Cops In Classrooms

Jan 25, 2016

Last spring, the Center for Public Integrity named Virginia as the state most likely to call the cops on kids at school.  Now, the Legal Aid Justice Center is calling on Virginia’s legislature to do something about that.

  Children in Virginia are three times more likely than kids in other states to be arrested at school, and the Legal Aid Justice Center says the odds are even higher in certain communities and for certain children. 

“There’s massive racial disparities and there’s massive disparities with respect to students with disabilities.”

That’s attorney Jason Langberg.  He says it’s wrong to apply criminal terms to bad behavior by children. 

“Something as childish as running down the hallway or a quick pushing and shoving can be characterized as disorderly conduct if not assault and battery. We’ve seen kids who’ve experienced very serious trauma who are aggressively grabbed from behind, and when they react in understandable and predictable ways, they’re then charged with assault and battery or resisting arrest, and that happens for kids as young as 10, 11, 12 years old.”

There are about 630 police officers assigned to permanent duty in Virginia schools, and Langberg says they may not have any special training in dealing with children. Districts would, he argues, be better off hiring psychologists and social workers.

“Those folks are trained in ways of de-escalating children and dealing with misbehavior in developmentally appropriate ways that’s actually safer for that child and for the school environment than, let’s say a law enforcement officer who in Virginia is not required to have any specialized training with young people and therefore can escalate  a violent situation.”

In spite of high profile cases in the news, the Legal Aid Justice Center says schools in the Commonwealth remain very safe places, and calling in police can do real damage to a learning environment.

“So if might undermine the authority of educators and it may create an atmosphere of hostility or fear.  It’s traumatizing to see a friend or classmate being put into handcuffs and hauled out of school and put in a police cruiser.”

That’s why the Legal Aid Justice Center is asking lawmakers in Richmond to develop statewide guidelines for calling in police, to require special training for those who are stationed there, and to clarify the role of officers in schools.