Paper Airplane? Late for School? Shouting Too Loud? You’re Under Arrest!

Hi Readers — Here’s an incredible report on how the “School to prison pipeline” plays out in Texas, as published in The Guardian:

In 2010, the police gave close to 300,000 “Class C misdemeanour” tickets to children as young as six in Texas for offences in and out of school, which result in fines, community service and even prison time. What was once handled with a telling-off by the teacher or a call to parents can now result in arrest and a record that may cost a young person a place in college or a job years later.

The other appalling fact is that parents who don’t or can’t pay the fine, which can be $500, sometimes ignore it. Which means that when the kid turns 17,he or she can be arrested and go to jail — adult prison — for non-payment.

The draconian nature of this situation has not escaped notice. Reports The Guardian:

 Texas state legislature last year changed the law to stop the issuing of tickets to 10- and 11-year-olds over classroom behaviour. (In the state, the age of criminal responsibility is 10.) But a broader bill to end the practice entirely – championed by a state senator, John Whitmire, who called the system “ridiculous” – failed to pass and cannot be considered again for another two years.

Two more years of criminalizing everything from shenanigans to defiance? All in the name of “safety”? What about keeping kids safe from an unwarranted,  lifelong criminal record?

This is a Free-Range issue because, once again, we see what happens when we lose perspective on crime. Usually I write about how we keep our kids inside because we wildly over-estimate the chance of kidnapping. Now we see what happens when schools, politicians and police wildly over-estimate the chance of “another Columbine.” Either way, childhood is compromised.  Either way, out kids pay the price for our paranoia.  — Lenore

The Backlash Against the Columbine Backlash

Readers — As we enter 2012, there is cause for hope, as this article shows. Legislators in Colorado, home to the Columbine massacre, are taking a new and rational look at their zero tolerance laws. These are laws that REQUIRED schools to act brainlessly and not distinguish between, say, a wooden replica of a rifle and a smoking AK47. Laws that told school administrators they’d be WRONG to treat a butter knife as a butter knife rather than as a deadly weapon. According to the website TimesCall.com:

A legislative committee moved forward with a proposal that seeks to give education officials more discretion over expulsions and police referrals, which lawmakers say became more common after the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, where two students killed 13 people and then themselves.

Committee members said zero-tolerance policies adopted during the last decade have tied the hands of school administrators, who are forced to expel students or involve law enforcement for minor infractions.

How wonderful to untie the hands of school administrators and free them to reason rather than to blindly (over)react. If Colorado is where the Zero Tolerance Revolution began, let’s hope that this is where it begins its demise.

The proposed legislation would make expulsions mandatory only in cases of students bringing a firearm to school and would amend school discipline codes to distinguish minor infractions from violations that need police involvement. The proposal would also direct school boards to create discipline codes that limit suspensions and expulsions to cases where a student’s conduct threatens school safety.

Significantly, this new legislation is co-sponsored by a Democrat and a Republican — more proof that, rather than taking knee-jerk umbrage at something the other party suggested, people are starting to use their brains (and not, I guess, their knees). Let’s hear it for rationality, compassion and no longer overreacting to “threats” that don’t threaten our kids at all. — L.

If she brings a butter knife to school, she will no longer be considered armed and dangerous.

Why Big Brother “School Safety” Measures Aren’t Making Schools Safer

Hi Folks — Just read this Salon interview with Aaron Kupchik, author of “Homeroom Security: School Discipline in an Age of Fear.” It’s an eye-opening look at the law-and-order mindset at many high schools these days.  I really loved what Kupchik had to say, especially this comment about the wide-reaching effect of Zero Tolerance laws:

Why are they so detrimental?

KUPCHIK: We’re teaching kids what it means to be a citizen in our country. And what I fear we’re doing is teaching them that what it means to be an American is that you accept authority without question and that you have absolutely no rights to question punishment. It’s very Big Brother-ish in a way. Kids are being taught that you should expect to be drug tested if you want to participate in an organization, that walking past a police officer every day and being constantly under the gaze of a security camera is normal. And my concern is that these children are going to grow up and be less critical and thoughtful of these sorts of mechanisms. And so the types of political discussions we have now, like for example, whether or not wiretapping is OK, these might not happen in 10 years.

Puts a new spin on “safety,” right? Especially when you read what he has to say about Columbine and the increase in security cameras and school police officers that tragedy prompted!

KUPCHIK: It’s also interesting that one of the ways that people try to prevent a “Columbine-like incident” — a phrase I heard frequently — is to put up surveillance cameras and put in SROs [School Resource Officers — security officers]. But they had both of those at Columbine. We can watch the surveillance footage of the police officers. Now, perhaps it would have been even more devastating if they had not been there; we’ll never know that. But it certainly didn’t prevent things from happening.

Wow! This blew my mind! So many times when we are told new precautions are “absolutely necessary” for security, we really have to think twice. Do we REALLY want school volunteers to have to undergo a background check — or does that cut down on the number of helping hands? Do we really need surveillance cameras everywhere?  Why? Are kids really safer when we don’t let dads go on camp-outs with Girl Scouts, when we make everyone sign their kid out of school in a time-consuming procedure, when we don’t let kids walk home on their own, when we prosecute parents who let their kids wait in the  car, when we put non-violent teens on the sex offender registry for life?  These are all new procedures bubbling up in this country, but whether they are making kids safer is questionable. Whether they are changing the tenor of society is not. — Lenore