Criminalizing Kindergarteners

What should happen to a boy in kindergarten who has had a history of poor behavior and decides to kick his female principal?  Should she place her hands on him?  Should she call the parents?  There is a trend that is not widely talked about but has happened in more cases than you may anticipate.  This principal called the police and she stands by her decision.  I am going to lay out the pros and cons step by step.  I would love to hear your comments after you read this to know where you stand.

The easiest way for me to lay out this article is to attack it from the prospective of the principal who supports police intervention against those who are against it.  Both sides, in my opinion, have a compelling case.  I will start with the principal perspective, transition to some questions I have from the opposite perspective, and finish with some analysis stemming from my years as a classroom teacher.

A child who hits and kicks in school is nothing new even at such a young age.  (I regretfully inform you that as a first grader; your humble blogger punched his teacher in the nose after being slapped).  What was not stated in the article (link located at the bottom of the page) is why this principal felt the need for such actions.  One reason, of course, could be that she was so angry about being kicked that she may have felt like hurting the child.  Somehow though, I don’t believe that was the reason.  We live in a highly litigious society.  My guess is that she felt like this was a serious situation that she could no longer handle.  Although the article didn’t state this; I will bet you there were events which led to the principal being kicked.  The article did state that another administrator had previously been attacked by the same child.  I’m wondering if the principal feared a lawsuit.  After all, is any child potentially worth losing a career over not to mention several thousands of dollars defending themselves?  A teacher would have a  union which could potentially pay for legal actions.  Principals though do not have this luxury.  Even if they did though, the principal touching a student is still taking a risk.

Another angle is that placing a problematic child in handcuffs sends a message to the student body.  Although this would be a last resort, police are better equipped to deal with “physical matters.”  Other children may look at what happened to child x and decide that this wasn’t a good day to misbehave.  Being scared straight may not be a bad thing providing that the child learns classroom material as opposed to losing his/her temper and committing a violent act.

Let’s transition to the other perspective.  Here are some questions I considered before making my final analysis.

I wonder if placing this student in handcuffs was truly the best answer.  Was there another option not considered.  Was calling the parents out of the question?

What kind of psychological message does placing handcuffs on the student send?  Could this psychological message actually do mental damage to the student charged?  I am not aware of studies which have tracked this.  I will say though that when a person navigates unchartered waters; that person never knows where he/she will land.

Can a 6 year old child understand that he/she can be charged by the police with a misdemeanor?  Would it have mattered if this were a female student and a male principal?  I have a son who will turn 6 soon.  While he knows that kicking is wrong; he would have no clue about the police ramifications.

Final analysis:

When I was a teacher, there were cases where I placed my hands on students.  One story, in particular, was when another teacher took a boys basketball away from a 5th grader and the boy swung towards the ball and the teacher’s face to get the ball back.  I took the student and escorted him out of the building where I kept him until the principal came to take the child.  If the child had fallen and hurt himself, I could have been held liable.  While I realize a kindergartener is much younger; the risk is still the same.

I can’t honestly say I would have called the police in this principal’s circumstance.  But, I am a grown man.  Perhaps this lady is smaller than me and she doesn’t have the risk tolerance that I possess.  Couple this with the ramifications of a lawsuit and my decision is clear.  I am grudgingly on the principal’s side.  It does dishearten me though because there was a time when society was a bit different and problems like this could have easily been handled in house and with the cooperation of parents.

Next week, I will have another post.  Until then, follow me on Facebook at claytonpaulthomas and on Twitter @adad2trust.


  1. FeliciaE25 says:

    I think I agree, we don't why the parents weren't called or maybe they were and they are the ones who suggested it, and in this day and age I am going to lean on the side of calling the police. I have met 6 year olds who were very belligerent and vicious, so much so as to swing metal pipes at other childrens heads.

    As an adult now we can never be to careful to watch out for ourselves in this sue happy culture.

  2. claytonthomas says:

    Felicia- I am sure there is more to this story. I would not be shocked to learn about a long repeated history of problems with this child. I would also bet that the child's parents had probably been contacted more than once. It's a shame though any situation with a kindergarten student has to get to that level.

  3. Katie says:

    Wow! What a sticky situation! I have no idea what I would do! Like you said I'm sure there is more to the story. Thanks for sharing and also, thanks for linking up with us on Thursday for our blog hop! It's always nice when the gents link up with us!
    Hope you found some great reads and that you can join us again next week!
    Thanks again Clayton!
    Dysfunction Junction

  4. My Turn (for us) says:

    Have you joined Lets Get Social Sunday this morning??? If not, lotsa new friends and followers are waiting on you. See Ya There!

    @ My Turn for us