Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The problem with forcing schools to call the police

I realized after writing Friday's post that each of those issues could be a post all to themselves and that you, dear reader, would be best served by further fleshing out the issues, especially the police in schools bill (SB 56) and the sexting bill (HB 2189). (The gay foster kids issue is pretty clear. It's horrendous what the legislature has done on that issue.)

SB 56 mandates reporting of criminal offenses on campus by school administrators to both local police and to the state Department of Education's Office of Safe Schools. The primary sponsor has a school in his district that was calling the police for student incidents but not reporting those incidents to the Office of Safe Schools. By not reporting to the office, the school avoided being tagged as an unsafe school.

So it makes sense to put some guidelines in place to be sure that schools are not ducking the Office of Safe Schools. And, of course, all of us want some incidents reported to the police. If a homicide occurs in a school, I'm pretty sure that everyone wants the school to call the cops.

But once you get past the obvious, things get murkier the further you go down the list of offenses. Here's an example that is nearly identical to a real incident. Say a teacher who doesn't understand autism touches a kid who is on the spectrum. Kids with autism don't like to be touched. The kid reacts by kicking the teacher in the leg. The act itself is simple assault, but because the victim is a school employee, it's aggravated assault.

Under SB 56, school administrators have discretion on whether or not to call the police on simple assault but must call the police for aggravated assault, under threat of a fine of several thousand dollars. So if this bill becomes law, that kid gets hauled off by the police, and it doesn't matter if he's 7 or 17. Think for a moment about just how traumatic it would be for a child, any child, to be taken from school in handcuffs.

With administrators having the discretion to report simple assault but being mandated to call the police for aggravated assault, school administrators will be left to determine where particular offenses fit in the criminal code. Third degree institutional vandalism must be reported to the police, under SB 56, but lesser forms of vandalism do not. If you're an administrator and you have a $2500 fine hanging over your head, you're probably going to err on the side of caution and report all forms of vandalism and all forms of assault. Why risk money coming out of your pocket or your school district's pocket?

A problem already exists with schools relying too heavily on police back up to deal with discipline problems. In the 2006-07 school year, law enforcement in Pennsylvania found just 60 percent of incidents reported by schools to be arrest worthy. In other words, police considered 40 percent of the school-based complaints they received to be unworthy of their attention. Schools are calling the police too much, and that's without SB 56 in law.

Ironically, one of the issues coming out of the inter-branch commission on juvenile justice has been that there were too many school-based calls going into police stations in Luzerne County. The excessive use of law enforcement by school officials funneled kids into the juvenile justice system, where two Luzerne judges allegedly took bribes to send kids to detention facilities.

We don't know the future of this legislation. It passed the Senate last year. It has not yet been taken up by the House, but it's possible that there will be a massive (omnibus) bill related to school issues. SB 56 could be in it. It's hard to imagine the Pennsylvania General Assembly doing any worse by our kids.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Former Penn State Harrisburg professor facing child pornography, molestation charges
By DANIEL VICTOR, The Patriot-News
March 31, 2010, 2:21PM

Kenneth KyleKenneth Kyle, who taught sociology courses in Penn State Harrisburg's School of Behavioral Science and Education from 1998 to 2007, has been accused of possessing hundreds of images of child pornography and molesting a 13-month-old girl, according to police in St. Louis, Mo.

Yvonne Harhigh, a Penn State Harrisburg spokeswoman, said the university has not been contacted in the investigation. She said Kyle taught courses on behavioral and social sciences.

Kyle, who is a professor at Cal State East Bay, was originally arrested March 15 on pornography charges, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Information on his computers connected him to college student Tessa Vanvlerah of Ballwin, Mo., where Kyle allegedly met with Vanvlerah and molested her daughter on several occasions, the newspaper reported. Kyle and Vanvlerah were both charged with statutory rape, statutory sodomy and promoting child pornography

10:50 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

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2:56 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

SB 56 is the wrong answer to a legitimate question, that is, how to get schools to follow CURRENT law and report incidents to PDE. Sadly for students the answer the Senate came up with was to bring the police in. Our Police Departments have enough to do without becoming vice principals at our schools as well as handling criminal cases in the community. There are times that bringing police officers into schools makes sense but SB 56 does not. Instead if the Senate had given the Auditor Generals office the teeth that it needed to require reports on the old Safe School Law and to have real and true consequences to school administrators who did not follow the law that exists our students would all be in safer schools. I hope that a new attempt at a better bill comes in the next legislative session.

5:45 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

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12:21 PM  

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