We are discussing the case of the 17-year-old high school student who found herself in jail for three weeks. She was involved in a fight on the school bus one morning. After school officials had suspended her for five days, a Raleigh police officer, a “school resource officer,” arrested her and hauled her off to jail. At the time she was a foster child, and her foster family would not take her back. By law, she could not be released if an adult would not assume responsibility for her.
She eventually pleaded guilty to a few misdemeanors, and she is in a new foster home. While child advocates were critical of a system that would substitute an adult correctional facility for a temporary foster home, they were equally critical of the officer who arrested her. She had already been disciplined; how would an arrest help the situation?
The officer is part of an arrangement between the Raleigh Police Department and Wake County Schools. The purpose of the program is to ensure a safe environment for students and school personnel. School resource officers receive little direction from the current agreement — set to expire in 2014 — about what, exactly, they can and cannot do.
As a result, the girl’s attorney says, officers are getting involved with “typical adolescent behaviors.” Other say officers get involved in school disciplinary matters when they are only supposed to enforce the law. There is enough confusion about roles and enough involvement of officers that a handful of advocacy organizations have filed a federal complaint against them, specifically charging them with violating the constitutional rights of minority students.
This student’s case may or may not fall into that category. As we said in our last post, very little information about this student’s circumstances has been made public, and no one has alleged that there could be a constitutional rights issue.
For advocates, though, what this case does add to the debate is an increased sense of urgency for the school district to redraft the agreement, to clarify the role of the resource officers. Whatever “safe environment” means, should it involve criminalizing children?
North Raleigh News, “Southeast Raleigh High senior Selina Garcia released from jail after 3 weeks,” Sarah Barr, March 27, 2014
News & Observer, “Foster care status strands Wake student in jail three weeks after school bus fight,” Sarah Barr, March 25, 2014