5 Year-old Handcuffed in NYC School: A Human Rights Crisis in U.S. Public Schools


NESRI has released this statement in response to the human rights crisis in U.S. schools:

January 25, 2008

In New York City on January 17, a five year-old kindergarten student was handcuffed by a school safety agent and sent to a psychiatric ward for evaluation after throwing a tantrum and shoving items off of his principal’s desk. This disturbing incident is just one example of the abusive treatment that students face from police and school safety agents in New York City public schools, and in school districts around the country. Over the past two years, there have been numerous high profile incidents demonstrating the devastating consequences that police involvement in school disciplinary matters can have, from the similar arrest of a five–year old in Florida, to the arrest of a school principal in New York City for intervening with the police on behalf of a student, to the events in Jena, Louisiana.

These incidents highlight a widespread and systemic human rights crisis facing public schools in the United States whereby low-income African American and Latino students are being criminalized and pushed out of schools. Discipline policies rely on punitive, zero-tolerance approaches that suspend, expel and arrest students, denying them their right to education and dignity in schools. There must be a fundamental shift in how safety and discipline policies are viewed in this country. Discipline should be a part of learning conflict resolution and positive behavior, and schools should focus on ensuring the right to respect and dignity among students and adults. Basic human rights standards in the Convention on the Rights of the Child require that school policies not violate the dignity of students, cause mental or physical humiliation or harm, or criminalize adolescent behavior, but rather aim their policies at the full development of each child’s abilities. Some school districts like Chicago and Los Angeles have taken first steps towards shifting their approach towards discipline. In 2007, the Los Angeles Unified School District passed a new district policy for School-wide Positive Behavior Support. This policy aims to prevent conflict and thereby decrease student suspensions and disciplinary actions. It seeks to establish a positive school climate, encourage early intervention and teach positive behavioral skills. In 2006, Chicago Public Schools adopted a new system–wide student code of conduct that includes "components of restorative justice, alternatives to out of school suspension, and additional measures aimed to ensure a safe and positive environment for students and school personnel." It is time for New York City schools, and other districts around the country, to take notice of the devastating impact their policies are having on our children, and instead implement positive and preventive discipline practices that will create nurturing environments and keep students in school.

For more information:

"5-year-old boy handcuffed in school, taken to hospital for misbehaving" By Carrie Melago, NY Daily News, Friday, January 25th 2008

NESRI Report: Deprived of Dignity: Degrading Treatment and Abusive Discipline in New York City and Los Angeles Public Schools, March 2007