Kindergartner Handcuffed by Police: Have We Gone Too Far?

Posted April 18, 2012 by

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Are we overreacting to young kids' tantrums? Earlier this week, a six-year-old girl was handcuffed by police, arms behind her back, and taken away to the police station. Kindergartner Salecia Johnson was apparently throwing books and toys at  her small school in Midgeville, Georgia, located about 90 miles outside of Atlanta, which caused school administrators to call the authorities. She threw a shelf, which then hit the principal in the leg and jumped on a paper shredder, trying to break the glass frame.

This was a violent tantrum, no doubt about it, and definitely way outside the bounds of appropriate behavior. While I sympathize with teachers and the other students, handcuffing a 6-year-old kid and taking her away sounds extreme to me. Is there really nothing else schools can do in this situation? I wonder if there wasn't any other way they could have isolated the child to help her calm down, for example. I also wonder if this is the only recourse police have now. Police did say that they tried to calm the girl down first, but she was resistant to their efforts.  Salecia was then taken to the police station's squad room and given a Coke to calm her down. (Her aunt, Candace Ruff, said that the girl was actually placed in a holding cell first.)

The police chief defended his department's actions as “a safety measure”. The girl's family is now demanding that the police change their policy so other kids aren't treated the same way, and said that Salecia is still shaken up over the event.

“We would not like to see this happen to another child because it's horrifying,” said Ruff. “it's devastating.”

Salecia was suspended and can't return to school until August.

This case, while far from the first, (a few years ago, another kindergartner was taken away by police in Florida for throwing a tantrum during a jelly bean counting contest, and police used pepper spray on a 8-year-old boy last year after he threatened his teacher) is raising questions for educators, parents, lawmakers and police. How should we handle young kids who have tantrums and get out of control at school? Is handcuffing them and taking them away really our only course of action? I would love to hear from teachers and police officers out there, as well as from parents — I'm curious to find out what the policy usually is when a child gets out of control at school.

What do you think? Should the police be called on tantruming kindergartners? Should the school handle it? Or should parents be called to come and get their kids?


Elisabeth Wilkins is the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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