The state of Missouri is taking its efforts to discipline children to new heights.
According to Alternet, a statute went into effect at the start of the year that significantly changes the laws on what actions can be taken against kids who have fights in school.
Prior to the new law, a child could be charged with a misdemeanor for fighting and then be released to their parents. Now, that same student could be hauled off to a juvenile detention center and charged with a Class E felony, which carries a maximum penalty of four years behind bars.
Additionally, the new law mandates that educators report any “first degree harassment” or fights between students to the authorities if they occur during school hours and under school jurisdiction.
This requirement essentially relinquishes a teacher of the authority to decide how to best handle altercations of this nature with their own students and forces the adolescents to face potential criminal punishment.
“The mandated reporting laws require that we contact law enforcement,” said Susan Goldammer, a lawyer for the Missouri School Boards’ Association. “For most of our students, they are under the age of 17 and that would probably be the juvenile office. For the students that are 17 or older, we would call the police.”
Goldammer did clarify, however, that just because educators are required to report to authorities doesn’t mean further action will necessarily be taken. After receiving information from the schools, what comes next is up to law enforcement’s discretion.
While those who support the new law believe it will curb fighting by serving as a deterrent for students, it comes across as more of a way to fast track the school-to-prison pipeline, which not only jeopardizes the innocence of our youth, but sends a troubling message that our society values criminalization over education.
Missouri should be seeking better conflict resolution reforms instead of relying on the criminal justice system to pick up their slack.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters