The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board of education approved a resolution endorsing California State Senate Bill 660, which prohibits police officers from questioning elementary school students without parental consent.

The bill, also known as the Parental Right to be Present During Questioning Bill, is sponsored in the California Senate by State Senator Sheila Kuehl of Santa Monica.

School board members endorsed the bill Thursday, May 19th.

“A lot of parents don’t know that they do not have the right to be present as the law stands right now,” said board member Oscar de la Torre.

“Student rights are not protected unless a student asks for a parent to be present, which is the equivalent of a student having to know how to invoke Fifth Amendment rights,” he said.

Existing law only requires principals or other school officials to notify a student’s parent or guardian when police officers seek to remove students from school premises.

State Senate Bill 660 is designed to protect the rights of students on two levels.

n Principals or other school officials would be required to obtain permission from the parent or guardian of an elementary school student before police could question the student.

If the parent or guardian expresses a desire to be present during questioning, the questioning could not begin until the parent or guardian is present.

n For middle school and high school students, principals or other school officials would be required to inform the student that he or she has the right to request that parents, guardians or school officials be present during questioning.

The bill allows for exceptions to the notification requirement, such as when police officers believe that under “exigent circumstances” a delay in questioning will interfere with an investigation.

Other exceptions include situations where police officers believe the student is a victim of abuse or the student needs to be questioned about criminal activities of a parent or guardian.

Another exception is if the student is on probation or parole and needs to be questioned by a probation or parole officer.

Similar bills have been previously approved by the State Legislature but vetoed by Governors Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

John Deasy, superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, said he does not know of any cases in the district where elementary school students were questioned on campus.

“I would have to say that I am unaware of any cases at the elementary school level,” Deasy said. “At middle and high schools, questioning of students is recorded.

“I don’t know the exact number of cases, but staff has the ability to look for the exact number.”

Board member Shane McLoud said that if the bill becomes law, teachers and administrators will retain the right to question students about incidents that happen at school.

De la Torre said he would like the district to take proactive steps while the bill makes its way through the Legislature.

He wants the district to request that the Santa Monica Police Department not question students until parents or guardians are present.

“In the Race and Discipline Task Force, we asked the police chief if he would be willing to work with us as a school district and wait for parents to be present before interrogating students,” De la Torre said.

“He was not willing to wait for parents to be present, and I think most of this had to do with middle school and high school incidents that are more volatile,” he said.

Board members will discuss De la Torre’s request at a later board meeting.

School districts in San Francisco and Oakland have begun to draft policies requiring parental notification while State Senate Bill 660 moves through State Senate committees.