Criminalizing Childhood: These Schools Call The Cops On Little Kids — For Being Kids!
Children reported To Police. Their Crime? being Children.
Last May, the Collingswood Public School System adopted a policy requiring that teachers tattle on their students. In other words, report even the most minor incidents of student misbehavior to police. For things like name-calling, a game of tag that was a little too rough, and a drawing that showed a zombie holding a gun.
The new policy required police to respond to incidents they wouldn’t have investigated in the past, noted Collingswood Police Chief Kevin Carey. This even included anything “as minor as a simple name-calling incident that the school would typically handle internally.”
Almost every student report wound up forwarded to the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency, Carey said.
In the month or so that the school implemented the new policy and the school year ended, police found themselves being called on kindergartners who were arguing, second-graders who were calling each other “fat” or “short,” a game of tag that was too boisterous and a bunch of other incidents.
All in all, Collingswood police investigated 22 complaints in this time period, after officials in the district of 1,875 students began reporting almost every incident to policy because of this dumb policy.
Other infractions the police were called out on include:
- An elementary school student who “held his ukulele like a gun” and made a “gun noise.”
- Another elementary school kid was reported for calling another kid “cheater.”
- A student who drew a picture of a zombie holding a gun.
- A couple of second-graders were “roughhousing” while on their way to lunch.
What ever happened to grounding someone when they got in trouble?
Philly.com notes that many of the incidents weren’t witnessed by teachers, but were instead based on complaints from other students.
Other cases were not necessarily so minor and racism was also reported in some instances—and that is never okay for any reason. Undoubtedly the situation was not helped by the police being involved.
The mother of one child said a male student had been calling her daughter “Aunt Jemima” for over a month, and in another case, police questioned a third-grader at William P. Tatem Elementary School on June 16 because he allegedly made a racist comment about brownies during a school party. The boy reportedly said the brownies were “made out of burnt black people,” according to a police report written by an officer who talked to kids who heard the remark. The report doesn’t include any remarks from the teacher, and the boy’s family says the teacher didn’t hear the remark.
The boy, 9, told police he “did not mean to” make the remark (yeah sure) and that he was sorry for upsetting his classmates. He also told the cops he wasn’t directing that at any particular classmate.
In an interview, the boy’s mom said that all she knew was that her son was “talking about brownies.” But school officials describe the kid’s comments as “incendiary” and say they support their decision to contact police.
Two alleged assaults occurred at Collingswood Middle School. In the first incident, an eighth grader stabbed another student in the arm after the student called him a name. In the second case, one student wrapped a cord around a friend’s neck, reports say.
In that instance, the mother of the alleged aggressor said her son was “dead wrong” to do what he did, but added that the school put her son in detention and that should have been enough.
The policy of reporting to police was adopted on May 25 after school officials met with the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office in response to an incident earlier this spring. Reportedly Mayor Jim Maley had said Collingswood High School officials didn’t report student misconduct promptly enough. Details regarding the incident in question haven’t been released.
The new, and not necessarily improved protocol had been decided on by the school district, police and county prosecutor’s office. And in every case, students were interviewed by police without a parent or a guardian being present.
Maley now says the adopted protocol was due to a “misunderstanding,” but parents are still understandably upset that the district implemented the policy without telling them. In fact, the district waited all the way until June 27 to tell parents—10 days after the school year ended. And once they found out, parents demanded the school dump the policy, which it did—fortunately. Now it’s going back to the former policy of reporting students to policy only in cases where weapons, drugs, or sexual misconduct are involved.
This new policy was definitely a wrong idea, and the presence of police officers stressed some kids out.
Quite frankly, it’s outrageous that the kids were interviewed by police without their parents being contacted beforehand.
In the case of those two youngsters roughhousing on the way to lunch, the mother of one of the boys said her son thought he had been arrested. Her son is only 7, and he was traumatized, she noted. He’s only now starting to talk about the incident with her.
“Nobody notified me,” she said last month. “I wasn’t there for him. I always tell him, ‘I will always be there for you, whether you’re right or wrong.’ I said I was going to be there for him, but I wasn’t.”
KeepYourChildSafe.org notes that people wearing uniforms can be scary for kids because they represent an unknown authority figure—someone who makes orders and sometimes punishes people. And police uniforms are often designed to be intimidating. Surprisingly, even the noise a uniform makes when the wearer is walking or the tools and implements associated with that uniform (especially a gun) can frighten kids.
And kids who have dealt with the trauma of a parent being arrested will definitely be afraid, ChildSafe notes. From a child’s point of view, this is one of the most frightening experiences they could ever go through. Who knows if any of the kids in this school district have gone through this?
If they have, being interviewed by a police officer without mom or dad around certainly must have been intimidating.
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I can certainly understand police interviewing the kid who allegedly stabbed someone, but to question a kid because he called someone a name? C’mon, already.
Back in the Jurassic period when I was in Miss Walker’s second grade classroom, I drew a well-endowed grass-skirted Polynesian woman dancing. She was not wearing a shirt, let me tell you. Miss Walker hastily called a parent-teacher conference. But in this case, I was interrogated by my parents. NOT the police.
I can only imagine what they would have asked me.
Let’s hope no other school districts think this policy is a good idea.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images