“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Amanda M. Kennedy*
During the 2014-2015 school year, more than 2,000 children between the ages of five and ten years old were arrested for behavioral problems in Florida. Legal experts say scenes of children being handcuffed inside classrooms play out too often in Central Florida. On May 21, 2015 Governor Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 378 2015 which took effect October 1st, 2015. The bill expanded juvenile civil citation by allowing law enforcement officers to issue a civil citation or participation in a similar diversion program to youth who have committed up to three misdemeanors. Furthermore, the bill also stated that if an arrest is made, law enforcement must provide written documentation as to why the arrest is warranted.
The purpose of this note is to understand the criminalization of our children that is happening in our schools, to consider the changes made to Florida Statute § 985.12 by way of Senate Bill 378, and to propose additional changes that can be implemented to help combat the prison pipeline issue. Part I discusses what is happening in the schools and the alarming arrest rates of young children. Part II examines the effects that arrests have on young children emotionally and educationally. Part III discusses the original Florida Statute Prior to Senate Bill 378. Part IV identifies the specific amendments to the statute and discusses the positive effects of Senate Bill 378. Part V discusses the original approach to delinquency in the schools: “zero tolerance” policies. Lastly, Part VI discusses additional changes that could be made to legislation in order to combat the issue of excessive arrests in schools in the State of Florida and nationwide. Although the recent change in legislation is a step in the right direction, it does not completely resolve the issue of an egregious amount of child arrests within Florida schools and across our nation. Was Senate Bill 378 the solution, or just the first step in the right direction of educating our children instead of criminalizing them
I. The Issue: Alarming Arrest Rates
Over 2,000 children were arrested during the 2014-2015 school year, for behavioral problems. The more shocking numbers are the ages of those 2,000 arrests; Orange County, Florida leads the state of Florida in child arrests between the ages of five and ten. “Florida A&M University, Dean LeRoy Pernell, says ‘according to the Department of Juvenile Justice, the bulk of arrests of five and ten-year-olds were not for serious crimes like murder or arson.’” “Maybe fist fights, dress code violations, talking back; conduct that is basically viewed as insubordinate.” The problem is Central Florida schools offer more police officers in hallways than behavioral tutors or counselors — officers whose only tool is to make an arrest.
The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice tracks and reports delinquency in schools. The department monitors the number of youth arrests received for delinquent offenses occurring on school grounds, on the school bus or at the bus stop, or at an official school event. The arrest rate is “simply the number of school related arrests per 1,000 student population for the geographic area being examined.” Arrests are conducted by local law enforcement. “In many communities, local police officers or sheriff’s deputies serve as school resource officers and are based at the school.” Although arrests are made by local law enforcement a multitude of factors affect these statistics. “Each school district in Florida maintains its own distinctive progressive response or ‘discipline’ plan that outlines how misbehavior to actual crimes should be handled.” The Department of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Report for 2014-2015 explicitly states: “The availability and use of alternatives to arrest may have a substantial impact on the number of youth referred to the Department of Juvenile Justice.”
“The presence of police in public schools has grown steadily” which may consequently increase the number of juvenile arrests within the schools. Michael Nash, a presiding Judge of Juvenile Court in Los Angeles, California and President of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, has observed that as more police officers are brought into schools, the more you have to differentiate the security issue and the discipline issue. While many of us would like to believe students are being arrested for bringing loaded guns to school, threatening their classmates with a weapon, or engaging in actual violence, most children who are arrested in schools have not committed any violent crime. In April 2005, a five-year old from Florida was arrested for throwing a temper-tantrum.
II. Effects of Arrests on Young Children
Arresting children between the ages of five and ten can have a serious impact on them; an age when their brains are developing their reactions and emotional responses to stressful situations. Not only are the children affected emotionally, but their educational experience and future success can also be affected by the negative and traumatic experiences. “Once the kids get involved in the court system it’s a slippery slope downhill.” “‘By giving them the label of being criminals then often the child fits the label and pursues that path, and the rest is destructive in that way,’ said Ninth Judicial District Public Defender Robert Wesley.” A “Research to Results” Study stated: Psychological and educational research have examined the connection between punishment under zero tolerance policies and negative outcomes. Psychological research has suggested that suspension and expulsion are likely to further reinforce negative behavior by denying students opportunities for positive socialization in school and nurturing a distrust of adults, both of which inhibit adolescent development. “Even as the effectiveness of zero tolerance policies is being questioned, educational research has found a strong link between the types of punishment associated with these policies—suspension and expulsion—and a host of negative outcomes.” Although safety of students and staff is one of the most important responsibilities of school leadership, “it is not clear that zero tolerance policies are succeeding in improving school safety.
a. The Emotional Impact of Arrest
When elementary-school students are taken into custody, many of them are so small that the handcuffs slip off their wrists. Its “traumatic,” and some sob in fear, said Steve Dalsemer, director of the Juvenile Assessment Center, where arrested Orange County children are processed. Children are left feeling “ashamed . . . [are] treated as criminals and arrests have long term effects.” A traumatic event is defined as a “sudden and unexpected occurrence that causes intense fear and may involve a threat of physical harm or actual physical harm.” The National Child Traumatic Stress Network provides that “a traumatic experience may have a profound effect on the physical health, mental health, and development of the student.”
The Child Development Institute published an article by Erik Erikson which provides “an overview of the developmental tasks involved in the social and emotional development of children and teenagers which continues into adulthood.” The fourth stage is “Industry Versus Inferiority (Competence).
Erikson believes that the fourth psychosocial crisis is handled, for better or worse, during what he calls the “school age,” presumably up to and possibly including some of junior high school. Here the child learns to master the more formal skills of life: (1) relating with peers according to rules (2) progressing from free play to play that may be elaborately structured by rules and may demand formal teamwork, such as baseball and (3) mastering social studies, reading, arithmetic. Homework is a necessity, and the need for self-discipline increases yearly. The child who, because of his successive and successful resolutions of earlier psychosocial crisis, is trusting, autonomous, and full of initiative will learn easily enough to be industrious. However, the mistrusting child will doubt the future. The shame – and guilt-filled child will experience defeat and inferiority.
Arrests particularly impact the emotional development in children and can also create health problems later in life. “High levels of early stress have been linked to impaired behavioral and emotional development as well as numerous health consequences . . . such consequences cost our society in many ways.” In this context, “stress” doesn’t refer to a worried or anxious state of mind, but rather to the body’s physical responses to negative circumstances. When a situation is perceived as challenging or threatening, the body responds with a series of chemical reactions that affect heart rate, blood pressure, metabolism and other functions. These temporary adjustments help us adapt and survive, but when they happen too frequently or last too long they can produce lifelong chronic disease.
Arrests of young children and even police presence in schools increases anxiety and fear, and intensifies the negative behaviors that lead to suspension, expulsion or worse—the well-worn path to the juvenile justice system. Most importantly, “how students process trauma depends on their age and level of development.” The overall effects on students include: “ongoing feelings of concern for their own safety and the safety of others. . . [preoccupation] with thoughts about their actions during the event, often times experiencing guilt or shame over what they did or did not do at the time.” They may also “engage in constant retelling of the traumatic event, or may describe being overwhelmed by their feelings of fear or sadness.” Arrests at such a young age can surely be traumatic and are without effect. Effects on elementary school students can manifest in specific ways including: “somatic complaints such as stomachaches, headaches, and pains.” Behavioral changes may also be noted including “irritability, aggression, and anger.” It is clear that arrest has a negative emotional and developmental impact on elementary children, but it can also have a negative educational impact.
b. Impact on Education after Arrest
Typically, students who are arrested in the schools are processed through the Department of Juvenile Justice. These arrests are also subject to school sanction including suspension and expulsion, depending on the seriousness of the offense. School removal has negative economic and social consequences for students and surrounding communities; removing students from school has not prevented or deterred future misbehavior, nor has it created safer, more productive classrooms. One study showed that students who were suspended or expelled, especially repeatedly, were more likely to be held back a grade or drop out of school than other students. “In fact, schools that rely heavily on suspension and expulsion to deal with misconduct appear to have more student behavior problems, a poorer school climate, and lower student achievement.” The biggest problem is that the vast bulk of these suspensions and expulsions were for conduct where removal was discretionary; only three percent of such removals were required by state law; thirty-one percent of those students ended up repeating a grade. “Much behavior in schools that would have previously been handled internally though school disciplinary processes is now handled by law enforcement authorities.”
Suspension or expulsion also substantially increased the likelihood of students becoming involved in the juvenile justice system the next year. This is not a wise way to handle school-based conflicts, especially when—as is often the case—they don’t pose major safety concerns. Removing students from school often leads those students to continue misbehaving, which may result in additional disciplinary actions and poor achievement in school. “Research has found that suspending, expelling, or referring a student to the juvenile justice system increases the risk that the student will drop out of school and become incarcerated as an adult.” Educators are also concerned about relying heavily on suspensions or expulsions; it puts young people – even when it results from non-violent conduct– in alternative programs. This raises other issues regarding their ability to stay on track academically or often times results in children ending up in the streets where they are susceptible to getting into more serious trouble. “Students whose education is disrupted for a period of time may have difficulty catching up and may eventually drop out of school; . . . being suspended once increases the risk of dropping out by three times.”
School-based police programs have expanded dramatically in the last fifteen years, but educators have done a poor job of monitoring and measuring these programs’ performance, their impact on students, and whether they have made schools more peaceful. Most importantly, there is a lack of evidence that removal under these circumstances improves school environment and safety. More often than not, students who have a history of disciplinary action against them, including suspensions and removal from the educational setting, end up having continued behavioral problems and law enforcement involvement in their futures.
III. Florida Statute § 985.12(1): Key Provisions
This section reviews the original Florida Statute that addressed juvenile delinquency and the application of arrests in schools. Although the original statute provided for civil citations, police in schools were choosing arrests more often than not. Civil citations were restricted to specific criteria, limiting the discretion that police could use when issuing civil citations.
Florida Statute § 985.12(1) identifies its purpose as establishing a juvenile civil citation process for the purpose of providing an efficient and innovative alternative to custody by the Department of Juvenile Justice for children who commit non-serious delinquent acts and to ensure swift and appropriate consequences. The statute also states that the department shall encourage and assist in the implementation and improvement of the civil citation programs or other similar diversion programs around the state. The statute also discusses the implementation of the civil citation or other diversion program around the state.
Under such a juvenile civil citation or similar diversion program, any law enforcement officer, upon making contact with a juvenile who admits having committed a misdemeanor, may issue a civil citation and assess nor more than 50 community service hours, and require participation in intervention services as indicated by an assessment of the needs of the juvenile, including family counseling, urinalysis monitoring, and substance abuse and mental health treatment services.
The most important restriction in the statute is that a “civil citation [is] limited to first time misdemeanor offenders.” The statute also requests a report of the outcome upon conclusion of a juvenile’s civil citation or similar diversion program; most importantly, the issuance of a civil citation is not considered a referral to the department.
A civil citation over arrest seems like the better choice, but limiting its application to only first time offenders allowed for police to utilize more extreme methods of disciplinary action. By removing discretion from school officials and limiting police power to civil citations under first-time offender circumstances, it opens up the door to more arrests and severe punishments for even minor infractions.
IV. The Potential Solution: Florida Senate Bill 378
This section will discuss Senate Bill 378’s bill history, provides an overview of the bill, and identifies changes that were made to Florida Statute §985.12(1) by way of the bill. How the legislative changes will impact arrests in schools is also explored.
a. Bill History
Florida Senate Bill 378 was filed with the Florida Senate on January 6, 2015, passed by the Florida Senate on April 22, 2015, and passed by the Florida House of Representatives on April 24, 2015. Governor Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 378 May 21, 2015, and the new law took effect October 1, 2015.
The law calls on officers and school officials to issue every student who committed a non-felonious offense a civil citation, a program which tutors the child. The bill, and now new law, expands juvenile civil citation by allowing law enforcement to issue a civil citation or participation in a similar diversion program to youth who have committed up to three misdemeanors. Use of civil citation or similar diversion programs will no longer be available only to first time misdemeanor offenders under the bill. Additionally, law enforcement will be authorized to issue a simple warning to the youth or inform the youth’s parents of the misdemeanor. The bill also stated that if an arrest is made, law enforcement must provide written documentation as to why the arrest is warranted. This increases the standard for which officers can utilize arrest in the schools and may deter officers from arresting children, knowing that they have to justify that level of intervention.
c. How Bill 378 Changed §985.12(1)
Instead of arresting juvenile for their first offense-misdemeanor, “a law enforcement officer . . . may choose to issue a simple warning or inform the child’s guardian or parent of the child’s infraction, or may issue a civil citation or require participation in a similar diversion program . . .” Florida statute §985.12(1) allowed for officers to immediately issue a civil citation or engage in an arrest. Now, use of the civil citation or similar diversion program is not limited to first-time misdemeanors and may be used in up to two subsequent misdemeanors. Florida statute §985.12(1) only allowed issuance of the civil citation and or diversion program to first time offenders. Since the new law is in effect, if an arrest is made, a law enforcement officer must provide written documentation as to why an arrest was warranted. Previously, written documentation regarding reason for choosing arrest over civil citation was not required.
d. Positive Change?
It will cost $386 dollars to give a child a civil citation versus $5,000 to arrest a child and send them to a life where they will struggle for the rest of their life,” said League of Women Voters past President Diedre Mcnab. Critics could argue although the monetary implication of the change may seem appealing, the focus and effect of the change cannot be limited only to less spending. Additional positive outcomes, specifically a decrease in the number of arrests in schools, must be present in order to say that the changes made by the bill were a step in the right direction. If the focus of the bill was to decrease arrests of children in schools, the monetary impact of the change should only be one positive result, not the most important driving factor to the change. One important focus for change should be to create a positive school environment. Doing so “requires shifting the emphasis of discipline policies away from zero tolerance to practices that increase fairness, improve communication, and establish problem-solving mechanisms.”
Providing children a safe environment in which they can attend school is important but educating them instead of criminalizing them, should be the main focus of the legislative changes. Zero tolerance was implemented in order to combat discipline issues within the schools, however, it seemed to provide more harm than good.
V. “Zero Tolerance” Explained
Zero tolerance, a response to increased school violence, had good intentions to decrease crime and increase safety in schools when it was implemented in the early 1990’s. This section defines zero tolerance and discusses its goals, objectives, and impact as well as opponent views to zero tolerance policy implementation.
a. Zero Tolerance and its Impact
“Zero tolerance” describes a policy that allows schools to have zero tolerance for behavioral and or legal issues within the school setting and imposes punishments that may not always fit the crime. Zero tolerance assigns punishment “regardless of the situation or context of the behavior.” More specifically, zero-tolerance policies “mandates predetermined consequences or punishments for specific offenses.” The policies were originally adopted for the prevention of firearms in schools; however, “many school districts also created zero-tolerance policies for other disciplinary infractions.”
The rise in arrests can be directly attributed to more police in schools as well as the zero tolerance policy. “Kathleen Buzad, assistant director of the Education Issues Department at the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), says the group endorses zero tolerance policies for illegal drugs, weapons, and extreme acts of violence.” Zero tolerance works as a deterrent “beyond immediate safety concerns. . . by sending a clear message that acts that physically harm or endanger others will not be permitted at school under any circumstances.” The initial goal and objective of zero tolerance was to decrease serious and violent crimes in schools by implementing standard punishment and expulsions for the more serious offenses; however, opponents argue that zero tolerance has moved far away from its intended purpose.
b. Opponent Views of Zero Tolerance
Opponents of zero-tolerance policies argue that harsh disciplinary policies make schools unwelcoming for students, thereby pushing them “out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.” Critics also argue that there is “no evidence that zero-tolerance policies have [actually] made schools safer.” It has been opined that zero tolerance policies in schools have spiraled out of control to include harsh punishments for non-criminal offenses, mere student misbehavior, and even innocent actions. “While zero tolerance policies are appropriate when students endanger themselves or others, punishment for lesser offenses – such as “disrespect” – can be highly subjective and ultimately counterproductive.” School administrators and the police they employ within the schools must be able to discern the difference between actions that warrant suspension or expulsion and non-violent behaviors that only need a less severe form of intervention.
Civil rights and child-advocacy groups argue that criminalizing youngsters for minor violations ultimately puts them in the streets where they can potentially get into even worse trouble. “The American Psychological Association also concluded [as early as] 2006 that such codes can actually increase bad behavior and also lead to higher dropout rates.” It is also argued that “get tough policies” takes away common sense when dealing with behavioral problems in the schools, ultimately leading to unfair and irrational application of discipline. Ruth Zweifler, founder of the Student Advocacy Center of Michigan argues that zero tolerance “breeds a poisonous environment . . . [and] on various levels, children who have concerns either about something they have done or about other kids will hesitate to go to an adult because the response is punishment rather than help.”
The CATO Institute published an article called “Zero Tolerance. Causes Consequences, and Alternatives. Provided therein was the following theoretical example of ideal discipline:
Imagine a school district that resolved not to expel students or use out-of-school suspensions. Instead, let’s say it vigorously and consistently enforced a clear code of conduct, giving detentions for small violations and in-school-suspensions for more serious transgressions like starting fights. These in-school-suspensions would assign a host of duties intended to discourage repeat offenses and encourage civilized behavior. Suspended students might write reflective essays about their behavior and why it was inappropriate. They could be assigned clean-up duties around the school. They could also be required to write a letter of apology to their fellow classmates, teacher, and principal, and this letter could be read out to the class or even at a school assembly. Since disruptive students are often behind academically, they could be required to attend Saturday morning classes to help them catch up. And as a way of illustrating that their behavior was beneath the standards expected of students of their age, they might be assigned to a different class at a lower grade level during the period of their in-school suspension, and required to do all the work assigned in that class.
The most interesting part about the hypothetical is that is not actually a hypothetical. “The policies . . . described are those that have been in place for a decade at the American Indian Model charter schools, often abbreviated as “AIM” schools.” “The atmosphere at these schools is orderly and studious. Attendance rates are around 99 percent. There are no metal detectors and no on-campus police. Violence is almost unheard of. The average number of fights across all three schools combined is about 3 per year.”
“Clearly we must find a better solution; the existence of highly successful disciplinary and academic models like the American Indian charter schools in Oakland proves that we can do better.” Various alternative methods will be discussed; however, one thing is certain: zero tolerance is not producing ideal outcomes. “The challenge is to figure out why such successful models are so rare today, and how we can replicate them.” The last thing our society needs is for children to be removed from the education system as punishment and criminalize them with outdated discipline methods, and there must be other options.
VI. Where Can We Go from Here?
This section looks at how police were traditionally used in schools and how they are used now. Also, this section will also look into what other states are doing to implement change regarding police in schools and identifies specific instances where police should not be utilized. A look at how police can improve their interactions with students in the school setting in is also discussed. This section concludes by providing suggestions on how to decrease the amount of school arrests.
a. From Traditional to New Age
Traditionally, police have engaged with schools mostly to respond to emergencies involving threats or major acts of violence or to provide security near schools at arrival and dismissal times and at special events. The growing trend of having police stationed in schools full-time is concerning because when police see schools as their beat, they tend to get involved in routine student conflicts and disciplinary matters that are not particularly dangerous or violent. This may happen by choice or at the request of educators. In some instances, what may be a minor infraction (such as a violation of the cell-phone policy) escalates when the intervening adult is a law enforcement officer.
Presence of SRO’s, school resource officers also known as police officers, in schools “may increase the likelihood students will be arrested for misconduct that otherwise would be addressed as a discipline issue.” “Alarmingly, there has been a massive increase in the police and security presence in schools . . . from 1997 to 2007, the number of police officers in schools rose by 55%.” It is apparent that arrest rates within the schools have increased parallel to the increase in presence of police officers in schools.
b. What are other States doing to combat the issue?
In Philadelphia, School District police face restrictions in low-level conflicts and classroom management matters. A new directive issued in the spring of 2014 states that some incidents should not trigger a call for police services. Disciplinary action should be left to the discretion of Administration for the failure to follow classroom rules and or disruption. Administration should handle other issues including dress code violations, failure to carry hall pass, failure to participate in class, truancy/excessive tardiness/cutting class. . . . possession of other inappropriate personal items, inappropriate use of electronic devices, and verbal altercations. The Philadelphia Police Department established a diversion program for all schools in the city (public, private, or charter) providing alternatives to arrest for minor offenses, first-time offenses, and cases in which students are unlikely to reoffend. This approach seems very similar to the efforts of Florida with the enactment of amended Florida Statute § 985.12(1).
In Oakland, California the Unified School District has taken the focus off of what school officers can and cannot do and has established a formal complaint process for parents and students to use when they feel that school police have behaved inappropriately. Although this is not a direct change to the duties and scope of the officer’s role in California Schools, it is a way to hold officers accountable for their choices in regards to arrests within the schools. Assembly Bill 549 in California deliberately refrained from restricting what police can do on campus and left it up to the school districts to decide which students’ behaviors call for mental health intervention and which require police action. This could have both positive and negative implications. It returns discretion to school administration; however, by not restricting what police can do on campus may allow for too much intervention by law enforcement. The bill’s main purpose was to limit school police to handling dangerous or physically violent situations.
Other states have implemented policies, procedures, and programs in order to utilize police effectively without increasing arrest rates, especially for minor infractions. The Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Model Memorandum of Understanding suggests that districts establish protocols for police interaction with students. The San Francisco School District has adopted a policy stating that student arrests for non-school matters should not normally be made on campus and that any on-campus arrest should be conducted in a way that does not violate the student’s privacy. Zero tolerance is a not a cookie-cutter answer to violence in schools. “Schools need a comprehensive approach that includes behavior modification tools for students, efforts to enlist parent and community help to improve school climates, better teacher training and academically sound alternative programs for students removed from class.”
c. How can police in schools be most effective?
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (“ACLU of PA”) proposed recommendations regarding police involvement in the schools. First, minimize the use of law enforcement in school discipline matters, restricting police involvement to serious criminal matters. When zero tolerance policies took effect, the discretion of administrators in discipline was taken away. When the discretion was removed and more police were are added to schools, school discipline moved away from phone calls home and after-school detention to arrests and juvenile justice system involvement. The ALCU of PA also suggested that review of misconduct and incident patterns in schools staffed by police is an important part of the evaluation of program effectiveness. If the patterns are not reviewed and assessed, the effectiveness and reasonableness of police in schools cannot be evaluated properly.
Agreements between law enforcement departments and school districts should be revised to explicitly restrict the roles of school police and school resource officers in student searches and interrogations. The ACLU of PA recommend that school-based police should be governed by the same constitutional restrictions as outside law enforcement. “Officers should be assigned to the same school or schools for several years in a row, to strengthen their collaboration with school administrators, teachers, and students.” Officers see consistent placement as a way to build relationships with students and contribute to an orderly school environment. Lastly, all security staff members that have contact with students should be trained. Topics of this training should include de-escalation, mediation, adolescent development, bias-based and sexual harassment, working with students with disabilities, and cultural competencies. Other areas of interest could be school-wide Positive Behavior Support, peer mediation, conflict resolution or other evidence-based restorative justice techniques, and the impact and collateral consequences to a student of arrest, court, detention and incarceration.
d. How can we decrease arrest rates?
One thing is for sure. Arrest rates of children is much higher than it needs to be and for far less serious offenses than originally intended by lawmakers. There are alternative methods that can be implemented in schools that take a more proactive rather than reactive approach to behavioral problems. The idea that there are more cops than counselors in our schools says something about the way we as an educational system choose to handle disciplinary actions. In Florida school counselors are not mandated for any grade, kindergarten through twelfth grade. The only requirement of the school is that they have a guidance plan and most schools do not even have one full time guidance counselor; elementary schools typically only have a part-time counselor. Not only is there no mandate for the state of Florida for counselors, but most schools have recently cut back on the number of counselors in their schools. Change can be done legislatively through enactment of mental health policies in the schools or at least mandated counseling within the schools.
Pamela Cantor of Distract Administration stated: “there are alternatives to meting out punishment that treats our school children like criminals. . . schools can equip their teachers with tools proven to create safe, supportive learning environments and defuse disruption.” “Alternative approaches to law enforcement include using conflict resolution practices and [more] mental health professionals.” If schools are more proactive with screening measures, have programs for high risk children, and provide more mental health resources the need for reactive discipline and or intervention by law enforcement can decrease. “Putting mental health workers on par with police officers in ensuring school safety . . . could lead to increased adoption of emotional supports and interventions in schools.” “Many students who act out and run into trouble in schools are growing up in poverty, exposed to chaos and violence.” When children are exposed to trauma, their brains develop in a way that affects how they behave. Behaviors that may manifest include being vulnerable and hyper-vigilant, being impulsive, and a lack of ability to regulate their emotions; “they are also more apt to disrupt the learning environment.” Instead of funneling federal funds into police in schools, some of those funds need to be distributed to mental health and or counseling programs within the schools as well as educational programs for teachers and administrators to proactively address behavioral issues that can be handled by the school rather than police.
Other additional promising approaches to disciplinary infractions include positive behavior interventions and support, restorative practices, social and emotional learning, and improved classroom management. “Schools can be designed . . . to identify children with the most intense needs and get them the help that they need, either in school or at a community mental health provider.” Implementation of these approaches has led to reduction in the use of exclusionary discipline, a reduction in the amount of instructional time lost to discipline, and increased student engagement with school. “One highly effective approach is to create teams of faculty and staff who meet regularly to triage cases where students are struggling behaviorally or academically.” It is recommended that schools reserve the most serious consequences, school removal and police assistance, for the most dangerous offenses. The question that needs asked at this point is whether or not civil citation fixes the problem of the exuberant amount of arrests of our young children, or if proactive programs are our answer.
Some states have taken different approaches to dealing with behavioral issues within their school systems. In California, an interventional framework known as the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports system shows a reduction in school suspension and expulsion rates from programs that teach social and emotional skills. “This system combines efforts to teach and reinforce good behavior, social skills and academic standards, discourage inappropriate behavior and coach teachers and staff in how to make the process effective and efficient.” Schools are encouraged “to place a priority on mental health and intervention services and to create a positive school climate, a loosely defined term that relates to how connected and supported students feel at school.” Restorative “models of discipline . . . focus on building healthy relationships between teachers and students, and treat discipline as a teaching moment, rather than an opportunity to punish and push kids out of school.” Florida and other states with high arrest rates of children in their schools should begin to legislatively push for more restorative models of discipline in the schools rather than police.
There are plenty of alternatives to strong presence of police in schools and consequential use of civil citations and arrest. Policies alone can help to decrease arrest rates. “For example, three of . . . [Florida’s] largest school districts (Miami-Date, Broward, and Palm Beach) aggressively employ alternatives to arrest, and these districts subsequently have school arrest rates much lower than the general statement average.” However, the number of police in schools does not have to necessarily decrease for arrest rates to decrease. Decreasing the arrest rates could be something as simple as improving interactions. Targeted behavioral supports are one alternative for at-risk students: “Programs that provide targeted, rigorously evaluated behavioral supports for at-risk students have several elements in common.”
“Developing true safety in schools depends on students trusting the adults.” Safety of our children in schools is still of the utmost importance, especially when it comes to serious violent acts, but positive interactions need to increase between the police stationed in the schools to help avoid unnecessary arrests. Starting with legislative change and re-distribution of federal funding, teachers and administrators can be a more integral part of the positive change through implementation of positive behavioral management techniques and early intervention programs.
Whether the number of arrests of five to ten year olds decreases in Orange County, Florida and across the county will be a matter of strict adherence to the new law that went into effect October 1, 2015. Although this seems like a step in the right direction for combatting the “prison pipeline” issue, this is only the beginning. Other states are taking initiative to ensure that arrests in schools are not at alarming rates and are implementing new procedures for such arrests including positive behavioral intervention, trauma assessment teams, and mental health support within the schools and the community. Continued procedural change is necessary and may include additional resources for staff working with the children, restricting police involvement to serious criminal matters, and evaluation of proactive measures that could be utilized in order to proactively address discipline and delinquency in schools. We want children to spend more time learning, not in lockdown.” If children are our future, let us educate them, not criminalize them.