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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Is arresting students the right thing to do?



Here's a question tied to the situation at John Hopkins Middle and other Pinellas schools that we expect to hear more about in the future: Is arresting a student for unruly behavior on campus really the most appropriate way to handle the situation?

Board members Linda Lerner and Nina Hayden raised concerns about that approach (which has led to more than 80 arrests this year at Hopkins alone) at Tuesday's board meeting. And last night, Superintendent Julie Janssen told about 50 parents and teachers at a Hopkins SAC meeting that she will be talking to St. Petersburg Police Chief Chuck Harmon about it.

"The last thing we want is for our students to be arrested for things that are meaningless," she told the group. "What that has done is, they're taken out one day and brought back the next day. It's kind of a badge of honor, because there are no consequences."

"But not only that, it now puts another barrier for that child to ever to be successful. Because it hangs over their heads. So philosophically, that's not really the answer. I think if the kids are really incorrigible and just really deserve for a criminal act to be arrested, absolutely. But we've got to work out that fine line."

After the meeting, Janssen told The Gradebook that in some cases, it does appear police are handling cases that would be more appropriately handled by school administration. She said she is not defending or blaming anyone, and needs more information before coming to any conclusions. She is scheduled to meet with Harmon on Tuesday.

By coincidence, this recent op-ed in Education Week raised questions about police presence in schools and student arrests, leading with a situation in Chicago last fall in which 25 middle school students were arrested after a food fight. You need a subscription to read the whole thing, but here's an excerpt:

The Chicago incident "reveals broader and more systemic problems about policing in schools that should be of concern to parents, communities, school boards, and state legislatures across the country. It highlights the ambiguous and frequently ill-defined role that police play in schools, the unclear lines of authority that often exist between school officials and police placed there, and the highly subjective way in which decisions are made about when and under what circumstances a student's conduct becomes criminal."

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:53am]


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