With the younger set, Creekside Elementary School in Milledegville, Georgia, broke new ground in criminalizing in-school misbehavior when they called in the police to arrest a six-year-old for her tantrum. The officers, following procedure, reportedly handcuffed the kindergartner upon her arrest.
Of course, Georgia’s school systems don't have anything over Mississippi’s–in Meridian, students are subject to juvenile court referrals for dress code violations.
Examples such as those above, and the belief that minority students tend to be disproportionately affected by the trend, have resulted in a backlash to the criminalization of in-school misbehavior, known by opponents as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
Judge Steven Teske, of Georgia’s Clayton County Juvenile Court, noticed that school-related juvenile court referrals to his court jumped more than 1,000 percent in the early 2000s, with the majority of new cases involving misdemeanor infractions relating to school yard fights, disorderly conduct and disruptive behavior. Meanwhile, the judge noticed that the number of serious juvenile crimes during this time period increased, while the graduation rate decreased.
In speaking before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in 2012, Judge Teske said that it was “frustrating for me as a judge to see the effectiveness of the prosecutor and probation officer weakened by my court system being inundated with low risk cases that consumed the court docket and pushed kids towards probation–kids who made adults mad versus those that scare us.”
Judge Teske has helped reduce the number of students referred to Clayton County Juvenile Court from the school system by 83 percent since the mid-2000s through his proactive work with school officials and the police to change the practices that were leading to so many referrals.
The Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice is also working to implement changes in school and juvenile justice policies that would reduce the intersection of school discipline and the juvenile court system. The center has published a highly informative guide for parents, which can help them and their children navigate through today’s school disciplinary process in Georgia. The guide–“When My Child is Disciplined at School: A Guide for Families”–can be accessed at:http://www.gaappleseed.org/docs/schooldiscipline.pdf.
School disciplinary action has become quite complex in the past 20 years, and its ramifications for a child’s future can be significant, especially if the action involves the filing of a juvenile complaint. Thus, it is important for parents to become involved with the process as quickly as possible, and consult with an attorney well versed in juvenile law.