Handcuffs in Hallways: Hundreds of elementary students arrested at U.S. schools

“Don’t make a wrong move,” the officer mentioned as he pinned the struggling topic to the bottom. “Period.” 

The officer tightened {the handcuffs} across the topic’s skinny wrists. 

“Ow, ow, ow, it really hurts,” the topic exclaimed. 

The officer pressed his weight into the topic’s small physique whereas faculty workers watched all of it unfold. The particular person he was restraining was 7 years previous. 

“If you, my friend, are not acquainted with the juvenile justice system, you will be very shortly,” the officer advised the kid. 

Earlier that day, the kid allegedly spit at a trainer. Now, he was in handcuffs and a police officer was saying he might find yourself in jail. 

That youngster — a second grader with autism at a North Carolina faculty — was finally pinned on the ground for 38 minutes, in keeping with physique digital camera video of the incident. At one level, court docket data say, the officer put his knee in the kid’s again.  

CBS News shouldn’t be figuring out the North Carolina youngster to guard his privateness.  

Similar scenes have performed out in viral incidents: law enforcement officials arresting younger kids like him at faculty, usually violently. 

In 2018, a 10-year-old with autism was pinned face down and cuffed in Denton, Texas.  

Another boy with autism, simply 11 years previous, was handcuffed and dragged out of faculty and compelled right into a sheriff’s deputy’s automotive in Colorado in 2021.  

And that very same year, officers handcuffed and screamed at a 5-year-old who had wandered away from faculty.  

There are many extra instances of younger kids arrested in faculty — instances that do not make headlines, in keeping with a CBS News evaluation of the newest knowledge from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. 

More than 700 kids had been arrested in U.S. elementary schools throughout the 2017-2018 faculty year alone, in keeping with CBS News’ evaluation. 

Experts inform CBS News the truth that younger kids are arrested at all is troubling.  

Ron Applin, chief of police for Atlanta Public Schools, says they’ve by no means arrested an elementary faculty youngster in his six years working the division. 

“I’ve never seen a situation or a circumstance in my six years where an elementary school student had to be arrested,” Applin mentioned. “We’ve never done it. I don’t see where it would happen.” 

But it does occur elsewhere — and to some youngsters greater than others, CBS News’ evaluation confirmed.  

Unequal therapy 

Children with documented disabilities had been 4 instances extra more likely to be arrested at faculty, in keeping with CBS News’ evaluation of the 2017-2018 Education Department knowledge. 

Federal legislation requires schools to have a plan, often known as an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), for coping with the wants of each scholar with disabilities.  

Those plans assist schools perceive learn how to care for youngsters with disabilities, mentioned Alacia Gerardi, the mom of the North Carolina youngster who was arrested. Without this plan, she mentioned, a police officer may misunderstand her son’s habits. 

“I believe a lot of it is a misunderstanding with children who are struggling, that they believe that in general, that behavior indicates intention. And when you’re dealing with a child who’s going through a difficult time, any child, that is not the case.”

Anyone working with kids with disabilities should perceive learn how to reply when a toddler with an emotional or behavioral dysfunction acts out, in keeping with Dr. Sonya Mathies-Dinizulu, who teaches psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago. 

In a disaster, kids want somebody to “be there to help the kid start to de-escalate and help soothe,” mentioned Mathies-Dinizulu, who works with kids who’re uncovered to trauma. 

Black students are much more disproportionately affected. They made up almost half of all arrests at elementary schools throughout the 2017-2018 faculty year, CBS News’ evaluation confirmed. But they accounted for simply 15% of the coed inhabitants in these schools. 

Those disparities could possibly be defined, at least in half, by the mentalities of the officers who work in schools, in keeping with Professor Aaron Kupchik, who teaches sociology and legal justice at the University of Delaware.  

In a 2020 examine, Kupchik and his colleagues analyzed interviews with 73 School Resource Officers, or SROs. Nearly all of the officers interviewed mentioned their major mission was to maintain the varsity secure. The distinction, Kupchik mentioned, was who these officers felt they wanted to guard the varsity from.  

Researcher: “There are clear and consistent problems with putting police in schools”


SROs who labored with low-income students and students of shade “define the threat as students themselves,” Kupchik mentioned. “Whereas the SROs who work in wealthier, whiter school areas define the threat as something external that can happen to the children.” 

“It’s an external threat for the more privileged kids,” Kupchik mentioned. “As opposed to students in the schools with more students of color, low-income students, where they’re seen as the threats themselves.” 

One such scholar arrested was an 11-year-old Black scholar with disabilities in Riverside County, California. CBS News is referring to him solely as “C.B.” to guard his privateness.

Police alleged he threw a rock at a staffer, although a police report mentioned she was unhurt. The subsequent day, he was handcuffed after refusing to go to the principal’s office over the incident.  

A lawsuit filed on C.B.’s behalf alleges his arrest was half of a sample: police getting concerned for “low-level and disability-related behaviors” that could possibly be dealt with by academics or directors.    

Police dealing with faculty self-discipline, not faculty workers   

Gerardi mentioned she could not perceive why her son was handcuffed face down on the ground.  

She mentioned faculty workers known as saying her son was having a tough time that day. She later acquired a textual content asking her to come back choose him up.  

What she noticed when she arrived shocked her. 

“At that point, I had no idea why [he was handcuffed],” she mentioned. “I couldn’t fathom in my mind what could possibly have occurred to make handcuffing a 7-year-old face down on the floor necessary.” 

She mentioned the varsity workers knew her son had been struggling. He was in a therapy program the place he obtained particular assist. He had an IEP on file, which documented his wants.  

Yet when academics disciplined her son for repeatedly tapping his pencil — one thing she mentioned he does out of nervousness — the scenario escalated. He spit on a trainer, and the police officer was known as. The boy ended up in handcuffs. 

“I have a real hard time understanding that these adults don’t have a better solution than to do this,” she mentioned. “The long-term effects, the trauma of putting a child in a completely powerless situation, even physically over their body and causing them harm based on a behavior is ludicrous to me.”  

After his mom arrived, the officer allowed her to take him dwelling.  

“It was a very rude awakening, because when I arrived there and I picked my son up off the floor, he was limp, completely limp,” she mentioned. “He was just exhausted. I didn’t know what had happened, but after I saw the video, it was very apparent that his little body just couldn’t take being put in that position for that length of time. He had his chest against the floor, his hands behind his back. This man’s applying pressure against his back” 

Alex Heroy, lawyer for Gerardi’s household, mentioned the police should not have gotten concerned in the primary place. 

“A lot of officers don’t want to be the first line when it comes to a mental health crisis,” Heroy mentioned. “They don’t have as much training as the teachers in the school, for example, so they shouldn’t insert themselves for one, and they really should be there for support.” 

The officer in that arrest defended his actions.  

The officer “knew nothing about [the child] prior to the day in question, including his age or medical history,” his lawyer mentioned in a press release despatched to CBS News. 

“Unequivocally, he never intended to cause any harm to [the child] and did the best he could with the knowledge and training he possessed at the time, seeking only to help [the child] and diffuse the situation safely for everyone, including [the child],” the assertion mentioned. 

The kid’s faculty district declined to remark, saying the case had been settled.  

The youngster wasn’t charged with against the law, regardless of what the officer repeatedly mentioned throughout the incident. 

Federal response

Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, mentioned schools ought to do every little thing they’ll to stop younger youngsters from ending up arrested in faculty.  

CBS News shared the outcomes of its evaluation of the Education Department knowledge with Lhamon. Though she mentioned there could possibly be instances in which arresting a 7-year-old is suitable, she mentioned it shouldn’t be the norm.  

“That should not be the way we expect to treat our students,” Lhamon mentioned. “And if you find yourself there as a school community, you should be evaluating hard whether you needed to and what steps you can take to make sure you don’t find yourself there again.” 

Education Department official: “There is a child who is forever harmed” by arrest at faculty


When requested if the Department of Education is doing sufficient to stop arrests just like the North Carolina kid’s, she mentioned, “You’re never doing enough if a child is harmed.”  

“When we send a child to law enforcement, we are sending a very deleterious governmental message,” Lhamon mentioned. “That’s scary. I want very much for that to be minimized and for it to take place only in those circumstances where it’s absolutely necessary.” 

Lhamon known as the video of the North Carolina kid’s arrest “enormously distressing” and mentioned it was one thing she’d always remember.  

“There’s very little that I saw in that video that is acceptable, and there’s very little on that video that is consistent with federal civil rights obligations,” she mentioned.  

The U.S. Department of Education issued new steering on faculty self-discipline in July, requiring faculty officers to judge a scholar with disabilities earlier than disciplining them.  

Department of Education spokespeople mentioned the company needs schools to be answerable for the actions of their SROs, even when these officers are workers of a neighborhood police division.  

“They are responsible for the actions of school resource officers that they employ and that they contract with in their schools, and that the civil rights obligation extends to them,” Lhamon mentioned. 

Lhamon described the disproportionate affect on kids with disabilities and youngsters of shade as “deeply distressing.” 

“It’s a deep, deep concern for all of us,” Lhamon mentioned. “And it has been over a distressingly long period of time that we see students with disabilities disproportionately referred to law enforcement. We see students of color disproportionately referred to law enforcement.” 

Training wanted

An SRO’s coaching might be important, in keeping with Applin. He helped change the best way Atlanta SROs work together with kids.  

After being in the highest 10 nationally in elementary arrest charges, Georgia modified its method in 2018. They educated their SROs to deal with serving to students to succeed in commencement, quite than making arrests.  

Part of that new SRO coaching concerned “making a switch from being a warrior to a guardian,” Applin mentioned. 

“One of the things that’s stressed to my officers is that we’re student focused,” Applin mentioned. “The whole idea behind why we’re here is to create an environment where students can learn, teachers can teach. We’re not here to criminalize our students.”  

Virginia has taken a unique method. Schools there arrested youngsters in elementary schools at 5 instances the rate for the U.S. total throughout the 2017-2018 faculty year, in keeping with CBS News’ evaluation of Education Department knowledge.  

Donna Michaelis, who manages the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety, mentioned Virginia legislation requires faculty officers to report any crimes that happen at faculty — even minor ones like fights, vandalism, or disorderly conduct.  

“In that list of criminal offenses, they are very serious things,” Michaelis mentioned. “It’s not bullying. It is malicious wounding. It is kidnapping. It is threats to harm staff. They are serious crimes: threats to bomb [or] drugs.”  

Data from the Virginia Department of Education reveals that, throughout the 2020-2021 faculty year, there have been 24 bomb or different threats reported. There had been almost 700 reported threats to both students or workers.  

The knowledge does not comprise any references to “malicious wounding” or kidnapping. 

The most typical offense in the info is “interference with school operations,” which made up almost 40% of the 14,000 incidents recorded in the info for that one faculty year.  

Do SROs actually make youngsters safer?    

Amid the epidemic of faculty shootings in the US, many districts have regarded to SROs to maintain youngsters secure. 

In late 2019, schools in Harford County, Maryland, added three extra SROs to its elementary schools. A year later, the Michigan House voted to spice up funding for college useful resource officers in the wake of the Oxford High School capturing that December.  

And in 2022, after the Uvalde, Texas, capturing, some Fort Worth metropolis council members argued schools wanted extra officers to guard youngsters from future assaults.  

But Kupchik’s analysis reveals SROs do not make youngsters safer.  

“There is some disagreement [among experts],” Kupchik mentioned. “There have been some studies showing that police officers in schools can prevent some crime and misbehavior, but there are far greater numbers of studies finding the opposite, that they either have no impact or in some cases can increase crime. What they do all show consistently is that while we’re not sure about any benefits, there are clear and consistent problems with putting police in schools.”  

Kupchik mentioned schools with extra police have extra suspensions and extra arrests.  

“We see greater numbers of arrests and not necessarily for things like guns or drugs or what we’re all afraid of,” Kupchik mentioned. “But for more minor things that are unfortunate, but perhaps don’t need to result in an arrest record. Something like two kids getting in a fight after school.” 

Some schools have taken an analogous view. Schools throughout the nation, together with these in Denver, San Francisco, Fremont, CA, and Chicago have voted to take away SROs.  

In the wake of the homicide of George Floyd, Minneapolis Public Schools eliminated SROs from their hallways. The end result: a dramatic drop in scholar referrals to legislation enforcement, and a shift towards “restorative outcomes” quite than arrests.  

Nearly each mother or father interviewed by CBS News for this story mentioned their kids had been completely traumatized by these experiences.  

“The trauma from this has truly created PTSD,” Gerardi mentioned. “So, day by day, especially if he is physically hurt in any way — even accidentally — it can trigger a real PTSD response that affects the entire family. And, of course, it affects him.” 

Part of the issue, she mentioned, is that he does not perceive what occurred to him.  

“It was an instantaneous ‘fight or flight’ response, and we were there for literally years,” she mentioned. “So to try to calm his nervous system down … has taken a lot a lot of intense work. And it was terrifying. We’re going we were going up against a police department, a city, and we live in a small town.” 

The issues solely worsened when her son started working away. The very folks she wanted to assist discover him had been those that harmed him: the police.  

“After you go through something like this, it’s hard to have trust that a sane person is going to show up that understands how to deal with a child,” she mentioned.  

Other dad and mom advised CBS News related tales. The father of one youngster advised CBS News Colorado his youngster, who was arrested at age 5 and had documented disabilities, “regressed significantly” after the incident and even needed to transfer to a residential therapy facility to obtain extra intensive care.  

Mathies-Dinizulu mentioned these results can final a toddler’s total life.  

“Children in particular, they could be incredibly resilient,” Mathies-Dinizulu mentioned. “But it’s something that they will never forget. And because of that, if something traumatic or scary happens to them in the future — that type of accumulated stress from what happened at school, now it’s happening again in another place.” 

“It’s like a shaming process”: Child psychiatrist explains lasting impacts of a toddler’s arrest


The results of that trauma can warp the best way a toddler sees the world, Mathies-Dinizulu mentioned.  

“They may feel like they’re not worthy, or they may feel like they’re bad,” she mentioned. “Some of those symptoms of anxiety or depression or traumatic stress symptoms like flashbacks or anger and irritability might be tied to the traumatic event.”  

Gerardi mentioned she hopes seeing her son’s struggling will assist folks perceive issues want to vary. 

“This is 100 percent preventable,” she mentioned, “100 percent preventable. There’s a lot of trauma and things in life that are not. This is not one of those. This could have been prevented.”

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