Friday, January 21, 2022

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Article Index

A. School Referrals to Law Enforcement

A juvenile delinquency case generally begins with a referral either to a government attorney or to a juvenile court's probation or intake department.   The most direct way for students to enter the juvenile justice system is through school referrals. A 2000 report noted that forty-three states required school officials to report students to law enforcement for committing crimes on school premises.   Similarly, the Gun-Free Schools Act mandates that local educational agencies must report students to juvenile or criminal justice systems when they bring firearms or other weapons onto school property.   Although schools may not always comply with these policies, the laws certainly encourage administrators to refer students with behavioral problems to police and juvenile courts.  

School officials refer students to law enforcement and courts for a range of disciplinary infractions. Sometimes students are referred for more serious offenses such as fighting in school. For example, the chief of security at a *1259 Connecticut high school described incidents he handled during a typical week:

We had two girls go at it in a classroom, caused a huge scene, and have breach of peace charges and a possible assault and there is suspicion that one young lady may need a more secure facility. We had a girl and boy go at it over a CD player, which shouldn't even be on school grounds. Breach of peace there. Another boy/girl fight, we had threatening remarks. These were suspensions with pending disciplinary action. We had two students who were about to fight in the cafeteria. A teacher got in between that one, which we don't support. We have, looks like, 10-15 cases for the week. Suspensions, mostly, but expulsions and arrest too.  

Based on these cases, it seems that schools often respond to disruptive behavior by referring students to law enforcement. Such referrals may result in juvenile or criminal charges and out-of-home placements in secure detention facilities.

Anecdotal stories also indicate that schools sometimes refer cases to police when crimes have not even been committed.   For example, in 2008, several news sources reported that a thirteen-year-old boy was arrested in school for passing gas and turning off his fellow students' computers--he was charged with disruption of school function.   In 2010, a twelve-year-old student was arrested in her school for writing on her desk with a marker.   In February 2013, a ten-year-old student was arrested for bringing a toy gun to school.   Although a law enforcement spokesperson confirmed that the "gun did not actually shoot or propel anything," the boy was charged with brandishing a weapon.   And in April 2013, a fourteen-year-old student was arrested for wearing an NRA T-shirt to school and refusing to take it off--he was charged with disrupting an educational process and obstructing an officer.  

*1260 Many students also enter the juvenile justice system through school referrals for status offenses--noncriminal misbehaviors such as truancy and alcohol use that are only illegal for young people.   In 2004, truancy accounted for 35% of all formally petitioned status-offense cases,   and schools referred 72% of the truancy cases that were formally petitioned.   Zero-tolerance policies likely played a role in these referrals. Thus, status offenses, and truancy in particular, are increasingly leading students from the supervision of schools into the juvenile justice system.

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