What Are Your Rights: Responding To School Violence

Recorded on March 9, 2022

A recent uptick in fights and violence led more than one high school in the Capital Region to go remote before February break. Managing Partner Paul Harding of Martin, Harding and Mazzotti, LLP is on CBS6 to help discuss those legal consequences and a school district’s responsibility in these events.

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Announcer: The following segment is sponsored by Martin, Harding & Mazzotti.

Interviewer: It’s a crisis in the classroom and something schools and parents are demanding come to an end. A recent uptick in fights and violence led more than one high school in the Capital Region to go remote before February break. The exclusive videos obtained by CBS 6 showing brutal attacks in Green Island’s Heatly High School that in the school’s community meeting and the week since to decide the best course for more safety. The Albany County Sheriff’s Office also says they’d step up to help prevent the violence. Here to help discuss those legal consequences and a school district’s responsibility in these events is managing partner, Paul Harding, from the law firm of Martin, Harding & Mazzotti.

Interviewer: Paul, thanks for joining us. Let’s just start with what type of repercussions might a student who is involved in a school fight or altercation face?

Paul: So, you know, it depends on the seriousness always of the altercation, but times have changed. You know, 10 years ago, certainly, 25 years ago, what we saw was detention or suspension. Like, that was probably what we’d see as a primary alternative. And what we’re seeing more and more is involvement of the police. And we’re seeing the criminal courts getting involved in what people might define as a school fight.

Interviewer: Paul, what triggers law enforcement involvement or take something from being an on-campus altercation to being more of a criminal matter?

Paul: You know, it depends on the severity of it, of course, you know, but I think there’s a different standard at school. So if I was at Crossgates Mall and somebody just pushed me down, and one of the guards saw that or one of the police saw that there’s probably criminal charges being filed, right? That same thing happened in the school hallway. Well, the teachers may get everybody up, kind of break it up, and it kind of ends there. So, ultimately, again, we’re going back to the severity. What we’ve seen here is that there have been more incidents involving maybe a knife, we’ve seen some gunplay downstate, and probably just everyone’s a little bit more cautious on keeping it in the school. It’s a little safer play for the school to get law enforcement involved.

Interviewer: How about consequences in some of these more serious altercations at school, what kind of consequences could a student face?

Paul: So a misdemeanor charge isn’t that hard to get in the world of assault. You know, that just thing I described a Crossgates Mall where I got pushed, that really isn’t assault, that is a misdemeanor, which has the penalty up to one year in jail, obviously depending on how that played out, probably wouldn’t be quite bad but it could also be a felony, you bring a knife in or someone is beaten to the point where they require hospitalization. And we’re talking about serious charges.

Interviewer: Paul, the last question, at what point does the school district become responsible for these types of altercations or incidents inside school?

Paul: So these spontaneous outbreaks of a fight, they don’t have any responsibility at all. But when they see it brewing when they have a sense that something’s going to happen, the words getting around has been prior fights, and, “Hey, we got something going on at 2:00 in the gymnasium,” and they’re made aware of it, and they failed to take reasonable steps. Now this will create liability for themselves, if they know about it, and could have in some regard prevented it.

Interviewer: Paul Harding, we always appreciate the time. Thank you so much.

Paul: Absolutely. Bye-bye.

Interviewer: For more information on knowing your rights in school and when violence becomes part of the story, head to our website. There you can pitch story ideas and other legal questions you may have so you can be sure to know what your rights are.

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