Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 4
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
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Substantially Revised Memorandum Subject of School Board Meeting

Ellen Gilbert

The Princeton Regional Board of Education was scheduled to consider a revised version of the Uniform State Memorandum of Agreement between Education and Law Enforcement Officials (MOA) at an open meeting on Tuesday evening after Town Topics went to press. The Board already discussed this document at a closed meeting on January 8.

Revisions to the MOA are said to be substantial, incorporating concerns raised by new technology, the presence of gangs in and around schools, and security issues. “They pose a range of questions for both our attorney and state officials,” commented Princeton Regional School Superintendent Judy Wilson, who added that closure is unlikely.

Last revised in 1999, the MOA is issued by the Attorney General’s Office to regulate interactions between school districts and law enforcement agencies, listing procedures concerning drug and alcohol violations, harassment, and weapons offenses. It was rejected by the Princeton School Board in October 2006 in the aftermath of the arrest of four Princeton High School students by Princeton Borough Police, who alleged that the students had witnessed crimes committed in the Borough. The students were charged with complicity to robbery. These charges were later dropped by the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office. Subsequent civil rights complaints filed against the Borough by the students’ parents were dismissed by the joint Human Services Commission on the grounds that police had not violated MOA procedures.

In the meantime, the School Board attempted to balance the rights of students and the needs of law enforcement officials with an internally-produced 15-page supplement to the MOA, called “Cooperation with Law Enforcement Agencies,” which the Board approved last March. The Board felt that this addendum addressed what Board member Jeffrey Spear described as “respect for the schools as a distinct social institution,” rather than “the legality of a police action.” This new policy would require police to have arrest warrants in hand before taking students into custody, and to obtain parental consent before questioning students in school. Local law enforcement officials, however, are bound only to the State MOA.

Other agenda items on which the Board was expected to vote Tuesday night included the educational placement of two handicapped pupils, appointment of the Institute for Children and Families to provide professional development and consultation services in-district, and acceptance of a $293,028 No Child Left Behind Act grant. Three donations to be voted on include $5,000 from the Princeton High School Parent Teachers Organization, $3,482 from the Princeton Education Foundation, and $25,000 from the Institute for Advanced Study, representing the first of four installments on the Institute’s $100,000 pledge to the Princeton Regional Schools.

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