Monday, April 25, 2005

Kindergartener Arrested in Florida

This story is making the rounds, about the arrest of an unruly five-year-old in Florida. Actually, arrests happen in schools for unruly behavior more often than you might think, but usually the child is not so young, and usually he's already in a special class because of behavior problems. It is actually illegal for a child to disrupt a classroom, that's in California statutes anyway, and while schools save it as a last resort, arrest *is* an option. I've never personally seen kids arrested, but I have seen it threatened for persistently disruptive kids as young as ten. I think part of the shock being expressed is that most people just aren't aware that elementary school children are sometimes arrested when things get to the point when there isn't anything else you can do with them. I'm not shocked, anyway; this is something that is done.

I'm also hearing the old "If you bring back corporal punishment, you wouldn't have these problems." Which is a total crock. In my experience (i.e. my own kids) corporal punishment doesn't do squat to improve behavior. In the classroom, if a child makes it impossible for the teacher to teach, or other children to learn, then he or she needs to be out of there. People who have never dealt with very difficult children seem to think that if you muster up enough authority in your voice, and tell them very sternly to stop a certain behavior, then that will happen. Sometimes, it doesn't. Sometimes, you run out of options.

One thing the article, and the t.v. interview, brought up was the question of why this girl wasn't in an alternative classroom. First of all, you can't just kick a kid out permanently because you feel at the end of your rope. There's a process involved, including meetings with the principal, teacher, and parents, and any expulsion has to be approved by the school board. So, you can't just up and decide a child is too impossible to work with in a regular classroom overnight. It takes time. Secondly, children younger than fourth grade are very seldom expelled for behavior problems. I have a hunch the teacher has been spending the better part of this school year trying other management methods with this kid. You don't rush to form a Student Study Team the first time a little kid misbehaves; usually there is a culmulative record of bad behavior before the process even starts. The teacher was facing completely unruly behavior *that day*; no use complaining that this little girl already should have been elsewhere. You can't stop the school day to hold a meeting to discuss placement options. She needed to be out of that classroom, one way or the other.

Another aspect to this is the simple safety factor for other students. I don't know what precisely this child was doing, but a Kindergartner that hits, bites, pushes, and is generally aggressive with others is a danger to other children. From the point of view of lawsuits, the school could easily have other parents suing if their children are injured by an unruly classmate.

The biggest problem that I see here is that by time the police arrived, the child had settled down, and I'm not sure that a child so young is going to understand that the arrest was a consequence of her behavior all through the day. From the perspective of getting her to improve her behavior, arresting her was not going to help. From the point of view of allowing that classroom to function, though, it was probably the only thing the school could do.


Unknown said...

I may be ignorant of what options were already used, but it seems to me that once it was determined that they could not control the child they should call the parent(s) and have the child taken home.

Anonymous said...

Don I agree. Arresting a 6 year old who doesn’t ‘really’ understand the situation is wrong. They child should have been removed from the room and the parents called before involving the police. Trust me you tell any kid their parents are being called because they are misbehaving that kid is going to shut up and sit down period.