Elementary school call the cops after 'racist' statement...about brownies?

This story is crazy. From Philly.com:

On June 16, police were called to an unlikely scene: an end-of-the-year class party at the William P. Tatem Elementary School in Collingswood.

A third grader had made a comment about the brownies being served to the class. After another student exclaimed that the remark was “racist,” the school called the Collingswood Police Department, according to the mother of the boy who made the comment.

The police officer spoke to the student, who is 9, said the boy’s mother, Stacy dos Santos, and local authorities.

Dos Santos said that the school overreacted and that her son made a comment about snacks, not skin color.

A couple of things to note here. First, it wasn’t the teacher but another student who determined the remark about the brownie was racist. So, apparently, a 9-year-old social justice warrior prompted this overreaction (read on because there’s more to it). The story tells us nothing more about this student. Was he or she a minority? What might have prompted him or her to think this was a racial remark in the first place?

Second, we have no way to judge how out of line the comment was (if at all) because the story never tells us what was said. All we know is that a boy apparently said something about the color of the brownies, something which another child deemed awkward or problematic.

Now at this point I can imagine all sorts of comments a 9-year-old might make, everything from the innocuous ‘I don’t like dark chocolate’ to various uncomfortable but still innocent variations on this theme. What’s hard to imagine is what could have been said that actually would merit a call to the police. That seems to go way beyond what this situation called for. As the mother of the boy tells Philly.com, “There was a police officer with a gun in the holster talking to my son, saying, ‘Tell me what you said.’ He didn’t have anybody on his side.”

And the interrogation of a 9-year-old wasn’t the end of it. Later, the police informed the family that the incident had been reported to New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency. It’s not clear what that organization was supposed to do but presumably they are now going to open some kind of file on this family.

If you’re wondering why the teacher would call the police in the first place, there is more to the story. The county prosecutor has told the school district to report anything that happens, even relatively minor incidents, to the local police. The school district has published a letter on the school’s website saying very explicitly that they do not support this new mandate from the prosecutor. It reads in part:

First, I would like to make it clear that the Board of Education does not support this directive. The directive from the Prosecutor’s Office is based upon an overly strict interpretation of a document known as A Uniform State Memorandum of Agreement between Education and Law Enforcement Officials…

It is routine practice in all Collingswood Schools to conduct an initial assessment of every school-based issue and report every potentially criminal issue to the police; the difference
between the reporting requirements today and those prior to May 25 is that the CCPO now defines almost every issue as a “potentially criminal issue.”

No one will quite say why but it seems to involve something that happened at the local high school. There may have been some delay in reporting an incident (which is still under investigation) and now the word has gone out to report everything immediately to the police.

Obviously if there was a beating or a sexual assault by a student or teacher and the local high school failed to report that in a timely manner, the prosecutor was right to reinforce the idea that crimes need to be directed to the people who deal with crimes. Perhaps there is some threat of a lawsuit involved which has the county feeling defensive. Still, some adult should have pointed out that this doesn’t need to include 3rd graders making comments about brownies.

You have a lot of people who probably ought to feel ashamed of themselves in this story, starting with the county prosecutors who didn’t think about how their directive would be implemented, the teacher who went along and called the police in this case, the cop who showed up and investigated as if this were a potential crime, the kid who called a comment about brownies “racist” (though it seems likely that kid was as surprised at the reaction as anyone), even the person who failed to report the incident at the high school which seems to have prompted all of this.

The person who seems least likely to have anything to be ashamed of here is the 9-year-old who was traumatized by this incident. Even if his comment was genuinely inappropriate, which seems unlikely, it never should have become a law enforcement matter.

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