Saturday, October 31, 2015

GateHouse: Police have no business in classroom management

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
October 30, 2015

The time has come to remove police officers from America’s classrooms. The safety and security of students is of utmost importance, but the risk of a student being arrested or brutalized for common disciplinary infractions outweighs the benefit of a school-based law enforcement presence.

Although the number of police officers assigned to school duty has increased across the country, not everyone is convinced of its effectiveness. “There is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety,” Denise C. Gottfredson, a criminologist at the University of Maryland told the New York Times. “And it increases the number of minor behavior problems that are referred to the police, pushing kids into the criminal justice system.”

This week, a new video emerged out of South Carolina portraying an incident between a deputy sheriff and a student. In the video, a female student can be seen sitting in her chair in a classroom with other students. The deputy assigned to the school can be seen grabbing the student out of her desk, causing the chair to flip over. Once the student is on the ground, the officer can be seen grabbing the student and aggressively dragging her for several feet.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott told reporters after first viewing footage of his deputy, “I wanted to throw up … [t]his makes you sick to your stomach when you see that initial video.” Lott has fired the deputy and called on the Department of Justice to investigate.

This would be disturbing if it was an isolated incident, but it is not. Some police actions within schools involve alarming physical altercations, with kids subdued and handcuffed, reported the Center for Public Integrity.

Juvenile crime rates are plummeting, and the number of Americans in juvenile detention has dropped. According to a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the juvenile incarceration rate dropped 41 percent between 1995 and 2010.

But school discipline policies are moving in the opposite direction — out-of-school suspensions have increased about 10 percent since 2000. They have more than doubled since the 1970s.

As more and more school districts add police officers or armed security guards to their payroll, the number of students who are arrested as a form of discipline has soared. The surge in arrests for misdemeanor nonviolent behavior has been referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline.

Virginia leads the nation in the rate of referrals from school discipline to criminal courts at 15.8 referrals per 1,000 incidents. The national average is about six referrals per 1,000 incidents.

Prosecuting kids for low-level offenses like disorderly conduct and battery often stigmatizes students for life. A growing number of criminal justice practitioners contend that research and experience has convinced them this trend has gone too far.

The Obama administration is also urging school districts to keep the business of routine discipline in the hands of schools and counselors, not law enforcement. Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon told the Center for Public Integrity that disorderly conduct allegations are a “red flag” for her office, which can investigate school districts for violating students’ civil rights and withhold federal funds as a result.

In 2013, Texas took action to stem the flow of the school-to-prison pipeline. The new laws barred police officers from arresting students for misdemeanors that occur on school grounds. Officers also cannot issue citations for school offenses such as causing disruptions in class or on a school bus.

According to the Austin American Statesman, the laws have fueled a larger-than-anticipated 83 percent decline in the number of Texas schoolchildren prosecuted in adult court for infractions such as disrupting a classroom.

Texas is on the right track. A parent should not fear that their child who leaves for school in the morning might end up in handcuffs and with an arrest record by the end of the day.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
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Susanne said...

Have you ever spent a minute in a school or classroom? Have you witnessed a school resource officer in action, aside from seeing one on television? SROs provide a means to creating healthy respect and connection with law enforcement and students. I could not disagree more with your lame article.

Law and Justice Policy said...

I spent a lot more time than you might think in the classroom. What I do know is that a disruptive student should not be arrested, a student should not feel threatened with arrest in the school environment. Based on the tone of your of your comment, chewing gum should be a federal offense.

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