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New data: Over 100 elementary-aged children arrested in U.S. schools

Hundreds of kids arrested at schools
Handcuffs in Hallways: Hundreds of elementary students arrested at U.S. schools 06:19

Police arrested more than 100 children at elementary schools during the 2020-2021 school year, according to newly released data analyzed by CBS News.

The Department of Education data showed fewer young children were arrested at school than in previous years. This is likely in part because students were learning remotely rather than in person due to the pandemic, a senior Department of Education official said in a call with reporters.

In elementary schools alone, about 3,500 so-called "referrals to law enforcement" — where a student is reported to police but not arrested — were also counted in the data.

Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, said the number of elementary school arrests and referrals was "enormously distressing."

"My heart is broken when I know that those kinds of circumstances take place, period." Llamon said.  "And we are examining whether there's a civil rights component to it that needs to be addressed as part of our job in the Civil Rights Office of the Department of Education."

The data, published on Nov. 15, is the only national survey of civil rights at schools in the country. It highlighted a range of disparities faced by students of color and students with disabilities, including access to more advanced curriculum, internet availability, and school discipline.

Last year, CBS News reported on arrests in elementary schools using similar data from the 2017-2018 school year. That year, CBS News counted more than 700 arrests in grades 1 through 5.

That data showed children with disabilities in elementary school were 4 times more likely to be arrested at school than those without disabilities. This latest data shows similar disparities: those with disabilities such as ADHD or autism were still four times more likely to be arrested at school.

The same was true for students of color, who were arrested at more than twice the rate of white students.

The arrest of children in school, particularly young children, has been the subject of criticism in recent years. Recent incidents in Maryland, Colorado and Texas, for example, sparked public outrage and lawsuits against police.

A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate in May 2023 would ban schools from using restraints such as handcuffs on children for disciplinary reasons, though it wouldn't prevent police from making arrests entirely.

In 2022, a bill designed to reduce school arrests, the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act, failed to pass.

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