New Criminal Sexual Conduct Laws: What School Administrators Need to Know

Lusk Albertson PLC's picture

Written for MASSP's LegalEase by attorney Kevin Sutton, Partner at Lusk Albertson

The bell has rung, the pencils are sharpened, and students are excited to tackle a new year of learning. Alright, that last one may be a stretch. But students aren't the only ones being given new information to learn this year. As a fresh year of school begins, administrators should be aware of a trio of new criminal sexual conduct laws passed last spring that are now in effect. House Bills 5530, 5531, and 5532 reflect the increasing levels of political will in the country to address sexual violence. To that end, the new laws implement more safeguards for victims of sexual assault against their attackers, particularly in the school environment.

Under HB 5530, a student who is convicted of either (1) criminal sexual conduct or (2) assault with intent to commit criminal sexual conduct will be court ordered to stay out of the same school building as the victim, so long as the victim was a student. That order applies to buses, too &ndash the attacker can't be on a bus with the victim to or from school if the attacker and victim will have contact.

Under HB 5531, if a student commits criminal sexual conduct against another student in the same school district, the school board, superintendent, principal, or other designated district official may suspend or expel the student subject to certain criteria (see MCL 380.1311(1) for further details). However, if the student pleads to or is convicted of criminal sexual conduct against another student in the district, the school board or its designee must expel the student permanently, subject to possible reinstatement.

Under HB 5532, a family court may enter a personal protection order ("PPO") that prohibits a student from attending school in the same building as a minor student victim of a sexual assault (i.e. criminal sexual conduct offense) perpetrated by the assaulting student. It also applies to situations where a student has been convicted of furnishing obscene material to the victim. That's consistent with the HB 5530 language referenced above, reinforcing the idea that sexual violence perpetrators should not be allowed to have access to their victims.

These new laws present logistical hurdles to school operations. While suspension or permanent expulsion of a student is relatively straightforward in theory &ndash even with the reality that the expelled student will need to be educated through alternative avenues &ndash challenges pop up when dealing with a court order or PPO or on the ground. For example, what should you, as an administrator, do if the student still shows up to the building and attempts to resume class? First, you should inform the student that a court has ordered that the student may not enter the building and that the student must leave immediately. If the student remains obstinate, the second step is to contact the police, who will enforce the court order. A person who violates a PPO or other court order faces sobering ramifications, including possible jail time. Remember that with a court order in place, the student is legally obligated to stay out of the building.

There is a strong likelihood that these laws will face legal challenges in the months ahead. Prevailing case law says that students are entitled to a public education and taking that away mandatorily may raise due process concerns. We'll have to watch closely as lawmakers and judges attempt to balance students' educational rights against those of sexual assault victims. But, for the time being, the recently passed laws apply as written.