Little Rock police officers pepper-sprayed a number of J.A. Fair High students during a brawl in the school lobby just before making arrests Wednesday afternoon, records show.
Jamion Ireland and Javarass Bibbs, both 18, were charged with misdemeanor third-degree battery, taken to the Pulaski County jail and released the next morning without posting bond, according to city and county documents.
Their arrests come just months after Pulaski County officials began tracking school-based arrests as part of a nationwide initiative to curb the incarceration of young people. Police involvement in schools is worrisome, advocates contend, because it leads to more kids in jails -- a problem that extends beyond Arkansas.
In August and September, 18 students were arrested on J.A. Fair's campus, more than all other schools in the county. During the same time period, 13 kids were arrested at Hall High School and 10 kids at McClellan High.
Last month, 49 of 105 juvenile arrests took place at schools, Pulaski County records also show.
Statewide numbers, maintained by the U.S. Department of Education, show that in the 2013-14 academic year, 557 Arkansas children were arrested at schools, and 1,191 were referred to the juvenile court system.
"Kids don't need to be arrested for everything they say and do in a school setting," said Pulaski County Circuit Judge Joyce Warren. "That's how the school-to-prison pipeline gets started."
Warren has worked in the youth-justice field for nearly 30 years and leads the county's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, a program established in the 1990s by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a research organization that focuses on child well-being.
At the time Warren was interviewed, it was unclear what happened at J.A. Fair -- the first arrest reports only noted that fighting took place. Her remarks were more general and to the point that "some things don't need to be in court."
At an initiative meeting last week, Jacksonville Police Chief John Franklin said that certain school officials wanted resource officers -- police who work in schools and are funded by the district -- to be tougher on students, to Warren's apparent dismay.
"We want to work with the schools to try to resolve these issues when minor violence breaks out, without putting them in the juvenile-justice system," Franklin later told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
The Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District now has a zero-tolerance policy regarding fights, the police chief said. All students involved will be arrested, cited and required to appear before a juvenile-court judge.
Bryan Duffie, superintendent of the district, said that "it is the expectation... to have good order and discipline in our schools," but that the district supports school resource officers' discretion in determining whether an incident warrants a citation or arrest.
Youth advocates say that schools' zero-tolerance policies drive incarceration.
For instance, a 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union found that such policies "contributed to the over-criminalization of the classroom" and that "infractions that in the past would have led to a trip to the principal's office and a sharp warning or detention now become the basis of out-of-school suspension, expulsion, or, increasingly, a trip to the police station."
J.A. Fair High administrators also sanctioned Ireland and Bibbs, according to a separate police report.
Pamela Smith, spokesman for the Little Rock School District, said in an email to the Democrat-Gazette about the school-arrest issue that a lot of conflict on school grounds "originate in the community and spill over to the school campus."
"When we are made aware of an issue, we proactively address it to try to prevent and/or mitigate the impact it will have on the school environment," Smith wrote. "We work daily to promote a positive culture that supports students and to provide a safe school environment that is conducive to learning."
Smith also said that schools use peer mediation and conflict resolution so students "feel comfortable sharing their concerns with staff prior to incidents occurring."
The latest fight at J.A. Fair occurred when Ireland began "behaving in an irate manner" and attacked an unnamed student, brushing off a school coach's attempts to calm him down, police reports said. Bibbs soon joined the fight, which unfolded after dismissal as most students headed to buses.
When asked about the officers' use of force, how de-escalation techniques were applied and the severity of the fight, Lt. Michael Ford Jr., spokesman for the Little Rock Police Department, said, "Officers are allowed to use pepper spray, even on juveniles."
Officers had warned the students that they were about to be sprayed before deploying a burst of chemicals in their direction, the police report said. They stopped fighting, Ireland was immediately handcuffed and Bibbs ran out the door before security guards escorted him back to the building, where he was handcuffed, the report continued.
The report also noted that the students underwent decontamination, emergency medical workers responded to the scene and no one involved in the fight complained of injuries.
A Section on 10/27/2018
Print Headline: LR school brawl stirs debate on jailing kids