2008-11-28 / Columnists

The Progressive

Parental Responsibilities
Commentary By John Paul Culotta

A few years ago the Progressive was shocked to learn that a twelve-year-old junior high school student on Staten Island was arrested for refusing to turn over his cell phone to a police officer. Police personnel that are stationed in our city's schools have been taking cell phones from students as part of their duties in the schools. It is unfortunate that police personnel need to be stationed in our educational facilities. This is part of an urban environment in which we live. Our schools need police personnel. Our police do not have to become enforcers of silly educational regulations and rules. These responsibilities belong to teachers, school administrators and parents.

In recent weeks our mayor has decided to run for a third term and he makes education reform part of his resume, using the need to justify the change of term limits law. One of the reforms he has established is that students cannot have cell phones in school. It is a well-known fact that most parents feel their children should have cell phone to and from school. It is also well-known that most school personnel do not enforce the rule, while it's true that cell phones can be a distraction in our schools - it is still the responsibility of educators and parents to decide the nature of enforcement of the rule that was decided in the Tweed building.

On September 9, 2008, the New York Times had an article entitled "Police Criticized for Student Arrests," which described the Family Court Law, which does not allow children less than 16 years of age to be arrested for minor, non-criminal offenses. We know that police personnel have arrested children in school for minor offenses. They have put children in handcuffs in front of their classmates and teachers. This type of activity by police personnel stigmatizes and humiliates children in a place where they should be welcomed and stimulated. Schools are not a place for arrests for non-criminal offenses.

The Gray Lady in the article stated the New York City Civil Liberties Union informed Police Commissioner Ray Kelly that more than 300 children were arrested over a three year period in our city schools for minor offenses such as loitering. Some of us may believe arrests are needed to maintain order in our schools. Order can be maintained in our schools prohibiting loitering, having a firecracker in a school bag, keeping a cell phone in a pocket book, or disorderly conduct, in most cases without arresting the child.

Law enforcement authorities have power to maintain order and the responsibility to use good judgment in enforcing the law. School administrators, teachers, and parents need to develop protocols as to when and how to proceed when students in our schools are behaving in an unlawful manner. Parents are an important component in solving discipline problems in our schools. If parents want their children to bring cell phones to and from school, an accommodation must be made so that the devices will not disrupt schools. If children are loitering in hallways, parental notification, and penalties agreed upon by all to be appropriate should be imposed. Possession of unlawful objects such as fireworks and drugs should be confiscated and parents should be notified and there should be a notice to report to appear before a judge. Parents should not be receiving calls from a police precinct that their children were arrested in school for minor offenses. Parents are the true educators and law enforcing authorities for children.

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