By John Klar
Recent events at Randolph Union High School have exposed a number of legal concerns, including the free speech rights of students, girls’ rights to privacy in changing rooms, and the “rights” of biological males who self-identify as female to watch girls change. The discussion of these issues has been heated, raising claims of current and past retaliation by RUHS Superintendent Layne Millimgton against parents and students who disagree with his decisions on these issues. Mr. Millington’s insistence that he can question minor students about disciplinary matters even after their parents have clearly directed him not to raises yet another area of parental concern.
It is axiomatic in law that parents of minor children are to be notified when their children are questioned as suspects in criminal cases, though they can be interviewed in investigatory processes without parental consent. Minors are generally regarded as incapable of informed consent in sexual relations, alcohol or tobacco use, executing legally binding contracts, or joining the military. This generally extends also to consent to search or questioning when criminal charges are pending.
In America, students do not lose their constitutional rights “at the schoolhouse gate.” The protection of students’ rights to free speech and privacy—in and out of school—is essential for ensuring that schools provide both quality education and training in our democratic system and values. Unfortunately, schools continue to demonstrate a disturbing willingness to abridge students’ rights. In recent years, educators have repeatedly disciplined students for speech critical of teachers and administrators.
Many RUHS parents claim that Layne Millington unfairly targets their children when either children or parents challenge the gender ideology being implemented in the school. At an October 12, 2022 school board meeting, two parents spoke up against the school’s gender pronoun policy. One boy’s father “stated that his 8 year old son had to apologize to a classmate for using the wrong gender term.” John Helfant, a local police officer and father of three students, also complained that he has been targeted: school board minutes reduce part of his complaint to “Says it boils down that folks are uncomfortable about sex organs.”
But folks are also uncomfortable about having their children questioned against their specific wishes. As related in a recent article, one RUHS mother specifically instructed Layne Millington and his staff not to question her daughter further about allegations relating to Blake Allen, the student who complained about a biological male watching her and other girls changing. After the school was clearly instructed not to interview the girl, Assistant Superintendent Heather Lawler pulled the child from class and falsely instructed her that her mother had approved further questioning. When the mother, understandably furious, complained, she was told that the school had the right to step into her shoes as parent.
The language claiming this government power arose from Layne Millington, in an unrelated investigation of the child of two parents who spoke out at the October 12 board meeting (including the father of the 8-year-old mentioned above). The case arose when Mr. Millington began to investigate their RUHS student son for suspicion of responsibility for an allegedly threatening phone call to the school, and for speaking up to Layne. The child being a stepchild, all four parents – two biological and two stepparents – promptly advised Layne Millington that he was not to interview their son, who will here be called “Student E.”
Student E’s mother wrote the following to Layne Millington at 11:29 AM on November 1:
I am [Student E]’s mother. I heard there was an issue this morning and would like to hear directly from you what the problem was? Any time there’s a problem we would encourage the school to contact us so we can address the problem with our children. Please let me know as my son is rather upset. I know many people in the community are on pins and needles at this time so I would prefer to not have unnecessary drama by not hearing directly from the source. Look forward to hearing from you.
Superintendent Millington responded at 11:47 AM:
I just connected with Jim – there are two possible concerns and I apologize as I was assuming you were speaking about the second, not the first.
1) [Student E] was disrespectful in the hallway this morning in front of other students, which was a surprise because I have not connected with [Student E] before.
2) We received a number of threatening voicemails in the past few weeks and it was brought to the district’s attention that [Student E] may have taken part in one that was sent or may know who sent it; Ms. Lawler was getting set up to speak with [Student E] about it to see if there is any truth to the allegation. – Most Sincerely, Layne
At 11:51 AM, Student E’s mother instructed Millington:
I do not want my child questioned without my presence. Feel free to call to discuss.
Superintendent Millington was at this point talking with Student E. The mother called and complained about the questioning. At 12:46, Millington wrote the following to the mother:
I am sorry that I was unable to continue the phone conversation but given the tone and language you were using, it was not constructive. I think we can have a positive conversation via email however.
Schools stand in place of the parents when it comes to students; they are minors, and therefore we act as their parents when they are here with the equivalent rights to control their behavior and to question them as their parents. We do have the right to question students with or without a parent present as we also have a duty to investigate matters that are brought to our attention, and those investigations typically require student interviews. The district is happy to try and honor your request when possible.
(This is the same language used by Assistant Superintendent Heather Lawler in the unrelated case wherein Layne Millington attempted to investigate Blake Allen by questioning a minor after her mother had forbidden him to do so.)
The next morning at 9:04 AM, [Student E]’s father wrote:
As I’ve just stated Layne [Student E] will Not be speaking to anybody at the school without my self and a recording device or one of his four parents with All future communications regarding these matters will be via email or recorded.
At 9:31 AM, a message was sent indicating all four parents of Student E opposed questioning:
This is noted as our official statement to you that [Student E] is not to have any questioning or “private chats” without his above listed parents having been notified and present. You nor the school has any parental rights to our child. Our conversations are being forwarded to our lawyer and you’ll hear from them.
Certainly schools must be free to investigate disciplinary matters. But in this case, the child was being investigated for a potentially criminal matter of making a threatening call to the school. Mr. Millington is claiming a right that exceeds what the law provides, and appears to have similarly exceeded his powers when the school cornered the girl in class after her mother instructed them not to, let alone by lying to the child that her mother had approved the action – these children “have a right to remain silent.”
These cases raise questions of increasing importance to Vermont parents, as their children are being indoctrinated by their public schools. During COVID, Vermont teachers grillied students about their Thanksgiving activities. Vermont clearly prohibits children from being evaluated for disabilities without parental knowledge, but hides “gender identity” from parents of minor children. (Social justice ideology intrudes between parents and their young children.)
But where there are potential criminal charges involved, the law is pretty clear:
It is important to know that what a student says to school staff or a school police officer can be used against him or her in either a school discipline case or in a court case. Students may tell school staff or school police officers that they do not want to answer any questions, make any statements, or write any statements without a parent, guardian, or lawyer.
At RUHS, students are not permitted to say “there are only two genders.” It is verboten – their free speech rights are violated. As the ACLU states:
A school is not a constitutional dead zone. How can we expect today’s students to grow up to be tomorrow’s civic leaders if we do not respect these fundamental national values in our schools? If students are suspected of criminal activity, school administrators should be forced to make their case before searching students or seizing property. Likewise, students should be free from discipline for speaking out on issues of the day or criticizing teachers or officials. If we respect these principles in the schoolhouse, we protect them in the future.
These principles are not being respected at RUHS. Girls are called liars for telling the truth about biological males watching them change clothes; students are silenced in their political and biological opinions; parents are called hateful for standing up for their daughters; the community is labeled racist for objecting to an obviously unconstitutional political BLM flag being displayed by the school.
Both children’s and parents’ rights are being violated in Vermont schools. Meanwhile, their math and reading skills are highly unsatisfactory.
This merits further questioning….
The author is a Brookfield farmer, lawyer and candidate for Vermont State Senate.