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School is supposed to be a safe space for children, and we expect teachers to be able to handle common behavioral issues. Yet far too often discipline is being outsourced to the police, and children are being arrested at school for misbehavior. Some of this is a result of teachers not knowing how to handle their students. Other times it’s a consequence of teachers being hamstrung by what they can and can’t do. For instance, at some schools, teachers aren’t allowed to restrain children or break up fights. If teachers can’t restrain a child, what are you supposed to do if a child is out of control or running away?

When I was working in child care, I got a call from the director of a nearby center who needed my help because a child with pre-existing behavioral disturbances (who I had worked with before) was out of control. She had wrecked the classroom and ran out of the center. I went over and retrieved her, but she continued her episode, biting, kicking, scratching and clawing. When we called her parents to come pick her up, they flat out refused, saying they weren’t going to pick her up at all that evening if she was acting that way, and insisted that we call the police instead. So after much protest, I did. The police, predictably, wondered why we were calling them and told us to call her parents. When we explained the situation and mentioned the child’s name (she was a disturbed child with mental health issues and pre-existing history with law enforcement), they came, and we were left with no choice but to have the authorities take her, which in my mind was the worst possible outcome to the situation.

Whatever the various causes, school arrests of children, even little kids, are surprisingly common. Let’s explore some of the stories and statistics:

How many kids are arrested at school?
No one knows the exact answer, since data on this sort of thing isn’t kept. However, a USA Today examination based off federal crime reports found more than 2,600 arrests in schools involving kids ages 5 to 9 between 2000 and 2019, for an average of 130 a year. (Ball, Zhang & Molloy, 2022) Given the scarcity of the data, this is almost certainly a gross undercount. Black children made up 41% of these arrests, though they are only 14% of the population.

The consequences of arresting children at school
These cases aren’t just a amusing anecdotes about the absurdities in modern society. Being arrested is a traumatic experience for adults, and it’s even more so for a small child. These instances can be deeply traumatic: a socially sanctioned form of child abuse. “Arresting a child has the potential to create lasting, traumatizing stress,” says counselor Nancy Langford. (ibid)

Arrested for a tantrum
Kaia Rolle was a 5-year-old first grader attending Lucious and Emma Nixon Academy, a West Orlando charter school. She suffered from behavioral problems due to severe sleep apnea, the result of enlarged tonsils and adenoids. As a result she sometimes only got the equivalent of two or three hours of sleep each night.

In the morning of Sept. 19, 2019, her teacher told her she couldn’t wear her sunglasses in class. This led to a tantrum of screaming, kicking, and hitting school staff. Portions of this episode were witnessed by school resource officer Dennis Turner, who felt it fitting that the girl be arrested.

By the time Orlando police officer Sergio Ramos arrived to transport Kaia to the Juvenile Assessment Center, however, Kaia had calmed down. Video shows her sitting quietly in an office with a staffer. Ramos objected to the arrest, and called his sergeant, saying, “Sarge, this girl is tiny. She looks like a baby.” Perhaps most inexplicably of all, Turner insisted the arrest continue. So Kaia’s hands were bound behind her back using zip ties (because handcuffs were far too big) as she cried, “No, please give me a second chance.” At the juvenile center, she needed a step stool to fit into the frame for her mugshot. She was then released to her grandmother. The charges were later dropped, but the girl is now said to suffer PTSD from the incident. Turner was later fired for apparently not following protocol.

Autistic girl arrested at school for wearing a cow hoodie
Evelyn Towry was 8-years-old when she was arrested at school. The girl was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism (a diagnosis that no longer exists). This led to behavioral problems at school. She would tear up papers and refuse to listen to teachers. By the time first grade arrived, she had already been suspended multiple times.

This incident started when Evelyn showed up to school excited about a cow hoodie. Her mother had decorated the garment with black spots, ears, a tail and a pouch glove for the udders, and Evelyn was eager to show it off. Yet the school banned her from wearing animal outfits, claiming they were too distracting. The class was having a party that day, (we wouldn’t want to distract her from a party), and Evelyn’s teachers told her she couldn’t attend unless she tucked in the tail and ears of her hoodie. Evelyn says she did, but the teacher still refused to let her go. So Evelyn ran toward the portable school buildings where the party was taking place.

Two teacher’s aides dragged her back as she kicked, yelled, spit and hit. The police were called, because according the Sheriff’ report, Evelyn’s teacher and principal “wanted to have charges pressed because they felt they are not getting their point across to Evelyn or Evelyn’s parents.” So police told her she was being arrested for the “batteries” she had committed. As the girl was led to a waiting patrol car, she saw her mother and cried out, “Mommy, mommy, what are batteries?” The charges were later dropped, and Evelyn was transferred to another school.

Arrested for a shove
Malachi Pryor was 7 when he was arrested at his Denver school. It started when a classmate mocked a drawing of Sonic the Hedgehog he had created, saying it “sucked.” So Malachi shoved him, which led to a shoving match.

Malachi was led outside the classroom. He didn’t want to sit down, at which point he was handcuffed and dragged down the hallway. No charges were ever filed. When Malachi’s dad Brandon arrived at school, they wouldn’t let him see his son. It caused quite a stir, considering Brandon and Samantha Pryor, Malachi’s parents, were co-founders of Warriors for High Quality Schools, an organization that advocates racial justice within the school system. Following the arrest, Malachi came to think of himself as a “bad kid.”


  • Ball, A., Zhang, D, Molloy, M. C. (2022, Feb. 14) “School arrests include kids as young as 5. Why?” USA Today, pp. 1A, 6A

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