11-year old autistic boy handcuffed and charged with a felony after causing trouble at school
School policing (Shutterstock)

Kayleb Moon-Robinson, a sixth grader at Linkhorne Middle School in Lynchburg, Virginia, who was diagnosed with autism, had just turned 11 when he was arrested by a police officer assigned to the school and charged with disorderly conduct. His crime was kicking a trash can when he was scolded for misbehavior at school.

But Kayleb’s trouble with the law didn’t end there. Just weeks later, he was arrested again by the same school officer for leaving class with other kids and thus breaking a new rule set just for him—to wait when other kids left. This time, he was charged with, in addition to disorderly conduct, felony assault on a police officer, because he “fought back” when the officer was called for by the principal, according to his mother, Stacey Doss.

“He grabbed me and tried me to take me to the office. I started pushing him away. He slammed me down and he handcuffed me,” Kayleb described what happened that day.

In early April, Kayleb was found guilty of all those charges by a Lynchburg juvenile court judge. If Doss appeals and loses, Kayleb’s felony may remain on file forever, even though public access is limited.

Unfortunately, Kayleb’s is not a singular case. Kids across the country, especially minorities, are being pushed into this “school-to-prison pipeline.” According to a report by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), nationally, six for every 1,000 students were referred to law enforcement. Virginia tops the list among all states with 16 referrals for every 1,000 students, followed by Delaware with almost 15, Florida with more than 12, Wyoming and New Hampshire with nearly 12. Some of these kids are as young as four years old.

Special-needs students and students of color are overly represented in these referred cases. In Chesterfield County, Virginia, for instance, 3,538 criminal complaints against students were filed over the past three academic years. Over half of these students were African Americans, although they only represent 26 percent of the enrollment.

As of now, the Department of Education does not require schools to explain these referrals.

Read the report from Center for Public Integrity.