While the details of the final education bill have yet to be hammered out, it is clear that changes in education may be coming to Connecticut. While a lot of attention has been paid to issues like teacher tenure, evaluations, and education funding, another critical educational area has received far less attention: school arrests.
Preliminary data from Connecticut suggests a large number of children (including very young children) are being arrested in schools –- two-thirds of them for minor offenses. Arresting students for misbehavior and low-level disciplinary matters results in a host of negative impacts for children, including dropout and greater involvement with the criminal justice system. For example, a 2006 study based on a nationally representative longitudinal dataset, found that “arrest doubles the probability of dropout even when controlling for arrest expectations, college expectations, prior and concurrent delinquency, grade retention, school suspension, middle school grade point average, and a number of demographic factors.”
As documented in numerous reports, including several recent studies in Massachusetts and Texas, the rise of zero tolerance laws and changes in attitudes towards discipline and crime over the last two decades have led to sharp increases in school arrests, particularly discretionary arrests for challenging behaviors that are better addressed in a classroom setting.
The Judiciary Committee and Education Committee have both given their stamp of approval to a bill (HB 5432) promoted by the Center for Children’s Advocacy that would reduce school arrests. This bill require districts to (1) collect and make public data on the number of arrests taking place and the demographics of students involved, and (2) implement of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between a school district and a police department whenever a police officer is stationed in a school.
To learn more, see Connecticut Voices’ testimony in support of this bill, as well as testimony from the Chief of Police in Bridgeport; the youth service director in Manchester; and national and state organizations that have been working to reduce school arrests, including the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, the CT Juvenile Justice Alliance, the ACLU of CT, and the Center for Children’s Advocacy.
This bill is waiting to be heard by the House, with only 5 days remaining in the legislative session. Now is the time to contact your legislators and the House and Senate leadership to ask them to hear HB 5432.
Successful efforts in several Connecticut towns show that districts can effectively improve school climates and reduce arrests. But in order to do that we must get a handle on the problem, and HB 5432 is the first step.