Disruptive Behavior Sends Students to Court Instead of Principal's Office

Actions that once sent students to the principal’s office to be handled by teachers and faculty are now getting Massachusetts students pulled from school entirely and sent to juvenile court in handcuffs, according to a recent report by Citizens for Juvenile Justice. Research shows that police officers are increasingly stepping in to handle behavior such as foul language, hallway misconduct and disrupting public assemblies, which has led to a significant spike in student arrests.
Data from Springfield, Boston and Worcester, three of Massachusetts’s largest school districts, shows children as young as 11 were subject to arrest and were faced with criminal records for minor offenses during the 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years. Although students should be held accountable for their actions, using police and court resources instead of existing school disciplinary practices could pose severe consequences for their future. One alarming statistic noted by the report states that, “students who are arrested at school are three times more likely to drop out than those who are not.”
Criminalizing children for these minor offenses not only limits their educational and career opportunities, but it is also costly for schools and taxpayers. Springfield schools have armed officers permanently stationed at selected schools for the entire duration of the school day, contributing to a hefty payroll percentage that could be spent on staff leadership and disciplinary training.

In order to help curb the on-going trend of using police officers to apprehend misbehaved students, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts (ACLU) and Citizens for Juvenile Justice (CfJJ) recommend several strategies that will keep schools safe and can be implemented by teachers and administrators. The purpose of these recommendations is to, “emphasize that arrest is not an acceptable method for dealing with disruptive students.” These strategies include:

  • Ensuring that calling on police officers with the intent of arrest be a last resort
  • Creating a clear distinction between classroom behavioral problems and more serious offenses in order to best address student misbehavior
  • Placing all disciplinary responsibility on school staff and faculty, even to the extent to which police are involved

For a copy of the complete report, please click here.

Shannon Kluss is a Digital Communications intern at Prichard Communications, where she assists on several accounts, including Reclaiming Futures. She is a recent graduate from the University of Oregon with a degree in Journalism. She is a Portland, OR native, and Pacific NW enthusiast.

Updated: May 15 2012