Schools increasingly send students into the juvenile justice system for misbehavior that used to be handled within the school, reports the New York Times. The juvenile detention center has become an extension of the principal’s office. “The goal is not to put kids out, but to maintain classrooms free of disruptions that make it impossible for teachers to teach and kids to learn,” said Jane Bruss, spokeswoman for the Toledo public schools. “Would we like more alternatives? Yes, but everything has a cost associated with it.”
Critics say the trend has gone too far. “We’re demonizing children,” said James Ray, the administrative judge for the Lucas County juvenile court in Toledo. There were 1,727 such cases in Lucas County in 2002, up from 1,237 in 2000. Intake officer Fred Whitman said that only a handful of cases were for serious incidents like assaulting a teacher or taking a gun to school. Most involved unruly students.
The Times says that juvenile court judges in Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky, and Florida, complain that they are at risk of being overwhelmed by misconduct cases that should be handled in the schools.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that such cases are on the rise. “Everybody agreed – no matter what side of the system they’re from – that they are seeing increasing numbers of kids coming to court for school-based offenses,” said Andy Block, who assisted in a 2001 study of Virginia’s juvenile justice system by the American Bar Association. “All the professionals in the court system were very resentful of this. They felt they were being handed problems and students that the schools were better equipped to address.”
The Advancement Project, a civil rights advocacy group in Washington, D.C., says there were 2,345 juvenile arrests in 2001 in public schools in Miami-Dade County, Fla., nearly three times as many as in 1999. Sixty percent were for “simple assaults” – fights that did not involve weapons –and “miscellaneous” charges, including disorderly conduct.