The Bibb County Juvenile Court and the Bibb County School System, with help from community partners, have developed a new student discipline system in an effort to lower the high numbers of students being arrested and sent to juvenile court for minor school-based infractions.
The new discipline protocol will be signed by Juvenile Court Judges Tom Matthews and Quintress Gilbert, Bibb County Schools Superintendent Dr. Romain Dallemand, and other leaders of agencies serving Bibb County youth at a ceremony on Friday, May 25, 2012, at 1:00 p.m. in the 4th floor boardroom of the Bibb County Board of Education.
For the past several years, an average of more than 600 children annually have been sent to juvenile court from Bibb County schools, a number that generated a high level of community concern directed at the school system.
"After reviewing the data we found that many of these incidents for which students were being sent to juvenile court were administrative and could be handled by school officials," said Bibb County Schools Deputy Superintendent for Student Affairs Edward Judie Jr. "Also, after discussions with Judge (Tom) Matthews, we realized the juvenile court was being overwhelmed with these minor referrals. Also, our children were being desensitized to being involved in the court system."
The new discipline protocol will "help keep the students in the school house," said Judie.
The protocol establishes an "early intervention" program in which, instead of calling in the police, the school system will refer children who misbehave to a multiagency team that will offer the children counseling and other services. Only when a child commits an infraction that would constitute a felony or an attack on a teacher would the police be brought in and the child sent to juvenile court. Bibb's policy is based on a similar protocol set up in 2004 in Clayton County after Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Steve Teske noticed a similar trend of increasing numbers of students being sent into the justice system for minor school infractions. After the protocol was set up in Clayton, referrals of students to juvenile court dropped 70 percent. There was also an 87 percent decrease in fighting offenses on campus. Further, the agreement had the effect of reducing the number of minority students who encountered the juvenile justice system with an 86 percent decrease in school-based referrals of African-American youth for fighting and a 64 percent decrease in referrals for disruption of public school offenses. As an added benefit, the graduation rate in Clayton County increased by 20 percent after the new protocol was established.
In Bibb, Judge Matthews said, "I am delighted that the School Board, the District Attorney, the Sheriff's Office, and other agencies are cooperating so that our schools will be empowered to take the lead in correcting ordinary school misbehavior within the school communities. As a result, the resources of law enforcement, Juvenile Court, and the Department of Juvenile Justice can be more tightly focused on the most serious and dangerous offenders."
Bibb's protocol was developed with the help of the police department, the district attorney's office, mental health agencies, the public defenders office, the sheriff's department and the Department of Family and Children Services. The Macon office of Georgia Legal Services Program provided technical assistance for the effort.
Georgia Legal Services staff attorney Veronica McClendon, who is working under a fellowship dedicated to law in education, helped bring all the parties together to reach consensus on the new discipline protocol after realizing how many GLSP clients involved in school discipline cases also had pending juvenile court cases.
"The implementation of this protocol agreement will put a major plug in the school-to-prison pipeline, which is a phrase commonly used to describe the increased reliance of school systems across the nation on out of school suspensions, expulsions, and juvenile court referrals to deal with relatively minor school misconduct," McClendon said. "We realized that every one of the students we represented in school discipline cases in Bibb County also had a juvenile court case pending.
"Studies show that students who are suspended or expelled from school have an increased likelihood of ending up in the juvenile or criminal justice system. When schools directly refer students to the juvenile court, the student's track toward the juvenile justice system is accelerated and the odds increase that they will return to the system as an adult offender later in life."
GLSP Senior Staff Attorney Ira Foster, who has been working on the school-to-prison problem for many years in Middle Georgia, said the former discipline system had a disproportionate effect on African-American students. "A significant number of black male students have dropped out of Bibb County schools after being suspended or expelled and sent to juvenile court. National research indicates that over 70 percent of black males that drop out of school end up in jail or prison," he said. "Cooperative agreements such as the one that will be implemented in Bibb County have been shown to substantially reduce the suspension and dropout rate in school systems that are comparable to the Bibb County School system. This in turn should lead to a reduction in the black male dropout rate in Bibb County, which should lead to a reduction in the number of black male students becoming involved in criminal activity."
To view a copy of the protocol agreement, click here