When Temper Tantrums Become Criminal

Your Take: Another black child is handcuffed for a meltdown in class. Blame zero-tolerance policies.

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Salecia Johnson (WMAZ-TV)

School staff, like those at Creekside Elementary, who overreact to childish behavior by treating it as criminal rob children of a chance toward a successful future. There is a better way. Graduation rates in Baltimore reached record highs after the school system did away with zero-tolerance policies. Out-of-school suspensions decreased 64 percent, and youth crime has gone down. In Denver, parents and students successfully organized to get the school system to implement a commonsense approach to discipline that led to a 68 percent reduction in police tickets, a 40 percent reduction in out-of-school suspensions and higher attendance and graduation rates.

These are just two of several school districts across the country that have adopted disciplinary policies that minimize the role of police and give students, like Salecia, the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. These schools understand that we all lose when we don’t nurture our children to their full potential.

Handcuffing young children is never OK. Schools must use more-appropriate ways to intervene when kids misbehave. Calling the police for a 6-year-old’s temper tantrum is extreme. Police should be used as a last resort when a true threat to safety exists. 

After originally suspending Salecia for the rest of the school year, the school relented and now says she can return to school, but at what cost? The experience of being handcuffed by police officers in her principal’s office has left her scarred. Her mother is concerned about returning her child to a school that treats children the way Salecia was treated.

Join Salecia’s parents and Advancement Project in calling for the actions of school officials and city police in this incident to be investigated and for them to be held accountable. We demand that the school put an end to the zero-tolerance discipline policies and that the police end their policy of handcuffing young children.

Schools in Milledgeville and across the country should put the best interests of their students first and immediately end their use of the zero-tolerance approach to discipline. Salecia, and all children, deserve safe, high-quality schools that care about them and give them the opportunity to succeed and dream.

Judith Browne Dianis is one of the nation’s leading civil rights litigators and co-director of Advancement Project, a next-generation civil rights organization focused on issues of democracy and race. Find her on Twitter, and continue the conversation at #justice4salecia.

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