A Policeman’s Duty?

By Jacqueline Battiste-Johnson

I first became aware of my middle school’s “new policy” when one of my students told me she had been issued a $65 ticket for fighting. It turns out she had been in a minor incident during which a few punches were thrown. Although the skirmish was quickly broken up and no one was hurt, the police were called.

Last year, there was a dramatic increase in the times the police were called to my school to resolve discipline problems. At the beginning of the year, a squad car was parked outside my classroom window about every two to three days. Before the year’s end, the squad was there an average of four times per week and often more than once a day.

What purpose is served by calling the police every time there’s a confrontation? I’ve asked several administrators how such a policy came to be. I was told that it’s the principal’s discretion to call the police.

At the very least, shouldn’t this policy be mentioned in the district’s booklet on parents, rights, and responsibilities? Shouldn’t parents and students be told the ramifications of being ticketed – that, for example, a student with unpaid fines cannot get a driver’s license?

More importantly, shouldn’t there be a community discussion on a policy with such serious repercussions for kids? I find it hard to believe that we can’t come up with a better alternative – one that doesn’t immediately place school discipline into the hands of the police and, potentially, the criminal justice system.

Jacqueline Battiste-Johnson teaches at a middle school in Milwaukee.