Over the past year, representatives from several Bibb County agencies have been meeting to reduce the number of unnecessary school referrals to the juvenile court. Our community leaders involved in these meetings should be commended for reaching across agency boundaries to help our kids.
The stakeholder meetings produced a School Offense Protocol similar to one developed in Clayton County. Why the Clayton model?
“Necessity is the mother of all invention” and in 2003, Clayton hit an all-time low graduation rate of 58 percent. Amongst other concerns, this figure demonstrated that drastic action was needed.
Chief Juvenile Court Judge Steven Teske used authority provided by the juvenile code and his influence as a judge to bring educators and police together to engage in a nine month dialogue that produced a written agreement to engage students using positive techniques. The results were phenomenal -- court referrals down 73 percent and graduation rates up 24 percent and a safer school environment with serious weapons down 70 percent.
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Clayton finally began to see a decrease in juvenile crime in the community after the agreement’s implementation. With arrests down, police had more time for positive engagement with students. Students now share information with police, which increases police intelligence to prevent incidents on campus and solve crimes in the community. Judge Teske tells community leaders across the country that “If Clayton can do it, anyone can.”
Jurisdictions across the country have replicated the Clayton model -- from sites in Alabama, Connecticut, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Louisiana to California. In July, teams from several Georgia counties will gather in LaGrange to discuss strategies to reduce suspensions and school arrests. Experts in school discipline will present on best practices in the country. Clayton’s model is one of those models.
The Bibb County protocol will improve student progress and school safety. Infractions once handled by the courts will be handled using a written warning on the first offense, referral to a committee on the second to assess the reasons for the behavior and determine appropriate responses, and referral to the juvenile court on the third.
The agreement allows for discretion to refer to court at any point if the underlying reasons for the infraction present serious risk to others such as attacking school personnel.
Recent medical research has proven what the behavioral sciences have been saying all along -- that kids are wired to do stupid things. The frontal lobe of the brain translates emotion into logic, but it’s not fully developed until age 25. Kids are being hard-wired during their teenage years. During this formative time, schools provide a protective buffer against delinquency.
We cannot afford to push kids away from that protective buffer into harmful surroundings.
When we push kids out of school, we not only increase their risk for delinquency, but we increase their risk of becoming victims of crime, including murder. The stakeholders in Bibb County have bravely confronted this data and no longer want to be a part of hurting kids and the community.
Superintendent Romain Dallemand will present the Bibb protocol to the school board on Thursday, June 21. Say yes to good practices. Say yes to the protocol.
Veronica McClendon is a Skadden Fellow and staff attorney with the Macon office of the Georgia Legal Services Program.