A New Jersey elementary school called the police after a third-grade student commented about the brownies being served in class and another student called the remark “racist.”
A police officer from the Collingswood Police Department showed up at William P. Tatem Elementary School to question the boy, who is 9.
The boy’s mother, Stacy dos Santos, said the school’s response was a complete overreaction.
“He said they were talking about brownies … Who exactly did he offend?” she told philly.com.
Police later contacted the boy’s father and referred the incident to the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency. The boy stayed home from the last day of school.
Ms. dos Santos said her son was “traumatized” by the event. Despite graduating from the Collingswood system herself and sending her eldest child through district’s schools, she plans to send her 9-year-old son to a different school in the fall.
“I’m not comfortable with the administration,” Ms. dos Santos told philly.com. “I don’t trust them and neither does my child. He was intimidated, obviously. 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.”
This is not the first time that William P. Tatem Elementary and other schools in the Collingswood district have called the police on students for seemingly minor infractions.
This episode came after a May 25 meeting between the police department, school officials and the prosecutor’s office, in which school officials were told to report any incidents that could be considered criminal.
Police Chief Kevin Carey said that includes even something “as minor as a simple name-calling incident that the school would typically handle internally,” philly.com reported.
Superintendent Scott Oswald estimated that, on some days, officers have been called to district schools as many as five times.
Outraged parents have been lobbying elected officials to put an end to the practice. They met with Mayor James Maley and started a petition calling on the prosecutor’s office to “stop mandated criminal investigations of elementary school students.”
Mr. Maley said there was a “misunderstanding” stemming from the May 25 meeting. But Mr. Oswald said the prosecutor’s office is backing away from its own instructions in response to the backlash.
“It was a pretty clear directive that we questioned vehemently,” Mr. Oswald told philly.com.
The mayor also wrote a public letter saying the May 25 meeting was only meant to “reinforce the applicability” of existing protocols, not to “expand” their terms.
Prosecutor Mary Eva Colallilo said in an accompanying statement she hopes the mayor’s letter “clarifies” any confusion over how school officials should respond to such incidents.
Parents said increased police involvement risks creating a deleterious educational environment.
“I don’t want this to happen to another child,” Ms. dos Santos said.