To the Editor:
“Colleges Grapple With Applicants’ Criminal Data, Including Juvenile Records” (The Chronicle, October 1) addresses the broad spectrum of issues presented to colleges and universities when a student self-discloses a previous criminal record. The article, however, does not address the specific issues that arise from the recent appeals-court decision in the case of “S.D.” that applies Pennsylvania’s juvenile-offender reporting law to higher-education institutions. As a result of this decision, a criminal-record check is no longer the impetus that kickstarts a university’s response processes. The university will now receive notifications directly from the courts.
This decision comes at a time when college students are often seen as children by their parents, and this viewpoint has now been accepted by the state of Pennsylvania. In order to best serve the young-adult population at universities, institutions should immediately prepare for these notifications by establishing a set procedure that assures the confidentiality and safety of their students. When creating these responses, university leaders must realize that judicial-affairs offices are not be the place to have these conversations or make these decisions. According to the relevant state law, the notifications and records that the universities receive must not be kept with school records. In addition, many students applying to graduate schools release those university judicial records. If these students apply for graduate school, many of these juvenile offenses would have happened four to 10 years prior, and would no longer be relevant to graduate admissions offices. If the court determines that the reporting laws apply to these graduate schools as well, they should also be directly notified by the court, and not by the student’s undergraduate institution.
No other entities are implicated in the decision of the appeals court, just higher-education institutions. It is not the argument of the court that juvenile-court decisions should be made public to employers or any other place a juvenile offender may travel after they turn 18. This different treatment of college students is unfair to the students in Pennsylvania who go through the juvenile judicial system and go on to apply and enroll in colleges. It is my opinion that the Pennsylvania General Assembly should amend this law and specify that it only applies to primary and secondary schools, and not higher education.