New Missouri Statute Puts Children Behind Bars for Fist Fights… But It Could Prove More Harmful Than Helpful

When looking back on one’s childhood, there’s almost always at least one fist fight that comes to mind — whether it be by direct involvement or a bystander’s recollection.

According to keepschoolssafe.org, more than one in three students has been in a fist fight by the time they reach high school, and one in seven of those fist fights occurred on school property.

A national survey also indicated that younger students have higher percentages of involvement in fist fights. Although physical violence is never condoned, schools nationwide have struggled to reduce its prevalence in school settings — especially amongst younger students.

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But come January 1st, a fist fight will be seen in a much stricter light, as one Missouri school noted.

KFVS reported that a new statute is going into effect January 1, 2017, that dramatically increases the repercussions for a grade school student if he or she gets into a fight… to the point of jail time.

Rather than the current punishment of being sent home to one’s parents after a fight, as well as being charged with a misdemeanor in the case of inflicting injury, a student in the Show Me state could face up to four years in jail.

And in addition to the jail sentence, a student may also be charged with a Class E felony.

The Hazelwood School District in Sikeston put out a memo which reads:

“Dear Parents/Guardians:

We want to make you aware of a few new State Statutes that will go into effect on January 1, 2017, which may have a drastic impact on how incidents are handled in area school districts.

The way the new statue reads, if a person commits the offense of an assault in the third degree this will now be classified as a Class E Felony, rather than a misdemeanor. If he or she knowingly causes physical injury to another person (hits someone or has a fight with another individual and an injury occurs) – one or both participants may be charged with a Felony.

What does this mean for students?

For example, if two students are fighting and one child is injured, the student who caused the injury may be charged with a felony. Student(s) who are caught fighting in school, bus or on school grounds may now be charged with a felony (no matter the age or grade level), if this assault is witnessed by one of the School Resource Officers/police officers (SRO) or if the SRO/local law enforcement officials have to intervene.”

Sikeston DPS Sergeant Jon Broom told KFVS he thinks parents should make their children very aware of the new statute:

“I would definitely speak with them and talk with them and let them know just a fist fight anymore could definitely mean a felony. Something that could follow you on down the road and could make life difficult for you.”

Image Credit: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Broom also clarified that all students are subject to the statute, no matter their grade level or age.

Some people feel reassured that their children will now be safer going to school. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 65 percent of public schools recorded at least one violent incident had taken place in the 2013-14 school year — bringing the total number of incidents to 757,000.

One woman, responding to the news story on Facebook, said she feels helpless when it comes to physical violence at school:

“This has made me upset knowing that justice cannot be reached and I feel helpless in protecting my children.”

However, many people feel that the higher punishment will do more harm than good for the developing children. This concerned parent says the law itself puts children in danger:

“Kids need to have their time as being kids. This is beyond being out of control They sometimes have to defend them selves and this puts it in a dangerous situations.”

The Arizona State Law Journal found that there has been a trend in public schools for the last 30 years towards involving law enforcement rather than school administrators and teachers to reprimand students. Furthermore, reports suggest that roughly 260,000 students were dealt with by law enforcement during the 2011-2012 school year, while almost 92,000 students were arrested on school property.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, which is devoted to developing a brighter future for millions of children, surmised that severe legal punishment for children is almost certain to have a negative impact:

“America’s heavy reliance on juvenile incarceration does not reduce future offending by youth; provides no overall benefit to public safety; wastes vast sums of taxpayer dollars; and exposes youth to alarming levels of violence and abuse.”

Independent Journal Review reached out to Chief Assistant Public Defender Gordan Weekes — who runs the Juvenile Division in Broward County, Florida, and became one of the first attorneys to specialize in representing children charged as adults.

He said this specific statute was one of the worst he’s ever seen:

“This has to be the most foolhardy approaches to school discipline I’ve ever seen. Over-criminalizing youthful indiscretions and school yard scuffles just does not work. You have to address the underlying cause of the behavior– whether it be unresolved trauma, learning disabilities, or the impact of poverty, if you want to affect meaningful change.

While school districts around the county are implementing common sense strategies to stem the schoolhouse to jailhouse pipeline, this new measure will open the floodgate and have a long lasting negative impact.”

Regardless of whether violence among young kids rises or decreases, school boards are gearing up for any and all altercations, and have asserted their stance on it being completely unacceptable behavior.

What do you think?

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