A Horlick High School teacher who questioned if a police officer had a warrant to remove a student from his class was found not guilty this week of obstruction.
Al Levie, a social studies teacher at Horlick, was given a $455 citation for asking about the warrant. Inv. Kevin Klinkhammer issued the citation. Officer John Hetland was also involved with the case.
Levie said the officer, who works at Horlick, came to his classroom on Nov. 17 to interview a student who, along with four or five friends, had surrounded and attempted to intimidate a police officer in a school hallway. Levie asked about the warrant and was told he'd be arrested if he refused to allow the student to be interviewed. Levie then stepped aside and the student left with the officer.
The student wasn't charged for his incident with police, but Klinkhammer returned the next day with the obstruction citation.
Levie challenged the citation in court on Wednesday and was found not guilty.
Judge Mark Nielsen dismissed the charges because Levie's question did not constitute obstruction. But Nielsen also made it clear officers are allowed to take students out of classrooms for investigations, and in a wider sense, are allowed to do their job without interference anywhere in the community.
"The lesson to take from this case is the police are always the police," Nielsen said Friday. "They have a duty to enforce the law in schools on the streets or in a theater. If they see a violation of the law, they're obligated to respond."
"If police say something, you have an obligation to comply," Nielsen said Friday.
Levie said the incident was the first time in his eight and half years as a teacher that an officer had taken a student out of class. If an officer shows up at his classroom again, Levie said he'd allow the officer to take a student without question.
But Levie, who is president of the teacher's union at Horlick, said he would start a discussion within Unified about the role of police in schools.
"This is an issue between the union and the administration," Levie said. "I'll have input into that issue."
He added teachers often take on roles of counselor, social worker and even parent while working with students. "We want to make sure students' rights are protected," he said.
"We as a district have to decide how we'll use police in the schools," Levie said.