Mundelein police weren't told about their reputations until after they firebombed a house, killing a 12-year-old boy and injuring his mom and sister.

Lester's extensive reporting has revealed that only four of 40 area school districts have tracked information sharing. Only seven districts knew how many of their students were arrested in a given year.

That's just not wise. Nor is it good enough.

Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, Pennsylvania and other states have laws that require that detailed information about incidents involving students be exchanged between police and school officials within a specified time frame. We need something like that adopted in Illinois. We commend school and police officials in Elgin, Mundelein and other area communities for joining with juvenile justice advocates and state Sen. John Millner, a Carol Stream Republican, and state Rep. Carol Sente, a Vernon Hills Democrat, to work toward a compromise.

We encourage them to find a solution that mandates quick and detailed information sharing among school officials, police and parents that can serve to protect students as well as the adults who work with them and care for them. This effort isn't about stigmatizing students. It's about keeping our children and the adults around them safe.

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