The heat has been turned up in southern Georgia, and it has nothing to do with the weather.
A firestorm is brewing following a Macon Telegraph newspaper story on a school safety assessment consulting report for Bibb County Schools which “…included a scathing assessment of the way the school system handles and tracks student discipline.” The story says the consulting firm also accused the district’s system of creating conditions to further the “…underreporting school crime even higher than the current dangerous level.”
The Telegraph story also reported that the consultants recommended that the school district withdraw from an agreement with local law enforcement and court officials that diverts students who commit misdemeanor crimes to a diversion committee that would recommend counseling, substance abuse recovery or other support services.
The news story prompted a scathing attack on the safety assessment report and its author. In a Juvenile Justice Information Exchange article Clayton County (GA) Chief Juvenile Court Judge Steven Teske, a highly-visible Georgia advocate for diversion programs that discourage the prosecution of school-based misdemeanor crimes, blasted the recommendation for the school district to pull out of the agreement with the court and attacked the head of the consulting firm.
This particular scenario perfectly illustrates the growing tension and competing viewpoints on the role of school-based police officers and, more specifically, on the reporting and prosecution of crimes that occur at K-12 schools. A growing movement, largely driven by civil rights special interest groups, has expanded their advocacy and lobbying to curtail the role of police in schools and to reduce and/or eliminate police arrests for misdemeanors that occur at schools.
I have been researching and monitoring this movement very closely the past several years. Not surprisingly, it aligns perfectly with the broader expansion of civil rights special interest group advocacy as well as the emphasis of civil rights under the guise of school safety in the Obama Administration’s Education and Justice Departments. This is not to say that this particular judge’s advocacy is a part of any program or politically-driven interest group, but its timing does align with a broader national trend.
My colleague, Chuck Hibbert, summed up his position in a message earlier today:
“An arrest isn’t always the right answer. But it isn’t always the wrong answer, either. Common sense must apply.”
I could not have said it better.
Unfortunately, common sense appears to be slipping away more and more each day in many areas of life. School safety is no exception. We see a lack of common sense (and best practices) from the federal government’s policy and funding, all the way down to what we see and don’t see in practice in far too many local schools.
This particular debate on school misdemeanor arrests should not be an “either-or” proposition. The majority of student misbehavior should NOT result in an arrest. But complete removal of that option is not wise, either, as there may be situations warranting such action.
Chuck Hibbert summed it up best: Common sense should apply.
What say you?
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