by Mary Kingston Roche, Director of Policy, Institute for Educational Leadership
Imagine being placed in handcuffs for throwing a “temper tantrum.” Now imagine being six years old. This is what happened to Kaia Rolle on September 20 at the public charter school in Orlando, Fla. that she attends.
What led to this moment is a cascade of failures by adults to protect, love, and support Kaia. These failures are localized examples of broader national failures our country is committing toward children every day. We want to call out these failures below, because that’s the only way we can see how broken things are in order to fix them.
1. The school resource officer failed to receive approval to arrest a child under age 12. (Broader failure: that arrests of children under age 12 are routinely practiced.)
2. The Orlando Police Department knowingly placed an officer in a school who previously had been charged with abusing his seven-year-old son and using excessive force while on the job.
3. Kaia’s grandmother said that Kaia’s behavior in class stemmed from her sleep apnea, which prevented her from getting enough rest the night before. The school did not know, failed to ask, or did not take action to address Kaia’s sleep apnea and support her to be successful in school.
Now take away these failures, and African-American children like Kaia still have to face the impact of systemic racism that leads to an adult actually putting handcuffs on a six year-old child. This same systemic racism results in disproportionate discipline for children of color and those with disabilities in terms of referrals to law enforcement and school-related arrests, according to data from the 2015-2016 U. S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection.
It is clear from this event which adults failed Kaia, and we should hold them accountable. But in order for things to change, and for seemingly unimaginable stories like this to end, we must hold ourselves accountable as well. When we witness the failure of adults who are in positions of authority to protect and support our children, we must call out the failure and demand accountability. Then we must collectively fight for the rights, policies, and basic human decency to which our children are entitled. At the same time, let us tell children like Kaia that they are loved, and let us act like adults and protect them so children like Kaia can enjoy being children.