Students with disabilities are arrested or referred to court by police officers stationed in their schools at higher rates than most other students, a report from the American Civil Liberties Union finds.

The trend corresponds with an uptick in overall arrests and court referrals of students as more and more public schools have full-time police officers patrolling campuses. Too often such police officers lack guidelines regarding their role on campus and how to provide discipline, the advocacy group charges. That can lead to police intervention in cases where traditional school discipline would be more appropriate.

In South Carolina, for example, the charge of “disturbing schools” was the most common reason for a juvenile court referral during the 2007-2008 school year. Meanwhile, 15 percent of delinquency referrals in Florida were for school-related incidents.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Students with disabilities and those of color are disproportionately more likely to be involved with law enforcement at school, increasing a trend whereby children are pushed from public schools into the justice system, the authors say.

“There are serious problems with relying too heavily on police to maintain order and to provide discipline without ensuring that police understand exactly how they fit within the overarching educational framework of schools,” said I. India Geronimo, a co-author of the report. “When arresting kids for misbehaving becomes the primary mode of discipline, some of our most vulnerable populations end up being unnecessarily criminalized at very young ages before alternatives that could lead to academic success are exhausted.”

The report recommends that schools institute a series of policy guidelines and minimum training requirements for police officers based in schools.