A kindergartner who threw a tantrum at her small-town Georgia school was taken away in handcuffs, her arms behind her back, in an episode that is firing up the debate over whether teachers and police around the country are overreacting all too often when dealing with disruptive students.
The family of 6-year-old Salecia Johnson lashed out Tuesday over her treatment and said she was badly shaken, while the school system and the police defended their handling of the episode.
Across the country, civil rights advocates and criminal justice experts say, frustrated teachers and principals are calling in the police to deal with even relatively minor disruptions.
Some juvenile authorities say they believe it is happening more often, driven by zero-tolerance policies and an increased police presence on school grounds over the past two decades because of tragedies like the Columbine High massacre. But hard numbers to back up the assertion are hard to come by.
“Kids are being arrested for being kids,” said Shannon Kennedy, a civil rights attorney who is suing the Albuquerque, N.M., school district, where hundreds of kids have been arrested in the past few years for minor offenses including such things as having cellphones in class, burping, refusing to switch seats and destroying a history book. In 2010, a 14-year-old boy was arrested for inflating a condom in class.