Know the Law: Knowing the “Safe School Zones” Law

Ben Folsom Headshot
Benjamin B. Folsom
Director, Litigation Department
Published: Union Leader
July 15, 2018

Q: If my child is accused or the victim of a crime, is his or her school required to notify the police, or can the matter be handled internally at the school, especially if it is a minor offense?

A: Depending on the conduct involved, yes, the school may have to notify the police.

The New Hampshire “Safe School Zones” law (“SSZL”) requires that any school employee who has witnessed or received information from the victim of “an act of theft, destruction, or violence” on school property or property or equipment used for school purposes (e.g., buses) to immediately report that activity to a supervisor.

The school then must immediately report that activity to local law enforcement. This is not optional for the school and there are penalties for failing to report.

What is “an act of theft, destruction, or violence”? A bill signed into law last month and effective for the upcoming school year broadened the categories of actions that a school must report to law enforcement. Under both the old and new versions of the law, crimes such as homicide, assault, burglary, arson, robbery, theft and selling drugs must be reported.

One area in which the newly amended law has expanded the scope of schools’ mandatory reporting to law enforcement is that of sexual crimes. Under the prior law, the SSZL only addressed sexual assaults that were classified as felonies, but the SSZL did not address sexual assaults classified as misdemeanors.

Under the version effective for the upcoming academic year, schools must report all acts classified as sexual assault under New Hampshire’s criminal code to law enforcement, including those classified as misdemeanors.

This includes a situation where someone engages in otherwise consensual sexual activity with someone between the ages of 13 and 15 and the age difference between them is four years or less. This covers, for example, a situation where a high school senior engages in sexual activity with a high school sophomore who is not yet 16 years old.

You should also be aware that school districts establish memoranda of understanding with local law enforcement in connection with the SSZL. These may contain additional acts that schools agree to report to law enforcement, such as underage possession of alcohol. Finally, student misconduct may also be reportable under different laws, such as New Hampshire’s hazing law or child protection laws.