It takes a village - Open the juvenile courts to the public

December 16, 2003|JOHN NELSON

Parents in Casey County should be proud of their school administrators. They have come to the village for help.

Expulsions and suspensions, the result of fights and drugs and students out of control have led school officials to be open about their concerns, to request that police, the courts and the public get involved.

The Casey County Board of Education was told by Superintendent Linda Hatter and high school Principal Tim Goodlett last week that more than 30 fights have occurred since the beginning of school, along with 700 - you read it right, seven, zero, zero - referrals to his office.

Hatter called on the board to "help us decide what we need to do to better handle and deal with control concerning our students, and alcohol and drug possession on our school grounds."


"It takes everyone," Goodlett said.

It was a striking and unusual call to arms.

The school has already brought in the police, and that has apparently helped some. The pace of the fighting has diminished.

Goodlett and Hatter now want an alternative school, where those with behavior problems can be placed to get them out of the general student population, and provide them with a chance to succeed. This approach is working in a number of districts. It seems to be going particularly well in both Boyle and Lincoln counties.

The school board should act on the concerns of these educators, strengthening discipline codes systemwide, and may do just that in a special meeting this week.

But perhaps the most effective help could come from the courts.

Juvenile delinquents - and make no mistake about the term; that's what the bulk of the real trouble-makers are in our schools - need to experience the consequences that come with their actions.

Far too many of them believe that because they are "juvies" they can be granted a pass over and over.

When judges are asked by school teachers, counselors and administrators to remove troublesome students from their midst, there should be no hesitation.

When judges are asked to deal with parents who refuse to control their children, there should be no mercy.

When judges are asked to deal with children who are uncontrollable at home, they should get very tough with those children.

Whether this is happening is anybody's guess, unless you are directly involved, because juvenile courts are closed to the public.

That's a practice that needs to change, and it has in some states, thanks to challenges by media outlets and others. The practice of closing juvenile proceedings is in clear contradiction to a number of state constitutions, and Kentucky is one of them.

Very clearly, in Section 14, "Right of judicial remedy for injury - speedy trial," the Kentucky Constitution states: "All courts shall be open, ... "

It doesn't say all courts except juvenile courts. It doesn't say all courts except family courts.

It could be argued that any statute requiring those courts to be conducted behind closed doors is unconstitutional. Judges have the discretion to close proceedings anyway, and their decisions are subject to challenge, as they should be.

Maybe someone should make that argument.


Because if the village is to help control the behavior of the criminal, the uncivil, young or old, the village needs to know who they are. Because those who violate laws, be they young or old, need to suffer consequences, and that includes the embarrassment of making their actions public.

And because the public needs to know that those charged with enforcing the laws are doing an adequate job.

While the problems in all of our schools may not be as bad as those in Casey County today, you can be sure there are problems. Problems that are difficult, problems that could stand the assistance of the community as a whole.

But we have to know both what they are, and who they are.

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