Just as Fairfax County schools is considering major changes to its much-maligned disciplinary policies, a story about a Georgia 6-year-old suggests that zero-tolerance policies remain entrenched across the country — and can lead to evermore bizarre scenarios. Salecia Johnson is shown at her home near Milledgeville, Ga. Police handcuffed the kindergartner after she threw a tantrum.
In this instance, a little girl named Salecia Johnson had what seems to be a torrential tantrum in her elementary school class. She apparently threw books and toys, tore at wall hangings and threw a shelf that hit her principal in the leg, according to the Associated Press.
A school official called the police. Yes, the police.
The police arrived. An officer pulled out a pair of handcuffs. He snapped them on the girl’s pint-sized wrists.
Police later told the AP that policy mandates they handcuff everyone who is arrested, regardless of age.
Those policy-following police then put Salecia in a squad car and drove her to the local police station. There, they gave her a soda and decided against not charging her with a crime.
Oh, the humanity.
Salecia’s aunt later told the AP that the experience was “horrifying.”
We have heard this kind of protocol-do-or-die story before.
It’s why parents have been hauled into court for missing the school bell in Loudoun County and why a pregnant mother in Hawaii lost custody of her child overnight because she snacked on a sandwich in Safeway.
It’s also why, much more tragically, a good kid from Fairfax was suspended and later committed suicide, prompting Fairfax schools to review discipline procedures.
The current case is also troubling as it provides more evidence of the trend that the Education Department confirmed in March, that African American students are far more likely to be arrested at school than their white counterparts.
The 1990s saw a rise in zero-tolerance policies and school reliance on police as a response to school shootings. The argument followed that nipping problems in the bud would allow teachers and administrators to keep students not just learning but also safe.
A more subtle argument for knee-jerk disciplinary procedures contend that one-strike rules are needed to train children who no longer receive much discipline at home.
The flipside is that over-reliance on procedure and on police negates discretion. And, especially when it comes to kids and behavior, shouldn’t there always be room for discretion?
Otherwise, you end up with absurd results, like handcuffing a 6-year-old.
What do you think? Are zero tolerance policies ever appropriate in schools? If so, when?