Pritzker signs law clarifying schools’ responsibilities when questioning students suspected of criminal activity

William Tong, Staff writer

Prompted in part by a renewed focus on suicide prevention among adolescents following the 2017 death of a Naperville North student, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a bill clarifying the expectations on school officials when questioning a student about potential criminal behavior. The new law took effect immediately upon the Aug. 23 signing. 

House Bill 2627, introduced by Illinois Rep. Stephanie Kifowit of Aurora, states that prior to questioning a student in such a situation, school officials must “ensure that notification or attempted notification to the student’s parent or guardian is made,” and “make reasonable efforts to ensure that the student’s parent or guardian is present during questioning.” 

The law also requires schools to “make reasonable efforts to ensure that school personnel, including, but not limited to, a school social worker, a school psychologist, a school nurse, a school guidance counselor, or any other mental health professional, are present during the questioning” in the case that a parent is not present or is unable to attend. 

We are very pleased with the passage of the new law. We hope it will help prevent a tragedy like this from happening again. No family should have to experience what we have.

— Maureen Walgren, mother of Corey Walgren, a Naperville North students who died by suicide in 2017

In response to the law, Sinikka Mondini, District 203’s executive director of communications,  issued the following statement on behalf of the district: “Naperville 203 will continue to work with our local law enforcement agencies to ensure compliance with the law.  At Naperville 203, the student-staff relationships are of paramount importance and we remain confident in our staff who serve with our students’ best interests at heart.” 

The Central Times contacted several district personnel, including deans at Naperville Central and members of the Board of Education, all of whom declined to comment for this story. 

Others, however, are speaking out.

“We are very pleased with the passage of the new law,” Maureen Walgren said. “We hope it will help prevent a tragedy like this from happening again. No family should have to experience what we have.” 

Walgren and her husband, Doug, established the organization Corey’s Goal in response to the events surrounding the death of their 16-year-old son, Corey, who took his life after walking out of Naperville North High School following an intense investigation by school administrators into alleged questionable material on his cell phone.

Though the new law formalizes procedures for school officials seeking to detain and question students on school grounds, not everyone believes it will actually mitigate the larger problem of suicide. 

“The law itself is not going to prevent suicides,” Naperville Central sophomore Matt Blessing said. “If you’re going to [complete] suicide, you’re obviously facing something else.” 

Perhaps more broadly, however, many see the law as a positive first step in protecting the rights of students.

“I don’t know if it would prevent suicides, but I think it will definitely protect the kids from intimidation,” said Melissa Pytlak, a parent of a Naperville Central student. “That, too, would depend on each individual child’s emotional state and how they process things.” 

“Rais[ing] awareness of the constitutional rights of minors in the school setting and provid[ing] education on how disciplinary practices in schools can better support the emotional well-being of students” is a key component of Corey’s Goal’s mission. The law appears to address both of these issues.

“We believe that Corey’s story has revealed some shortfalls in the way schools handle serious disciplinary matters, and we will continue to try to make change to fix those shortfalls,” Walgren said.

In January, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Walgren family against District 203 and the City of Naperville for their responsibility in their son’s death. After appealing the decision, both the District 203 Board of Education and the city recently agreed to a $125,000 settlement apiece in exchange for the family dropping the suit. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, neither the school district or the city admits to any wrongdoing or liability in their decisions to approve the financial settlements.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255