Police in our schools—There is a better way
Watching the news this week, I came across an unsettling story.
An 8-year-old, third-grade student diagnosed with ADHD and PTSD was handcuffed above the elbow by a sheriff’s deputy for not following directions at school. It is a disturbing image, yet one that may become increasingly more common.Increasingly, police are asked to intervene in schools to deal with typical school-aged conduct. As the lines between “normal kid behavior,” problematic non-compliance at school and criminal offences become blurred, we cannot be surprised when these law-enforcement officers use their traditional strategies and approaches on even the youngest and most vulnerable of our elementary-school children.
Is criminalizing the answer?
While it is clear that schools may need support and direction managing unruly, disruptive kids who interfere with the education of other students, it is also clear that there is a better way than criminalizing grade-schoolers. The officer in the video says, “You can either do what we asked you to do, or you can suffer the consequences.” I fully support reasonable consequences for inappropriate behavior, but as a parent of a third-grader, I cannot fathom a situation where handcuffs would be appropriate. If this young child deserves handcuffs, will officers feel it necessary to point a gun at some other student? Is this what school officials and lawmakers intended when assigning police to our schools?
In Multisystemic Therapy, we know there is a better way. We advocate for parents to partner with schools to provide age-appropriate, meaningful ways to guide children toward making more responsible choices. We support parents in providing at-home repercussions for in-school misbehaviors. We partner with educators in providing parents and caregivers the techniques that work best for getting a child back on track.
This incident happened in Kentucky, but it could be anywhere. Police are increasingly present in schools across the country and the world. The good news is that Kentucky has recently passed legislation to use more evidence-based treatments like MST. We can only hope programs that address school behaviors effectively will become widespread enough to protect our children from this trauma that in the end does nothing to treat the underlying problem.