“I believe the purpose of public schools is to educate not exclude children and to help identify and meet child needs, not make children serve adult convenience, self interest, and systems. So huge reforms are required in school discipline policies and practices across our nation as school pushout has worsened in past decades with the criminalization of children at younger and younger ages aided and abetted by school expulsion and suspension policies which funnel children into the prison pipeline often crippling them for life.” – Marian Wright Edelman
Bodycam footage released this week of 6-year-old Kaia revealed a far more horrifying encounter than the one that was reported earlier this school year, when a school resource officer (SRO) failed to get a supervisor’s approval before arresting a young child at school for what was perceived as misbehaving.
The video shows the 6-year-old sitting in a room quietly as a school employee talks with her when two officers come in and arrest her.
“What are those for?” Kaia asked the two officers.
“They’re for you,” school resource officer Dennis Turner replied, referring to the zip ties fastened on Kaia’s wrists by another officer.
“Help me, help, please!” Kaia sobbed and begged as she choked out tears.
School employees stood by in disbelief as the officers continued to take Kaia away. Kaia continued to cry, pleading for the officers to give her a second chance. “Please give me a second chance,” Kaia cried as the officers escorted her out of the room and into the back of the patrol car.
School disciplinary policies and practices that emphasize punishment rather than humane and rehabilitative prevention hurt our children. Kaia’s traumatic story is one that is similar to thousands of children across the country who continue to be severely punished for their normal child-like behavior. Not only are school officials struggling to effectively respond to the needs of children, but SROs seem to be more present in schools than counselors and other professionals who have the necessary skills to better serve children.
The real question is, do disciplinary policies like “zero tolerance” and school policing by SROs keep all children safe? And although the answer may be clear for some, it is not clear for all. What is clear is that hostile school environments and exclusionary discipline policies disproportionately deny children of color and children with disabilities opportunities for success and contribute to their risk of entering the school-to-prison pipeline.
Read more about how we can stop the criminalization of children, and ensure all children to an equitable education here.