Wednesday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Reporting on the Plight of Troubled Children, Chicago Tribune

The newspaper learned the state’s main emergency youth shelter in Chicago’sBronzeville neighborhood was overcrowded . . . Police reports, state data, and more than two dozen interviews showed that a lack of available foster homes and other options for hard-to-place children meant some were staying there much longer than a 30-day limit, thus creating occasional overcrowding that had grown worse in recent months.

A runaway problem at the shelter requires hundreds of police visits a year. And the newspaper found that a growing number of older teens with criminal histories are put under the same roof as much younger children – including babies.

State Study: Fewer Kids Getting Arrested at School, Orlando Sentinel

A new state study says the number of students arrested at schools was cut in half during the past eight years, which “correlates” with a decline in juvenile delinquency.

The Department of Juvenile Justice report says school arrests fell from more than 24,189 in the 2004-05 school year to 12,520 last year. School delinquency arrests fell 36 percent during the same period.

“While these numbers continue to move in the right direction, there is much work to be done to reduce unnecessary arrests in our schools,” Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters said in a statement. “Misdemeanors accounted for 67 percent of all school-related arrests and 51 percent of schoolchildren were arrested last year for their first offense.”

Howard Mediation Center Resolving Conflict at Schools, The Baltimore Sun

Unexplained yet simmering enmity exploded into a series of face-to-face confrontations among about 20 girls at the Homewood Center. Teachers got hurt preventing the arguments from becoming physical, and hallways were often deemed unsafe.

That’s when Howard Community College’s Mediation and Conflict Resolution Center stepped in. The group conducted two informal meetings with the girls — all of whom sat in a circle and took turns talking. Then center staff trained Homewood staff in its mediation and resolution practices.  The Mediation and Conflict Resolution Center has been dealing with conflict in the Howard community for the past 22 years, including boundary disputes between neighbors, anger-management issues of college athletes and disagreements among teacher groups.

At Homewood, not only were the problems between the girls defused; according to Homewood Center statistics on discipline, between a four-month period before the practices were implemented and the four months after, out-of-school suspensions decreased from 196 to 148, office behavior referrals decreased from 299 to 76 and absences decreased from 2,131 to 1,860.

Jefferson Attorney Seeks to Open Juvenile Courts, Louisville Kentucky Courier-Journal

If Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell has his way, Kentucky’s judicial system could undergo a drastic overhaul in the coming year – with a severe loosening of some of the strictest juvenile court secrecy laws in the nation. O’Connell has  proposed a bill that would lift the cloak of confidentiality in juvenile court, following through on a promise he made in July amid controversy over the high-profile case of 17-year-old Savannah Dietrich, who’d been threatened with a contempt charge for tweeting the names of two boys who assaulted her.

Under the proposal, all felony cases involving juveniles aged 13 or older would be open to the public, and other cases in juvenile and family courts would be presumed to be open unless the judge or one of the parties involved could show a good reason to close the hearing.

It’s Easier to Change a Condom Than A Diaper

The principal at Pittsfield High School has been receiving complaints about a Girls Inc. program, which is an instructional program teaching young girls about the risks associated with sex. Apparently, the instructors have handed out a flier, which had 32 phrases described as “Condom Sayings,” including “Practice safe sex – make love with a Trojan,” and “Condoms are easier to change then [sic] diapers.” One specific parent found these phrases to be crass and didn’t approve of their distribution to his 11th grade daughter. He is quoted as saying, “It has no finesse at all; its too blunt and ignorant.”

Forgive my bluntness, but what I think is ignorant is the concept that pretending like sex doesn’t exist and not teaching our children the consequences of what can happen if one doesn’t practice safe sex (as well as discussing the importance of being emotionally and maybe spiritually ready to have sex at all) is going to solve the problem of sexually transmitted infections, teenage pregnancy, and overly sexually active teenagers.

I think this kind of material, although perhaps seemingly trivializing a very serious matter, instead serves to lighten the mood to a topic that often breeds insecurity and shyness out of high school girls. It gets the girls talking. I think that is important. We cannot shelter our children so much that they have no idea how to intellectually discuss the consequences of their actions. It is that naiveté that often leaves a girl without a clue. These same girls have never thought of the costs (and perhaps benefits) of having sex, therefore when the opportunity presents itself, they haven’t done a thorough evaluation of whether or not they are emotionally, spiritually, or physically ready to engage in sexual behavior. It is often in those times when girls are most capable of being pressured into having sex. When a girl is armed with knowledge of the possible outcomes of her actions and has perhaps practiced ways of turning a potential partner down or even practiced confirming that said partner is using protection, she is stronger and better fueled to make a more appropriate decision. This assertiveness is key to a young girl making the decision that she will be proud of.

Parents seem to think that if they can shelter their kids to the Rated-R happenings of the world, then their children will stay young and innocent forever. The problem with this way of thinking is that a parent’s guidance, however laced with good intention it is, is not the only guidance that the child is receiving. That girl is hearing about sex from other girls, from boys trying to sexually pursue her, from television shows, from songs on the radio, and on the Internet. It is my opinion that I would rather my future children hear about sex, especially the importance of having safe sex, from me or a teacher or someone who has their best interest in mind. That is why I believe programs like Girls Inc. are a great idea and I am saddened by the negative review it received at this school.

Political correctness won this battle and the principal of the school is going to have to thoroughly review every single piece of information the program distributes and is going to have to be even more careful about parental consent (although parental consent was already required) before allowing children to enter the program. For more information, see here.

Missouri Teacher Facebook Ban: Are there alternatives for other states?

On August 3, 2011, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon signed a controversial law banning teachers and students from “friending” each other on social media websites like Facebook. The law bans all private student-teacher communications online. Facebook logo The law drew immediate praise from parent groups and was denounced by Missouri teachers as an unconstitutional infringement on their free speech rights. Last month, teachers’ groups sued to block the new law’s enforcement. In this preliminary test, the teachers were victorious. As students were preparing to return to school from summer break, Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem blocked the law from taking effect because of fears it may chill free speech. (See a copy of Judge Beetem’s opinion here.) In response, Governor Nixon reversed his position and is now calling for the law to be repealed in a special legislative session starting September 6th. Although the future of the law in Missouri is unclear, the debate raises questions for students, teachers, and parents around the country. Is the value of a regulation like the one enacted in Missouri worth the cost of teachers’ free speech rights? Are the claimed safety benefits worth the potential cost to student learning? Should similar laws be emulated elsewhere? Continue reading