Over the last few weeks, a couple stories have emerged about schools seeming to over react to misbehaving students. In mid-April, a six-year-old girl was handcuffed and arrested in Georgia. She was charged with simple assault and damage to property, although she will not have to go to court because of her age. Instead, she was suspended and cannot return to school until August. Later that month, a six-year-old was arrested at an Indiana school and charged with battery and intimidation.
Many heard of these stories, saw (or imagined) pictures of the cute cherub-cheeked kids and were outraged by the punishments. The girl, Salecia Johnson, drew particular sympathy once she was seen on TV describing how her principal called the police on her “for no reason,” she told WMAZ- TV. “It [the handcuffs] was hurting my arm.”
Her mother, Constance Ruff, described being “terrified” and “shocked” that her daughter had been arrested “just because of misbehaving at school.”
With those sympathetic details, many wondered why teachers didn’t call the parents when the kids acted up — in Johnson’s case, they did call her mother, who did not answer, say school officials — try more patience, or offer an old-fashioned tongue-lashing to put the students in their place, since they’re, you know, children. It’s what I thought too… until I heard the details.
Johnson wasn’t “just” misbehaving. She tore items off the walls, threw furniture and knocked over a shelf that injured her principal. The Indiana kid kicked his principal and threatened to kill his assistant principal. In a previous incident — one where he was not arrested — he bit and kicked a staff member at his elementary school. Does that change your opinion on how the teachers reacted?
It changed mine, sort of. Though I understand and sympathize with the frustrations of overworked and grossly underpaid teachers and administrators, involving the police was not the best way for these situations to be handled. Nor was it the best way to serve the children involved, which should be the ultimate goal. The children are in dire need of a therapist to help them address their anger in constructive ways, or a social worker who can investigate what’s going on in their home-lives that have made the children think that violent behavior is acceptable, even at school.
Neither of these kids are the type that I would want in a classroom with a child I care about. If they’re flipping out on adults, I’m more afraid of what they would do to someone their own size. Knowing the details, I’m less outraged that the police were called to deal with the situation. The students may be young, but undoubtedly they were exhibiting criminal behavior. I don’t condone calling the cops, but I do understand why they were called. As I followed the story, I found that many readers also thought about the same. As one commenter put it: “At age 6 or 16, violence is violence.”