On January 1, 2017, there were substantial revisions to current Missouri criminal federal laws which have a significant effect on school districts. Student misconduct must be reported under the Safe Schools Act.
Felony harassment covers a person who “without good cause, engages in any act with a purpose to cause emotional distress to another person, and such act does (in fact) cause such person to suffer emotional distress.” Emotional distress is “something markedly greater than the level of uneasiness, nervousness, unhappiness, or the like which are commonly experienced in day-to-day living.”
Laws should not apply to many student interactions and even minor incidents of misconduct, but law officers should look at two notable factors (1) the conduct must have been without good cause and (2) must have been markedly greater than day-to-day distress. Things like pushing, shoving, or other offensive contact would not meet this definition absent some tangible injury, perhaps if there was bruising, swelling, and bleeding.
Distress would not mean near crying. There is no bright–line test, and it seems that law enforcement and security officers and school officials are on their own.
All building Principals have a legal obligation to immediately report to the Superintendent and law enforcement “any instance where any person is believed to have committed an act, which if committed by an adult would be assault in the first, second or third degree, failing to do so subjects the Principal to criminal liability.
School districts can enter into written agreements with law enforcement regarding reporting third degree assaults as certain incidences would not be required to have immediate reporting.
There are some school fights or bullying that are likely to fit under the third-degree assault offense and could be charged as felonies under Missouri law such as fights that result in sprains, bleeding, or significant bruising. Assaults on school property would include on a school bus or at school events.
Needless to say, laws involving felonious restraint, robbery, distribution of drugs, distribution of drugs to a minor, child molestation, kidnapping, and stalking would be serious offenses.
Officers should consider:
- Was the offender protecting themselves or responding to a threat made by the alleged victim?
- Was there a cause for the offender to act the way they did?
- Did the offender intend to cause emotional distress to the victim?
- Was the statement or act taken out of context and/or was the offender joking?
- What reaction did the alleged victim have?
- Did the victim require counseling or otherwise need medical assistance?
- Has the victim been subject to similar statements or acts?