Police handcuff Georgia kindergartner for tantrum or safety?

Posted by on April 18, 2012

A 6-year-old kindergartner from a Georgia school was handcuffed and removed from school by police after the student allegedly tore items off the walls, threw books and toys, threw a shelf that hit the principal in the leg, jumped on a paper shredder and tried to break a glass frame, according to an Associated Press story.

The school district’s superintendent reportedly called the student’s behavior “violent and disruptive.” Police were quoted as saying the student was handcuffed for her safety and as a part of the standard police policy of handcuffing individuals transported to the police station.

Watch the police statement on the incident provided on Thursday:

I spoke with AP’s education reporter, Dorie Turner, who called me about the incident. Some points I raised with Dorie included:

  • Occurrences like this are rare. For purposes of context, it is important for readers to know that school principals and police interact with elementary-aged students often across the country and in the vast majority of cases elementary students, especially kindergartners, are NOT handcuffed and arrested for misbehavior.
  • When school officials call police for an elementary student, generally it is a “last resort” call after administrators have attempted to resolve the issue themselves. The exception is when there is a threat to the safety of an individual which may include the problem student.
  • Police will restrain violent and aggressive individuals, including younger children, if the person poses a threat to his own safety or that of others. While handcuffing elementary-aged students is not something we like to see, in some cases it may be necessary for their safety.
  • I hope that when we see such handcuffing, it is a last resort after other behavioral interventions have been attempted. I encourage school staff to receive training in verbal de-escalation techniques and non-violent crisis intervention. I also would like to see law enforcement officers receiving this type of training and specialized training for intervention with juvenile suspects.
  • It is fair to question these incidents. Were other interventions attempted before handcuffing? Was the child (regardless of his or her age) posing a risk to his/her own safety or the safety of others? Were there other options at the time? These and other questions can be asked on a case-by-case basis.
  • There is not a mass conspiracy in education to handcuff, arrest and punitively go after elementary-aged and other young children. If anything, educators tend to give kids the benefit of the doubt on discipline, sometimes in cases where there should be more firm consequences.
  • A number of high-profile incidents like the one on Georgia does not automatically equate to a national trend or reflection of what occurs each day in most elementary (or other grade level) schools.
  • We have seen over the past decade more and more cases of extremely aggressive and violent elementary-aged students, often in the lower elementary grade levels. When a kindergartner displays aggressive and violent behavior, and especially when it is chronic, is begs us to ask what the child has been exposed to outside of the school, what type of behavior problems existed and what is the history of such behaviors, if this is the first behavioral outburst seen in school and what behavior plans were in place if they were not, and other probing questions.
  • My colleague, Chuck Hibbert, often says that an average experienced second grade teacher can recognize warning signs of potentially violent children. But what happens once they are identified? What intervention services exist in the school and in the community for the child?
  • School discipline and student arrests have become politicized in the past couple years by civil rights and related special interest groups. There are social and political agendas behind a number of reports, “studies,” and other efforts by special interest groups who often exploit incidents like those in Georgia to create perceptions and news stories that advance their social and political agendas.

Unfortunately, none of the points I raised were included in the story. The story did, however, cite a civil rights attorney who is suing the Albuquerque, N.M., school district over student arrests and a report by the Texas Appleseed, an organization in Texas with a mission to “promote social and economic justice.”

The story certainly did not have to include my quotes. It would have been a better story, however, had it been balanced with some comments by independent school safety and education professionals with actual experience in preK-12 discipline and school safety issues to provide some deeper school-specific context.

The issue of aggressive and violent elementary-aged children, particularly at the lower grade levels, warrants greater awareness, discussion and action. School discipline and safety should not, however, be pawns of special interest groups with broader social and political agendas.

How does your local elementary school administration manage serious discipline incidents and aggressive, violent young students?

Ken Trump

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2 thoughts on “Police handcuff Georgia kindergartner for tantrum or safety?

  1. Chuck Hibbert says:

    All your points are well made. I’ve not seen one school or met one elementary administrator who would call the police on a child until all else had failed in a situation like this one. Thanks for being an advocate for the school administrators who do a great job of keeping our schools safe and only call the police when all else fails. It appears to me there is a national effort underway to undermind school discipline and to protect students and staff by focusing on these rare occurances.

  2. Andres Durbak says:

    Ken: Agree with the points you’ve made. There are instances when Police Officers must do what they believe is necessary to protect the arrested student, themselves and others. No one would stand by an Officer who decides to take a chance by not handcuffing an arrested student, when the good intentions lead to a tragic outcome. In a similar situation, an off-duty Police Officer working in an elementary school dealt with a wild, uncontrollable, youngster by applying handcuffs to the boys ankles. Well, the news of the “shackling” was too much for school leadership, and the Officer lost his part-time job (fortunately no other consequences). What was learned later, and the parent failed to disclose, was that the uncontrollable youngster had been expelled from another school district for the same behavior. Some truly unusual circumstances confronting Police Officers who work in and around schools, on any given day, cannot possibly be predicted, trained for or prescribed for by a set of rules.

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