No School For Troublemakers

In city after city this school year the trend is unmistakable, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart. Student expulsions due to deadly threats jumped tenfold from May of last year to this year -- and since classes have now resumed, they're up sharply again.

One Kentucky second-grader and his grandmother - whose names we agreed not to use - have learned that the hard way. His problems began with a classroom scuffle.

"The boy had hit him and kicked him in the leg. And then he turned around and hit the boy back - and the teacher saw him," says the boy's grandmother.

But the teacher also heard the eight-year-old mumble how he'd like to blow the other kid's head off, and that immediately earned the grandmother a call from the county district attorney.

"...They informed me that he had been charged with terroristic threatening by the principal," says the grandmother.

It's no accident that the expulsion trend has strongly paralleled a recent spat of school shootings in such places as Jonesboro, Ark.; Paducah, Ky; and Pearl, Miss.

But what's surprising, say some educators and attorneys, is the age of many of the kids now being expelled and thrown into the court system -- and the curious nature of some of their perceived threats.

"I represent children as young as seven and eight years old who are being charged [and] who don't have a clue as to what the hearing is all about," says Kim Brooks, a children's lawyer in Kentucky.

There's the case, for example, of a pair of Georgia elementary school kids suspended for making up a list of people they wanted to harm. It included the Spice Girls and Barney, the purple dinosaur.

In Arizona, another student wrote a fictional account of an escaped convict who murdered a teacher. That's earned him nine days out of school.

As for the eight-year-old that threatened to blow his classmate's head off, his grandmother says he got the idea from the Power Rangers.

"I think what we've done is taken language or comments that are clearly not appropriate and we - we've all of a sudden changed the rules. And now they've become criminal," says Brooks.

Many parents think that's just fine if it succeeds in reducing the chance of violence in schools. The only problem, according to juvenile experts, is that some schools are seizing on that fear to get rid of any student deemed a trouble maker -- including some, like the eight-year-old mentioned earlier -- who is diagnosed as a manic depressive with attention deficiency disorder.

Vince Schiraldi, a juvenile justice expert, believes this new hard line not only gives some kids an undeserved juvenile record, but it also causes problems for the schools.

"I'm fearful that the way this is going to play out is through litigation," says Schiraldi. "I think what's gonna happen is that principals and teachers are going to overreact the other way now. They're going to geexpulsion happy, and they're going to get sued for it."

Indeed, legal action is a prospect that the eight-year-old's grandmother is already contemplating - and that more and more educators in this country seem perfectly willing to risk.

Reported by Jim Stewart
©1998, CBS Worldwide Inc., All Rights Reserved
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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