Education

'We've reached a crisis': Students in Bibb County faced 212 criminal charges this year

Every high school in Bibb County has had at least one student face criminal charges this year.

So has Rosa Taylor Elementary, Hutchings College and Career Academy, alternative school SOAR Academy and the Elam Alexander Academy campuses at Burke and Northeast High, as well as every middle school except Miller.

The total number of charges throughout the system since the beginning of the school year: 212.

In response to an open records request, the district provided a breakdown of the number of charges and types of offenses that occurred at each school between Aug. 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018. The Telegraph also requested data from the Houston County school district, but Superintendent Mark Scott wrote in his reply that the "district does not track student arrests made at school."

Westside High had the most student charges at 60, followed by 35 at Elam Alexander's Northeast campus, 22 at Rutland High and 14 each at Howard and Northeast high schools.

"The sad part is I'm not surprised, but I'm disappointed," Bibb County Superior Court Judge Verda Colvin said. "We've reached a crisis where it's all hands on deck."

Top 5 Bibb schools for student charges this school year



Westside High

60

Elam Alexander Academy's Northeast campus

35

Rutland High

22

Northeast High

14

Howard High

14

In most cases, the charges at Bibb schools were for less severe crimes.

The most common offenses this year were: fighting in a public place, 42; disorderly conduct, 27; and simple battery, 24, according to the report. The number of student charges appears to be slowly trending down compared to last year, said Keith Simmons, Bibb County schools chief of staff.

Top 5 offenses in Bibb schools



Fighting in a public place

42

Disorderly conduct

27

Simple battery

24

Simple battery on a school employee

14

Simple assault on a school employee

12

Not all of these charges led to arrests. A second data set provided after this story was initially published shows that 25 students ages 17 or older were arrested; they were charged with 38 offenses. All the other charges were for students younger than 17, whom the district does not arrest. Those students may receive a citation or other form of discipline.

Bibb County is working to reduce the number of arrests. Students have to be educated on the criminal code, the consequences when they violate it, and how committing a crime can affect their academic success, Simmons said.

"When young people start having negative interactions with law enforcement, that can sometimes set the stage for what becomes normal," Colvin said. "Once you have that first contact, maybe the second contact doesn't become that big of a deal."

Bibb County Superior Court Judge Verda Colvin brings a courtroom full of "Consider the Consequences" participants in 2016 to tears, and all she does is tell the truth.

Just because the school district has its own campus police department doesn't mean students should be more likely to get arrested, Simmons said. It's important that the bridge between school discipline and arrest not be minimized.

"If you're not monitoring and you're not intentional about the role that police officers take in the lives of students, you can unintentionally create a pipeline to where student behavior leads to prison or prison-like consequences," Simmons said.

That "school-to-prison pipeline" is a problem throughout the country, Colvin said. Eighty-five percent of the students she sentences in her courtroom haven't finished high school. Statistically, people without a high school diploma have a history with the criminal justice system. The sooner students have contact with law enforcement, the more likely they are to continue down that path and commit future offenses.

“We already give them the option of dropping out (of school)," she said. "We have a sword that’s against us in that kids can just say, 'I’m out.' If we couple that with making it harder and not providing more resources so that they don’t get kicked out, we make a whole population that will be the next generation of people going to prison.”

District and school leaders in Bibb County are working to detect early warning signs in students — such as poor attendance and undesirable classroom behavior — that can lead to more serious behavior outside school, Simmons said.

"We want to be able to respond and provide some additional support for students, so we can understand why and get them back on the right track before it leads to criminal behavior or anything that would warrant an arrest," he said.

Parents, educators and community members all have to be invested and find ways to intervene in students' lives, so they don't "work their way out of the school system" through arrests. Parents have to be held accountable, and educators have to be able to see the warning signs and support kids in the hardest circumstances.

"I do think there are inroads being made in Macon by a host of individuals and organizations," Colvin said. “I always think we need to do more. We all need to chip in to make it better than it is. The future of our city demands it."

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated the number of students arrested in Bibb County schools. The story was unpublished while the information was verified and then republished Tuesday.

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