A recent televised news report aired a disturbing incident that happened last October in a Baltimore City school. Three middle school girls were beaten by a police officer in their school, restrained and pepper sprayed. They were taken to the hospital with one student bleeding from a head wound. The girls were suspended and sent to an alternative school. This outcome was because the officer did not like the way a student responded to her request.
If only such incidents were a rarity. Though not always caught on video, there is an epidemic of arrests in our schools. According to the Department of Juvenile Services, there were 688 school arrests in Maryland in 2013, 620 of which were in Baltimore City. In other words, Baltimore makes up about 10 percent of the school population across our state but accounts for 90 percent of the arrests. And Baltimore's children are arrested in schools at a significantly higher rate than students in comparable cities like New York. Our schools should be in the business of educating our kids, not criminalizing them.
Yes, some students in our schools are violent. But the violence level does not justify the number of arrests. The vast majority of the cases that were handled by the public defender's office during the past school year were dismissed. That's because their young clients have been charged with such offenses as stealing Pokemon cards and playing too rough with good friends on the playground. Kids should not be arrested for being kids.
In the majority of instances, there are other serious consequences for serious behaviors. Leading young people from school in handcuffs disrupts their lives and derails their education. Studies show that arrest doubles the chance that a student will drop out of school, and having to appear in court quadruples that chance. African-American and Latino students are disproportionately affected, as they are significantly more likely to be arrested in school and sent down this path.
Many young people who attend Baltimore City schools face challenges in their lives that to many of us may seem unimaginable. School should be their safe place. These children are our responsibility. If we want them to succeed, we must send them out with a diploma, not handcuffs. It is imperative that Baltimore City Public Schools take a close look at school police practices so that this year we give those 620 students futures rather than arrest records.
Kate Rabb, Baltimore
The writer is the education policy director for Advocates for Children and Youth.