In case you need proof that the school-to-prison pipeline is a real thing. The state of Missouri has passed a law allowing school districts to treat schoolyard fighting as a felony.
The Hazelwood School District in Missouri have given elementary and high school students some serious decisions to make at such a young age. The district, which includes the city of Ferguson, has informed parents that they will be implementing some new state laws that could make their kids felons for fighting at school.
The memo reads:
We want to make you aware of a few new State Statutes that will go into effect on January 1, 2017, which may have a drastic impact on how incidents are handled in area school districts.
The way the new statue reads, if a person commits the offense of an assault in the third degree this will now be classified as a Class E Felony, rather than a misdemeanor. If he or she knowingly causes physical injury to another person (hits someone or has a fight with another individual and an injury occurs) – one or both participants may be charged with a Felony…
…For example, if two students are fighting and one child is injured, the student who caused the injury may be charged with a felony. Student(s) who are caught fighting in school, bus or on school grounds may now be charged with a felony (no matter the age or grade level), if this assault is witnessed by one of the School Resource Officers/police officers (SRO) or if the SRO/local law enforcement officials have to intervene.”
To be clear, the state of Missouri passed this legislation back in 2014, so it isn’t necessarily new. What is new is how school districts in the state are choosing to interpret the law. Like the memo said, the actual state law does enforce new felonies and penalties, but nowhere in the legislative literature does it explicitly say that these have to apply to schools or school aged children.
However, if one of the School Resource Officers [cops] witnesses the fight and has to break it up, that kid in the fight could be charged with a felony. Therein lies the problem. If these schools had more teachers and counselors, and less police presence, the students could simply be suspended or sent home to their parents for punishment. But since schools in the district have Special Resource Officers [cops] roaming the halls, they are likely to become criminals just for being teenagers.
The Hazelwood and Ferguson-Florissant districts appear to be trying to get ahead of the problem by telling parents and students what could happen if they do get in a fight. But, how realistic is it to expect every student, especially ones living in high-risk environments, to not fight from time to time.
The law itself has a lot of slippery language in it that could also lead to students getting trumped up charges as well. For example, it says that the student could get in trouble for hitting a “special person.” The law has a sliding scale of “special” people ranging from students with disabilities to the SRO’s themselves. So say if a student is fighting and the SRO comes to break it up and they get hit by mistake, that student could now be charged for both fighting and assaulting a “special person.”
Ferguson-Florissant Superintendent Joseph Davis addressed parents and students directly via Youtube saying:
“You have the power to decide if you want a good future full of hope and promise or a future with a criminal record that follows you and limits your options. … If you choose to fight, starting Jan. 1, the stakes are higher.”
Where do you stand on this potentially catastrophic development? Do you think with the “stakes being higher” that students will respond by not fighting? Or is this yet another example of the school-to-prison pipeline?