Juvenile Justice officials worry schools "dumping" problem kids
Juvenile justice officials expressed concern Thursday that school districts are dumping their problem kids on the streets with nowhere to go but into trouble.
“It’s the most frustrating thing I’m dealing with,” said Clark County Family Court Judge Bob Gaston.
He said problem kids and even those who merely miss too many classes get kicked out of school.
“It’s a pushing out rather than setting up programs for these at risk students,” he said. “For them, it’s easier to bump them out.”
Michael Fitzgerald of the state Education Department agreed that school districts often “bump out” those students who cause them trouble.
“We’re removing more students from mainstream classrooms without a place for them to go,” he said. “The school district is not doing a service to the school, the student or the community if the only consequence for a behavior is to remove the student from the system.”
The majority of those students, officials agreed, are not dangerous, just disruptive.
The effect of kicking them out of school, according to Gaston, Clark County’s Family and Youth Services Director Kirby Burgess and Metro Police spokesman Stan Olsen, is to dump them on the street where they often wind up in much more serious trouble.
Olsen said many kids who aren’t serious criminal offenders can turn to crime because, “When they’re on the streets, that’s when the gangs can get at them.”
Gaston and Burgess agreed the big problem is there just aren’t enough programs to teach kids who have had problems with regular school settings.
And Gaston said even when the juvenile justice system gets a kid back on track, staying out of trouble and trying to get back in school, the school district won’t take him.
“If the school district does not want to develop programs for this population of students, we can handle it,” said Gaston. “If the dollars that follow that student come to the judicial system.”
Burgess said the funding must follow the student because his department doesn’t have the money.
“I’m limited in my ability to provide programs,” he said.
But he said it would be worth it in the long run to society: “The investment should be made in these kids.”
Study committee member Assemblyman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, a high school teacher, said it’s not that simple because the per-pupil money school districts get is set at the beginning of the year. He said even if one student goes elsewhere, he was almost certainly replaced by a student who came into the district. He said it’s not possible for school districts to have part of their budget taken away after they’ve already committed to teacher contracts and other resources for the year.
Anderson said a separate source needs to be developed for those types of programs but agreed some sort of program is needed to serve those students.
“His observation is absolutely correct,” he said. “We do squeeze kids out of the system without giving them a fair hearing and without somewhere to go.”
Anderson said the state needs to develop alternatives and fund them so that students who don’t do well in regular schools have a place to go where they can still get an education.
He said there should be a program in place for those kids because it can’t be set up on the spur of the moment when kids get kicked out of school.
“If we are to save these kids on the front end, we’d better start doing something practical now,” said Burgess.