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School Policies Must Adjust for Juvenile Justice System to Improve

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Police Officer Curtis Riddick and 10-week-old bloodhound Kash hang out with, from left, Atlantic High School sophomore Taylor Matchton and seniors Macarena Martinez and Kyria Flores before the start of the school day.

Changes in school policies will go a long way to dealing with some of the problems with the juvenile justice system, new recommendations for Congress and President Barack Obama say.

In particular, the National Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Coalition says schools rely too heavily on law enforcement to handle behavior problems students, resulting in arrests for behavior that doesn't threaten the safety of other students or staff. The arrests can trigger a chain of contact with the juvenile justice system with a lifetime of repercussions.

The recommendations for Congress and separately those for the administration, are similar on this point, and others that have to do with the justice system and other federal legislation unrelated to schools that it says are in need of changes.

In a story in this week's issue of Education Week, I write about the debate over using police in schools. Some schools have ramped up police presence after the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

In the weeks after the shootings, President Obama was among those calling for more school police officers—as well as more counselors and school psychologists.

The NJJDP says schools should instead invest in more counselors, social workers, and mental health clinicians. And Congress should write laws that would address the "school-to-prison" pipeline, in which school-based arrests and contact with law enforcement leads to a lifetime of dealings with the justice system.

Once students have been arrested, or if they have served time, students may be suspended or expelled from school and have a hard time completing their education, the group said. When (or if) Congress renews the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, they could help with this issue in particular by, among other things,

  • Requiring states to create a way to assess and identify the educational needs of youths who enter the upon juvenile justice system;
  • Requiring states set to procedures for the prompt reenrollment of youth in schools once they exit juvenile justice placement;
  • Requiring states to establish procedures for the prompt transfer of educational records and credits earned during students' time in the juvenile justice system;
  • Encouraging states to consult with stakeholders on the issue of youth access to education upon reentry;
  • Authorizing federal money for innovative practices aimed at ensuring the educational success of students reentering school from the juvenile justice system;
  • Requiring local education agencies to allocate a portion of Title I, Part D funding for youth reentry;
  • Authorizing alternatives to federal requirements about how much time students must spend in school;
  • Implementing sanctions or loss of preferential status for funding or other benefits for states and school districts that don't provide required or appropriate educational services upon reentry or remove barriers to reentering school;
  • Holding schools more accountable for graduation rates and including juvenile justice-involved youth in state accountability systems.

Photo: Police Officer Curtis Riddick and 10-week-old bloodhound Kash hang out with, from left, Atlantic High School sophomore Taylor Matchton and seniors Macarena Martinez and Kyria Flores before the start of the school day. Officer Riddick and Kash interact with students when they aren't in training for the Palm Beach County school district police department.—Josh Ritchie for Education Week

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