Judge berates school officials

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 26, 2008

WINDSOR – In a highly unusual move, the entire Bertie County Board of Education and the superintendent of schools were summoned to appear in court here Thursday.

District Court Judge W. Rob Lewis issued the subpoenas ordering those and two other school officials to come to court.

Once there, Lewis reportedly had the group sent to the courthouse’s smaller courtroom, where he verbally rebuked them for the high number of high schoolers coming through the court system.

&uot;The reason I subpoenaed them is I just think there are too many kids from Bertie High School coming to court,&uot; Lewis later told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald in a telephone interview.

He continued, &uot;The serious things, yes they should come to the court system, but not all the little things that are just kids being kids… and the problem is once they’re 16 it stays on their records forever.&uot;

&uot;It’s disheartening to me to see, for example, a teenager who curses on the school bus and then faces a disorderly conduct charge… that’ll be with them for life,&uot; Lewis added.

He also said that he sees significantly more children in Bertie County court than in Hertford or Northampton, the other two counties he covers in Judicial District 6B.

&uot;My problem is the kids are coming to court in Bertie a lot more than in other counties… I basically want them (school officials) to do something and change their (disciplinary) policy.

It’s jeopardizing these kids’ futures,&uot; Lewis stated.

At one time, Bertie County Schools had a &uot;teen court&uot; program in which minor offenses occurring in school would be dealt with internally.

They were judged by a group of their peers and meted out punishment based on what other students thought was best.

However, that program was suspended two years ago.

At the latest meeting of the Bertie Board of Education on May 5, a public comment was made in favor of trying to reinstate the program.

Several board members agreed then that the idea merited further discussion and vowed to address it at a future meeting.

Now, it seems, the issue has been forced to the forefront earlier than anticipated.

&uot;I’m sure the school board members have the best interests of children at heart, so I just wanted to make them aware of the problem,&uot; Lewis noted.

He continued, &uot;I hope we’ll be able to continue to work together… I’m just so frustrated by the amount of kids we have coming through the court system in Bertie County.&uot;

On the Thursday in which Lewis subpoenaed the school officials, he estimated about 80 percent of the day’s court docket was made up of students from Bertie High School.

School officials declined to comment on the matter, referring all questions to board attorney Carolyn Waller, but she was not available for comment as of press time Monday.