Thousands of Florida students are arrested in school each year and taken to jail for behavior that once warranted a trip to the principal’s office, says the Orlando Sentinel. It’s a trend that troubles juvenile-justice and civil-rights leaders who say children are being traumatized for noncriminal acts. Though school arrests have dropped significantly since the state eased its “zero tolerance” policies a few years ago, there are still far too many kids handcuffed and hauled away in front of their classmates, said Wansley Walters, secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.
“The vast majority of children being arrested in schools are not committing criminal acts,” Walters said. Sixty-seven percent of the arrests last year were for misdemeanors such as disorderly conduct, a catchall that has been used when children refused to take a cellphone out of a pocket or yelled in class. Fewer than 5 percent faced weapons charges. Most arrests, Walters says, stem from “bad behavior, not criminal behavior.” Disabled students and black children are arrested disproportionately. Black students also are more likely than white children to see their cases dismissed. An arrest record stays with students for life, even when charges are dropped. That means their response must be “yes” to questions on college and employment applications that ask: “Have you ever been arrested?”