“The students and teachers have been incredibly supportive of him, which has been wonderful because he was very nervous about returning. He still experiences bouts of anxiety because of his arrest in December, but he is really happy to be back,” said Doug and Catherine Snodgrass in a written statement to Mint Press News.
In a December 2012 drug sweep, an autistic teenager was arrested for drug possession at a Temecula, Calif. public high school. The youth, who has remained anonymous because he was a minor at the time of the incident, was reinstated March 5, after a court ordered that the special needs autistic youth was wrongfully framed for the crime.
His arrest was part of a broader police drug sweep, allegedly an investigation into allegations of widespread drug soliciting at area high schools. The Dec. 11 incident resulted in the arrests of 22 students at three Temecula high schools.
The student’s parents are thrilled to see their son back in school after battling in court to demonstrate that their son, a special needs student was wrongfully targeted during the drug bust.
It turns out that the student’s friend, known only as “Daniel,” was an undercover police officer who coerced the student into trying to purchase marijuana. The student’s parents were glad that their son, who had been struggling to fit in at school, appeared to have a new friend. The two frequently exchanged text messages and spent time together at school.
The case to reinstate him showed that district officials were long aware of the fact that the student has autism, bi-polar disorder and Asperger’s disorder, requiring legally prescribed medications and an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
“District officials don’t appear to be pleased that he has returned, and it’s unfortunate because we would hope that they would be able to put aside and focus on doing what is right for their students,” said the couple.
Instead of trying to protect their students, district officials were complicit in police sting operations targeting special needs students. The judge stated in his ruling to reinstate that “given the numerous negative impacts of Student’s disabilities on his social abilities and judgement, and District’s conduct in leaving Student to fend for himself, anxious and alone, against an undercover police officer, Student has overwhelmingly demonstrated that his actions were a manifestation of his disability.”
Shortly after his arrest, officials held a Manifestation Determination meeting to analyze the student’s case to see if it was substantially caused by the student’s disability or a failure in his Individualized Education Program (IEP). Despite overwhelming evidence showing that the boy was vulnerable, they determined that expulsion was the proper course of action. “They made it clear that they wanted him expelled from all schools in the district,” said the couple.
Failed policies make schools less safe
The student’s case is indicative of a broader policy failure targeting poor students and those with learning disabilities — the most vulnerable student populations.
“One of the greatest obstacles to this is the whole Zero Tolerance discipline policy. It’s one size fits all, allows school districts and law enforcement to circumvent the protections offered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,” said the couple.
Zero Tolerance disciplinary policies borne out of the Reagan-era “war on drugs” have led to what policy experts call a “school to prison pipeline,” where students like Snodgrass’ son are wrongly penalized for circumstances outside their control.
There has led to a slow rollback in these type of policies, as educators and crime experts show that tough-on-drug policies make schools less safe and fail to help students flourish in their learning environments.
The American Psychological Association produced a comprehensive report in 2008 examining 20 years of Zero Tolerance school policies, recommending, “both reforming zero tolerance where its implementation is necessary and for alternative practice to replace zero tolerance where a more appropriate approach is indicated.”
Despite increasing criticism, the majority of public schools still have zero tolerance policies in place. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 94 percent of U.S. schools have zero-tolerance policies for weapons or firearms and 87 percent for alcohol. Roughly 79 percent report mandatory suspensions or expulsions for violence or tobacco.
This has lead to an increase in the number of young Americans behind bars. There are now more than 70,000 incarcerated youth in the U.S. and more than 500,000 that pass in and out of detention facilities in any given year. However, these numbers do not reflect the increased numbers of youth tried and convicted as adults.
Although comprising just 8.6 percent of the general student population, students with disabilities make up 32 percent of the youth prison population.
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