To Find Out Why Schools Are Sending In Cops To Bust Third Graders, Ask The Local Prosecutor

from the a-nation-of-laws,-applied-to-schoolchildren dept

Who’s leading the installation of police officers inside schools and the implementation of zero tolerance policies? In New Jersey, the answer is the local prosecutor’s office.

A little background: police were called to a third-grade class party because a nine-year-old allegedly made a racist remark when discussing the brownies they were eating. NO. REALLY.

A third grader had made a comment about the brownies being served to the class. After another student exclaimed that the remark was “racist,” the school called the Collingswood Police Department, according to the mother of the boy who made the comment.

The police officer spoke to the student, who is 9, said the boy’s mother, Stacy dos Santos, and local authorities.

Dos Santos said that the school overreacted and that her son made a comment about snacks, not skin color.

“He said they were talking about brownies. . . . Who exactly did he offend?” dos Santos said.

The boy’s father was contacted by Collingswood police later in the day. Police said the incident had been referred to the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency. The student stayed home for his last day of third grade.

Literal language police. Literal hate police. In a third grade classroom because one nine-year-old thought another nine-year-old made a racist remark. WTF.

Backlash followed. Parents started wondering whether they needed to add attorneys’ business cards to their children’s lunches. Commenters wanted to know why the school had completely abdicated its disciplinary role to local law enforcement. Social media bonfires were lit and stoked.

School administrators quickly stepped up to point accusatory fingers at someone else:

Collingswood School Superintendent Scott Oswald said Thursday that Camden County prosecutors had demanded in a May meeting that the district report nearly every incident of student misbehavior to the police.

“During that meeting, it was made abundantly clear by an assistant prosecutor that if we did not follow the directive, they would come after us with criminal charges, they’d come after our educational certifications,” Oswald said.

Since that meeting, students as young as 7 have been reported to the police for incidents such as shoving in the lunch line or allegedly making a racist comment.

Indeed, the county prosecutor’s office had called a May meeting and indicated that pretty much every minor disciplinary issue was to be handled by law enforcement. Prior to this meeting, the Memorandum of Agreement between the district and law enforcement had only stipulated that “serious” violations — like weapons, drugs or sexual misconduct — were to be handled by police officers.

That all changed for reasons the prosecutor’s office has yet to explain. The school district definitely left the meeting with the feeling that failing to cede all disciplinary actions to law enforcement would result in a violation of the agreement. Local police chief Kevin Carey backed up the school’s claims, noting that it was clearly stated by the prosecutor’s office that failing to follow the agreement “could result in criminal charges.”

That’s how nine-year-old kids end up discussing allegedly racist remarks with law enforcement officers first, rather than school administrators or their own parents.

Nowhere is it stated what the prosecutor’s office hoped to achieve with this policy change — other than maybe a larger slate of prosecutions to attend to. It appears the schools were very compliant.

Superintendent Scott Oswald estimated that on some occasions over the last month, officers may have been called to as many as five incidents per day in the district of 1,875 students.

The good news is that the “Call 911 for EVERYTHING” policy has been dropped by the district. The bad news is that the district has still refused to answer parents’ questions about why they weren’t informed of the escalation in police intervention or why the district didn’t make more of an attempt to fight this until after it had blown up in its face.

The prosecutor’s office still refuses to comment , stating only that the increase in police calls was due to a “misunderstanding,” which is really nothing more than it declaring the district should bear most, if not all, of the blame for debacle.

Third graders being busted for racist remarks is the end result of insular thinking by a group of people who divide the world into two groups: them and “suspects.” Prosecutors prosecute. Law enforcement officers make arrests. The natural states are indulged by crafting policies that turn mischief and misbehavior into low-level criminal activities — and it’s all backed up by an implicit threat of prosecution targeting the district itself.

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Comments on “To Find Out Why Schools Are Sending In Cops To Bust Third Graders, Ask The Local Prosecutor”

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I.T. Guy says:

Re: Re:

You dont know the half of it. Camden is a real shit-hole. Really. And it’s actions like this that prove it will always be a shit-hole.

The school is not much better:
“Superintendent Scott Oswald estimated that on some occasions over the last month, officers may have been called to as many as five incidents per day in the district of 1,875 students.”

5 incidents a day is 100 a month, 900 for the year. If you really think about it, it does not defend the way Scott Oswald thinks it does. In fact it looks like they have lost control of their school to an overzealous prosecutor and Ramboesque Police. For the course of a year you have called the police enough to have them speak with half the student body.

To be fair this IS New Jersey and you can’t expect much.

To the inept staff in that school… GET IT IN WRITING!!! If someone tells you you need to do this or suffer this…. GET IT IN WRITING. Now you all look like it was just a “misunderstanding.” I.E. you were all just dumbfuks that didnt understand what was told to you. Which is very believable in this case.

Teacher calling 911:
Operator: 911 how can I help you?
Teacher: We have a real bad situation here.
Operator: “What is the problem?”
Teacher: Timmah wont stop calling the kids poopoo head.
Operator: “That is a serious issue. We will send someone right away.”
Teacher: “Oh thank god, I dont know what to do.”

anonymous coward says:

Re: Re:

no, the school did NOT do the right. The school itself is being racist, the very thing they accuse the student of.

The brownies were black.

Both legal immigrants and illegal immigrants are not required to learn or even know English in the U.S. So they continue speaking Spanish.

The Spanish word for “black” is “negro”.

So he was not being racist, just describing the brownies he wanted or had,

The school itself was being racist for picking on immigrants just because of their race, culture, and language.

NeghVar (profile) says:

Re: Zero tolerance

Zero tolerance should be illegal. It is unconstitutional in numerous ways.
1. No due process.
2. denied access to attorney.
3. Cruel or unusual punishment. (consequence must fit the crime) Student expelled for possession of knife on campus. (this was the knife which was in a closed emergency kit in the backseat of his car)

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

“The prosecutor’s office still refuses to comment”

Well that should go on their exit survey.
It isn’t nice to think about, and we all like to assume they are doing a heck of a job… but perhaps it is time to actually pay attention to what these people are doing.

The citizens should demand answers from the DA, ask why the ADA was given authority to threaten compliance or else, and how much money has been wasted in having them reviewing all of these things.

Perhaps it was an hugely ignorant step trying to avoid placing administrators in a position where they might have to use their own judgement and avoid upset parents… seems that worked out well.

“Superintendent Scott Oswald estimated that on some occasions over the last month, officers may have been called to as many as five incidents per day in the district of 1,875 students.”

If you give a mouse a cookie…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The citizens should demand answers from the DA, ask why the ADA was given authority to threaten compliance or else

I was wondering that too. The article mentions a Memorandum of Agreement. I assume this means that there was some agreement between the prosecutors and the educators, presumably due to something that happened in the past? And then the prosecutors decided to interpret it ridiculously. I’d like to see the actual MoA, and know why it was put into place.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I wonder what it would take to get a special prosecutor appointed? That special prosecutor could then spend time observing how the regular prosecutor’s office conducts business, how its personnel act on lunch breaks, what they do on their days off.

If it’s both lawful and just for the behavior of seven year olds to be considered as serious as adult crimes — even if the incident must be stretched like taffy to make it fit an adult crime — then OF COURSE it would be lawful and just to apply the same standards to actual adults, especially those who believe that of children!

ADA accidentally bumps into someone waiting in line at the cafeteria? He can be tackled by police and violently handcuffed for his crime. Legal secretary jaywalks? Five cops cars and the SWAT team on standby. See someone using a legal drug (whether it be a seven year old with an asthma inhaler or one of the clerks at the DA’s office smoking a cigarette) send in the SWAT team to take the dangerous drug offender into custody and throw the book at them!

The target of all of this would SCREAM in outrage, but here’s the thing — the US Supreme Court has ruled many, many, MANY times that schoolchildren have rights and they do not leave them at the schoolyard gate. Some rights might be partially suspended in the name of education (first amendment rights do not entitle you to play loud music in class for example) but they do not cease to exist.

If it is lawful and constitutional to treat seven year olds as if they have no rights whatsoever, then it is equally constitutional to treat adults in the employ of the DA’s office the same way.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Where's the Crime?

OK, so as ridiculous as reporting every student behavior to the District Attorney is, which of these behaviors are actually against the law? Certainly not doing ones homework requires a grand jury. How about little boys pulling on little girls pigtails? Doesn’t some crime have an intent component to it, and can a child be determined to be sophisticated enough to actually have that intent?

We have read about children eating their breakfast pastry into a form that some nearsighted and emotionally challenged educator thought, might, appear, or look like it was intended to resemble a gun and go batshit crazy and call the police for loaded weapons violations.

Are any of these supposed adults thinking about the emotional trauma they are causing, not only the children accused, but the rest of the group who witness this level of childishness in adults?

LAquaker says:

Re: Their basis: 1 graffiti painting

In 1999 three LASD (Sheriff) members took an hour and a half out of our Acton Town Council Meeting (California) to explain to us and the public the necessity of reporting EVERY thing our children did to them (dig through Mom’s purse, et al) so that when it was time to send our child to an Arizona privately run re-education center, with or without parent consent, the Sheriff would have enough in the kid’s “file”. One wore a suit, one wore a standard green uniform, and one was dressed in Darth-Vader SwatTeam black. All three were armed. As a council member, i ask if the State Of California owned all children, unless a Judge had awarded ‘custody’. The Sheriffs agreed.

Since then, LACounty has made a law that EVERY dog in LACounty must be denuded (spayed) or taken from the ‘pet owner’ EXCEPT ‘pedigree’ animals with papers.

I smell eugenics

David says:

Re: Re:

Uh, that’s the point of a dystopian novel: make you recognize the premise and think about just how it connects to the given conclusion.

Read on: there may be some elements eventually that aren’t old news yet. Fewer than you’d want to, but then a novel is not enough to stop people on a set course dead in their tracks do an 180 degrees turn. So again: this is somewhat to be expected.

Even though Animal Farm was intended to be about the Soviet Union, the technical and geographical background of “1984” is more ambiguous.

Whoever says:

School did the right thing

How do you get rid of a stupid policy: follow it to the letter. Flood the prosecutor’s office with complaints. Eventually, you will report the child of someone who has influence and leave the prosecutors to deal with that person. Even if none of the parents have influence, just dealing with a flood of complaints will force a change of policy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: School did the right thing

Except, of course, anyone who would have influence is very likely to have sufficient influence to pay their way out of trouble and not give two shits about the other poor sods.

As for floods of complaints, I can’t really see that doing much either. Law enforcement is very keen on their current “shoot first, ask questions later” modus operandi. If they insist on considering every male with a hand in their pocket a legitimate threat on their life I don’t see how any amount of parental influence is going to convince the law to stop being such a dumbfuck.

o.f. says:

Re: Re: School did the right thing

no, the school did NOT do the right. The school itself is being racist, the very thing they accuse the student of.

The brownies were black.

Both legal immigrants and illegal immigrants are not required to learn or even know English in the U.S. So they continue speaking Spanish.

The Spanish word for “black” is “negro”.

So he was not being racist, just describing the brownies he wanted or had,

The school itself was being racist for picking on immigrants just because of their race and language.

David says:

Re: School did the right thing

The story of dynamite and fascism should have taught anybody willing to listen to history’s lessons that maxing out the scale of stupidity in order to recover sanity is not a working strategy.

Anybody betting the well-being of human lives on stupidity being a limited resource will end up with blood on his hands.

Every time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: not a crime

Reminds me of the Kids for Cash scandal. Some of the things the kids were convicted for by known oxygen thief, former juge, and all around dirtbag Mark Ciavarella weren’t even crimes like making an obvious joke myspace page.

Perhaps something similar is in play and the prosecutor should be locked away until he gets shanked to death in prison.

Anonymous Coward says:

The reason? School-to-prison pipeline

Let me connect the dots for you.

Escalating a minor disciplinary incident into a police encounter establishes a record for the kid(s) involved. Repeated incidents established a pattern. That pattern can and will be used in the subsequent academic career. Infractions that would have resulted in staying after school for half an hour will instead become suspensions. Suspensions will become longer suspensions. Students’ academic performance will suffer. Their grades will decline. Their motivation will decline. This predisposes them to more infractions and to graduate late, if at all. It sets them up for failure in 3rd grade, 7th grade, 11th grade.

And when they fail, they’ll be unable to get into college or unable to afford it if they do. They’ll have a police record which may render them unemployable and may render them homeless, since many landlords do background checks.

No college. No job. Nowhere to live. No future. Petty crime or even serious crime starts looking like a decent choice at that point, and THAT is when they find themselves busted, given an overworked PD, convicted, and sent to prison.

And given how many prisons are now run by for-profit corporations, some of whose contracts have penalty clauses that kick in if states fail to keep them occupied (yes, really), they will wind up being warehoused for years so that states can make their numbers.

So it makes perfect sense that the DA is trying to maximize the number of kids with records: he’s just doing his part to keep the process working smoothly, to ensure that the US continues to have the highest incarceration percentage in the world, to preserve corporate profits.

Anonymous Coward says:

The State...

Must be involved with every aspect of your life.

Please avoid doing anything, as even breathing incorrectly could cause law enforcement to view you as a threat and potentially take lethal or life changing action against you. This includes your 5 year old making smart ass brownie comments!

What sucks, is this is seriously not a joke!

anonymous coward says:

Re: The State...

if you read the article, the kid has a Spanish name.

So I very much doubt he was making a racist comment.

He was probably just speaking Spanish without knowing any English, justlike most of the foreigners (now most of the people) here inn my town that used to be English speaking .

He was probably just using the Spanish word for “black” and another kid mistook it as a racist remark.

Even my Dell printer ink box has the Spanish word for black on it. Oh, that and the Dell company must be racist also. At least if you go by anything the school says. After all, right on my Dell printer ink box, it says “negro” right on it.

DocGerbil100 (profile) says:

I’m not sure Camden County’s policy was a ‘stupid’ policy, as such. I can envisage too many scenarios where they might find it very useful.

Consider: prosecutors and other county employees get access to explicitly detailed accounts of every sexual and violent activity involving a minor across the entire area, complete with the unredacted names and addresses of every child involved.

Whether they want to sell that information to predict-a-crime software peddlars, sell or trade it to local child prostitution and pornography rings, keep the information and get off on it during their lunch-breaks, or any combination of the above, this policy is clearly a goldmine for them.

DannyB (profile) says:

The lesson for third graders

When brownies are served. It is inappropriate to make remarks about a person’s skin. Instead, people should be (equally and without discrimination) insulted with comparisons to human waste. For instance, “poo poo head” would be an appropriate expression for a third grader. Also, the best way to ensure you are not discriminating in your insults is to follow the example of a presidential candidate and insult everyone, always, all the time, no exceptions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Because

I think you missed his point. Also, Hillary is a scam artist and you keep buying the Con. At least with trump there is a message from the people trying to tell the establishment that it sucks.

There is almost no difference between the Reps/Dems. Both want to expand government and take you liberty, they just disagree on how to accomplish that same goal!

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Because

Q. Should I vote for a presidential candidate who is a known liar and likes to project the image of having the biggest balls?
A. Yes. Because the alternative of voting for Trump is unacceptable.

Q. Should I vote for a 2000 year old Jew, who many people give their money and worship?
A. It is premature to ask, because Bernie Sanders is not yet the nominee.

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