Many students and parents are rightly upset that school principals, administrators and counselors conspire and combine with police assigned to the schools (called “resource officers”) to make schools more like prisons.
Police are assigned to almost every school with one principal function being to criminalize what used to be student discipline, to stigmatize young students, to compromise their futures - what schools they may attend and what jobs they may aspire to have.
Nor is this some informal arrangement between the school and the police. It’s the law. Virginia Code Annotated Section 22.1-279.3:1 spells out how student discipline at the school transmogrifies into a crime.
This offensive pincer movement, by which the state combines a school disciplinary action with a criminal prosecution has prompted righteous fury among students and parents for the students have been denied the basic protections any adult would enjoy in his defense.
Principals, administrators and police, posing as “trusted” overseers, acting in the place of the student’s parents, deny students any right of privacy, conduct arbitrary searches, put every student at the risk of a frisk, force students to write confessions, and then tell the police (resource) officer down the school hallway that they know a crime has been committed, using what the student told them in “trust.”
The student is denied any right to have a parent or counsel present when he’s searched or coerced to give a statement that implicates him or her. A Virginia House bill (H.B. 1548) was introduced requiring notice to the parents so they could be present if the student could be suspended or expelled; the House passed it; the Senate, however, killed the Bill; this “oughta” be the law in Virginia and across the nation.
The school imposes these suspensions and other punishments immediately, and doesn’t hold the punishment in abeyance while the student appeals. As Alice learned from the Queen in “Wonderland,” just as we do here in Loudoun, first we punish, then we consider the “evidence” afterwards. Worse, students and parents insist that what passes for “evidence” in these appellate administrative proceedings makes gossip look reliable.
In addition, while anyone accused of a crime has a right to remain silent – to put the government to the test of proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt without being a witness against oneself, our school system insists that the student give his side of the story to prove his discipline is unfounded; the rub is that statement to avoid the school discipline may then be used against him in the pending criminal prosecution.
To give you some idea how big a problem this is, in Loudoun, in the 2011-2012 school year, there were 2,676 discipline cases.
700 of the suspensions and expulsions were for “disorderly conduct.” In 45% of the “disorderly” cases, the student allegedly showed “disrespect” or “defiance.” The Virginia Code defines “disorderly” as a student “unwilling … to submit to authority or [s/he] refus[es] to respond to a reasonable request.” Who decides if the school administration’s request is “reasonable?” Plainly, not the student! We know who wins this argument.
Of the 43 suspensions or expulsions for a “weapon,” almost 58% of those were prompted by a “weapon look-alike” or “possible” weapon. Students, be careful how you turn your thumb and index finger in the Loudoun County School system – so it doesn’t look like a gun! You can be prosecuted for the fanciful imaginings of a school principal who mistakes chimera for cartridges.
98 of the suspensions and expulsions last years were for “drug violations” and 82.7% of those had to do with pot possession. We handle these cases in the worst possible way, disciplining the students by removing them from school, pouring red slanderous ink into their student portfolio to compromise their prospective education and employment, prosecuting them criminally, insisting on drug counseling (whether they need it or not), and then parking them at Douglas, an Alternative School, for thirty days, where, one participant told me, you are subjected to “a terrible program where kids are stigmatized as potheads and druggies …demoralized and looked down on …” and the homework assignments from your regular school are forwarded without any instruction on how to complete it.
The system is also thoroughly discriminatory. Hispanic students are 1 ½ times more likely to be suspended or expelled as compared to their percentage of the student population, Black Students are 3 times more likely, and IEP Students nearly 4 times as likely.
It’s too much trouble to be fair – so our schools aren’t. It’s too hard to confirm the information is reliable – so we don’t.
While we wait to no avail for reform, for fundamental fairness, every student must learn to defend himself or herself in two ways:
First, refuse to consent or participate in any search of his or her person or property unless and until a parent and/or counsel are present.
Second, remain silent, refuse to speak or write any statement unless and until a parent and/or counsel are present.
If the “system” is unfair and unjust, then let’s help make it fair.
FOR AN EDITORIAL AND FEATURE ON THIS PROBLEM NATIONALLY:
feature - http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/12/education/with-police-in-schools-more-children-in-court.html