Steve Teske’s success as a juvenile court judge near Atlanta has propelled him to the forefront of a national debate about the effects of harsh approaches to student discipline, says the Washington Post. He has inspired believers all over. One day last month, he advised two Los Angeles judges by phone; a week later, he hosted a contingent from Kentucky in his courtroom. Last year, he spoke in Baltimore, where reforms were underway. “He is very charismatic, but what is causing people to sit up and take notice is that it is all based on data,” says Russell Skiba of Indiana University, who has written extensively on school discipline. Teske's quest for change hits many of the same notes as widely-reported research from Texas and a new federal discipline initiative started in July by the departments of Justice and Education to help address the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
Teske, 51, says the problem became clear in his early days as a juvenile judge in Clayton County, Ga. School-based offenses were sharply on the rise — jumping from 46 incidents in 1995 above 1,200 in 2003. These were years when sworn police, called “school resource officers,” were assigned to middle and high schools. Ninety percent of cases were misdemeanors, mostly for the kind of trouble once handled by school principals. “I thought, 'This is ridiculous,' ” he says. “They weren't delinquent kids. ” Teske brought together educators, police, and social service and mental health counselors, parents, and students. They settled on a new protocol for fights, disorderly conduct, disruption, and failure to follow police instructions.