A new Missouri law that will go in effect on January 1, 2017 that will send children to jail for fighting at school. No matter the grade or the age of the student, he or she will be charged with a Class E felony and the child could spend up to four years in jail. The Superintendent of the Ferguson-Florissant school district in St. Louis, MO told students and parents that “the consequences of poor choices and bad decisions, a simple fight may follow you for the rest of your life.” According to attorney Mae Quinn with the St. Louis McArthur Justice Center, children can be charged with the same crimes as adults in Missouri but before any charge is filed it’s up to the prosecutor. As an educator, I think that this law is premature in the sense that there are other issues that should be addressed before the decision to send students to jail and ruin their futures is approved.
Bullying occurs a lot in the educational system (and outside it) and sadly it’s not the person who is bullying the student that is caught first but the student who fights back or responds. Growing up with a physical disability I was bullied a lot and I had to fight at school more than once to stop kids from physically picking on me. With the lack of African American male teachers and administrators at my school, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me so I never felt comfortable speaking to any teacher about what I was experiencing. I felt as if I had no other option but to fight. Based on this new law I would have had a felony and wouldn’t be an educator today because of it. Standing up for myself as an elementary student would have stripped me of the opportunity to be a role model and be an award winning special education teacher. As a teacher I have been notified of situations when a student has told administrators and other teacher’s that they were being bullied, nothing happened and when the student retaliated he was suspended for fighting. On many occasions bullying among staff is taken more seriously than bullying among the students. In essence this law isn’t fair if the educators and administrators do not have a hold or tight grip on the bullying that is recurring throughout the school system.
2. School To Prison Pipeline
It’s ironic that parents can be sent to jail for educational neglect (failure to send their child to school) but once their child is at school parents now have to worry about their child being sent to jail. What type of public educational system are we operating that our children are subject to metal detectors, wands, drug dogs, random locker searches, school resource officers, real police officers and the possibility of receiving jail time? Is there any safe haven for our children where they can be kids and make immature decisions without being treated like an adult? I understand that students shouldn’t fight and hurt each other at school but school culture plays a large role in the equation also. A poor school culture (poor rules, lack of supervision, inadequate materials and etc.) can create a climate for a student that invites negative behaviors.
In conclusion if the state of Missouri is going to hold students of all ages accountable for hurting other students then they should hold educators accountable too. It should be just as criminal for a student to attend school for twelve years and not be able to read. No one takes responsibility or is reprimanded for ruining a student’s life in that fashion. Many children are being under educated on a daily basis but yet Missouri chooses to focus of ruining a child’s life if he or she makes a bad decision? This law needs to be repealed because we should redirect and teach in schools not arrest and hand out felonies.
Roosevelt Mitchell III is an Award Winning Educator and Author of “Diary of a Disability Scholar.” Please visit http://rooseveltmitchell.com for more information.