Thousands of Florida students are arrested in school each year and taken to jail for behavior that once warranted a trip to the principal's office — a trend that troubles juvenile-justice and civil-rights leaders who say children are being traumatized for noncriminal acts, reported the Orlando Sentinel.
Though the number of school arrests has dropped significantly since the state eased its "zero tolerance" policies a few years ago, there are still far too many kids handcuffed and hauled away in front of their classmates, said Wansley Walters, secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.
"The vast majority of children being arrested in schools are not committing criminal acts," Walters told the Orlando Sentinel.
Most arrests, Walters says, stem from "bad behavior, not criminal behavior."
The Advancement Project and others worry that the school shootings in Newtown, Conn. — which have prompted school districts, including Orange County's, to put more police in schools — will simply lead to more students arrested for minor offenses.
Denver's public schools responded that way to the 1999 shootings at Columbine High, leading to a 71 percent increase in law-enforcement referrals in the next five years, the group reported. Most were for infractions "so minor it is difficult to characterize them," including use of slurs.
More than 12,000 Florida students were arrested nearly 14,000 times last year, records from the Department of Juvenile Justice showed.
A review of arrest records and interviews conducted by the Orlando Sentinel also shows:
Disabled students and black children, such as Nalani, are arrested disproportionately. Black students also are more likely than white children to see their cases dismissed.
Central Florida school districts and police departments have not made curbing arrests a priority, as some communities have done. Orange County schools, for, example, last year had 1,048 arrests, nearly double the number in Miami-Dade County schools — though the South Florida district enrolls nearly twice as many students.
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