Even though it's been a week since Georgia kindergartner Salecia Johnson was carted off to jail in handcuffs after throwing a temper tantrum in school, her parents are still unsure what caused the 6-year-old's behavior.
"The facts aren't really clear to me how she ended up in the office in the first place. I'm sure something else was going on, because my child is not a bad child and she does not act out to this degree," Salecia's mother, Constance Ruff, 27, told The Root. She believes there's more to the story than what school officials or the local police department reported.
Last Friday, April 13, around 11:30 a.m., Salecia, who attends Creekside Elementary School in Milledgeville, Ga. — about 100 miles outside of Atlanta — was taken to the principal's office after being involved in an altercation with two other girls who were pushing one another, Ruff shared.
Once in the office, Salecia became "violent and disruptive" and displayed behavior that included "pushing several other students; running away from the school staff; slamming chairs around the school office; climbing up and knocking over a bookcase; knocking pictures off the wall; scribbling over the walls and door; and injuring a school employee," Baldwin County Schools Superintendent Geneva Braziel said in a written statement.
"That could have played a role in Salecia's acting out, because she was being disciplined and other girls weren't," said Ruff, who added that the school never contacted her about Salecia misbehaving but said that she did speak with her daughter's teacher after the girl complained about kids "picking on" her. Creekside Elementary School officials referred all questions to superintendent Braziel.
Braziel's statement also says that the school called the girl's emergency contacts — who included Salecia's parents and Ruff's sister — and that the police were involved because safety became a concern, pointing out that it was the Milledgeville Police Department's decision to handcuff and transport Salecia to jail. Milledgeville Police Chief Dray Swicord declined The Root's request to be interviewed for this story.
Despite the school's claims that it tried to reach Johnson and Ruff, the two say they didn't receive calls when the outburst happened. The police contacted Ruff's sister, and she and Ruff arrived at the police station around 12:30 p.m. to pick up Salecia. Although an incident report was created, the charges against Salecia — simple assault, criminal damage to property and unruly conduct for a juvenile — were later dropped.
Both of the child's parents think that involving the police was going too far.
"The school said she was out of control, but once the officer walked into the office, my daughter immediately sat down and said, 'I'm sorry, Mrs. Popp' — that's the principal's name — and started to cry and said, 'I want my mama.' If she calmed down, why did she have to be taken and put in handcuffs?" Ruff asked. She thinks a school counselor should have been involved before the police were called.
Salecia's father, Ernest Johnson, told The Root, "If you can't control a 6-year-old, you don't need to be working in the school system."
Both parents would like to see a law established that prohibits children as young as Salecia from being arrested. "You would just haul any child off to jail? They were going to ruin a 6-year-old's life," Ruff said.
The school board reversed its decision to have Salecia suspended for the remainder of the school year, but Ruff said that she doesn't want Salecia to return to Creekside Elementary and is exploring other school options for her. Ruff, who has a 9-year-old daughter who also attends the school, declined to comment on whether legal action would be taken against the school system or the police department.
Johnson said that the incident has traumatized Salecia, leaving her with nightmares. "Every time she sees a police officer," he said, "she thinks they're coming to get her."
Aisha I. Jefferson is a contributor to The Root.