Last December’s tragic school shooting in Newtown, Conn., sparked conversations across the United States about putting armed police officers in schools. But in schools where officers are already stationed, the number of criminal charges against children is surging. Judges and youth advocates are alarmed, The New York Times reports, because many of the charges derive from minor incidents that could be handled in the principal’s office. Children are being shuffled into the criminal court system over scuffles, truancy and cursing at teachers, the story said.
In Texas, school-based police officers hand out more than 100,000 misdemeanor tickets each year, resulting in fines, community service, and sometimes a lasting criminal record that could mar applications for jobs and military service, according to The New York Times.
The National Rifle Association called for placing an armed security guard at every school in the U.S. in the days that followed the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December, The Wall Street Journal reported. A Department of Education survey showed that 28 percent of the nation’s public schools report already having security officers who carry firearms on their campuses at least once a week, the story said.
The White House is considering policy recommendations in response to the Newtown attack and general gun violence, prompting a coalition of students, parents, education advocates and civil rights groups to speak out against putting armed guards and police in schools.
The Youth Justice Coalition asserts that Department of Education data shows that expanded police presence in schools, along with “zero-tolerance” discipline policies, has a negative effect on schools and communities.
“Instead of creating safe and nurturing learning environments, these policies have resulted in the criminalization of youth — particularly youth of color — for minor misbehavior, like being late to school or talking back, that can be more effectively addressed by positive discipline measures like mediation, restorative justice practices, and positive behavior and intervention supports,” a Youth Justice Coalition statement said.
In early April, the coalition released a white paper that included the following findings:
• The increased police presence in schools has led to a dramatic increase in school-based student arrests. During the 2011-12 school year alone, the state of Florida reported 13,870 student arrests and referrals to law enforcement.
• The majority of student arrests are for discretionary offenses such as disruption, disorderly conduct and minor school fights.
• Most incidents of violent crime involving youth take place outside of school, with less than 2 percent of all youth homicides occurring in schools.