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
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.