School Policies Send Students To Jail

Feb 13, 2013

Florida school systems have eased up on the "zero tolerance" behavior policies that sent so many students to jail for minor misconduct.

But vestiges of the old policies are still sending thousand of students to jail for conduct that once would have meant nothing more than a trip to the principal's office.

According to an Orlando Sentinel investigative report, 67 percent of in-school arrests last year were for trumped-up misdemeanors categorized as "disorderly conduct": yelling in class, for instance, or cell phone violations.

There were 14,000 arrests in 2012, the Sentinel reported, and one of them was of a student named Nalani Bolden.

Nalani, now 13, had been suspended from Avalon Middle for a string of minor offenses — excessive talking, tardiness and a cell phone infraction — and banned from campus.

But a telephone message about the suspension never reached her, so Nalani went to school that morning in May. When a dean spotted her, she told Nalani to go to the office. Nalani "became irate" and refused, even after the school's resource officer confronted her. She was then arrested for trespassing.

The deputy handcuffed her, walked her through a crowd of students in the courtyard and put her in the back of a police car.

"It was horrible," Nalani said. "I don't want to go back to public school. I'm afraid it will happen again."

Rhonda Bolden, Nalani's mother, said her daughter's arrest interrupted the girl's education, made them distrustful of local schools and left Nalani having trouble eating and sleeping. She's been out of school since her arrest as her parents and district officials work to find an appropriate place for her.

These zero tolerance behavior policies were developed in the 1990s as a response to incidents of school violence that were taking place at the timer. Now there are worries that the Newton school shooting and other incidents may reawake a taste for sending students to jail instead of detention.