A long article appears in The Guardian, a British Left-wing paper.
The charge on the police docket was “disrupting class”. But that’s not how 12-year-old Sarah Bustamantes saw her arrest for spraying two bursts of perfume on her neck in class because other children were bullying her with taunts of “you smell”
Police docket? What is going on?
Like hundreds of schools in the state, and across large parts of the rest of the US, Fulmore Middle has its own police force with officers in uniform who carry guns to keep order in the canteens, playgrounds and lessons. Sarah was taken from class, charged with a criminal misdemeanour and ordered to appear in court.
Each day, hundreds of schoolchildren appear before courts in Texas charged with offences such as swearing, misbehaving on the school bus or getting in to a punch-up in the playground. Children have been arrested for possessing cigarettes, wearing “inappropriate” clothes and being late for school.
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.
It’s not just our problem.
The British government is studying the American experience in dealing with gangs, unruly young people and juvenile justice in the wake of the riots in England. The UK’s justice minister, Crispin Blunt, visited Texas last September to study juvenile courts and prisons, youth gangs and police outreach in schools, among other things. But his trip came at a time when Texas is reassessing its own reaction to fears of feral youth that critics say has created a “school-to-prison pipeline”. The Texas supreme court chief justice, Wallace Jefferson, has warned that “charging kids with criminal offences for low-level behavioural issues” is helping to drive many of them to a life in jail.
That is correct. There a solution. Expel them. That is what Joe Clark did in Lean on Me. But this solution is intolerable. Humanist educators have believed for 170 years in the redemptive power of tax-funded education. To expel is to excommunicate. “There is no salvation outside the church.”
Expulsion reduces state money flowing into local schools. Principals refuse to expel.
Even the federal government has waded in, with the US attorney general, Eric Holder, saying of criminal citations being used to maintain discipline in schools: “That is something that clearly has to stop.”
As almost every parent of a child drawn in to the legal labyrinth by school policing observes, it wasn’t this way when they were young.
The emphasis on law and order in the classroom parallels more than two decades of rapid expansion of all areas of policing in Texas in response to misplaced fears across the US in the 1980s of a looming crime wave stoked by the crack epidemic, alarmist academic studies and the media.
Let’s be clear: the public schools are collapsing. The erosion, 1964-2000, is now accelerating.
The Left-wing Guardian blames law and order advocates.
As the hand of law and order grew heavier across Texas, its grip also tightened on schools. The number of school districts in the state with police departments has risen more than 20-fold over the past two decades.
“Zero tolerance started out as a term that was used in combating drug trafficking and it became a term that is now used widely when you’re referring to some very punitive school discipline measures. Those two policy worlds became conflated with each other,” said Fowler.
Is this nuts? Not really. The schools are become like prisons. This Right-wing site has a frightening report on the extent of police state monitoring in the schools.
But most schools do not face any serious threat of violence and police officers patrolling the corridors and canteens are largely confronted with little more than boisterous or disrespectful childhood behaviour.
The article does not ask the obvious question: “What is the racial composition of the schools where there is violence?” That would be politically incorrect.
Students are also regularly fined for “disorderly behaviour”, which includes playground scraps not serious enough to warrant an assault charge or for swearing or an offensive gesture. One teenage student was arrested and sent to court in Houston after he and his girlfriend poured milk on each other after they broke up. Nearly one third of tickets involve drugs or alcohol. Although a relatively high number of tickets – up to 20% in some school districts – involve charges over the use of weapons, mostly the weapons used were fists.
The reality is this: the schools are breaking down.
Austin’s school police department is well armed with officers carrying guns and pepper spray, and with dog units on call for sniffing out drugs and explosives.
According to the department’s records, officers used force in schools more than 400 times in the five years to 2008, including incidents in which pepper spray was fired to break up a food fight in a canteen and guns were drawn on lippy students.
One anonymous teacher spoke out.
“There’s this illusion that it’s just a few kids acting up; kids being kids. This is not the 50s. Too many parents today don’t control their children. Their fathers aren’t around. They’re in gangs. They come in to the classroom and they have no respect, no self-discipline. They’re doing badly, they don’t want to learn, they just want to disrupt. They can be very threatening,” he says. “The police get called because that way the teacher can go on with teaching instead of wasting half the class dealing with one child, and it sends a message to the other kids.”
Bleeding heart liberals don’t know what to do about their premier institution for social salvation.
I do. “Not a brass farthing!”