Because of a new statute, fighting at school could result in felony charges for Missouri students, regardless of their age or grade. Police say the new law will deter fighting. But the law is likely to further exacerbate the widespread problems of the school-to-prison pipeline by sending even more children into our criminal justice system.
A new law going into effect on Jan. 1, 2017 could mean up to four years in jail for students involved in school fights.
A statement from the Hazelwood School District explains:
"The way the new statue reads, if a person commits the offense of an assault in the third degree this will now be classified as a Class E Felony, rather than a misdemeanor. If he or she knowingly causes physical injury to another person (hits someone or has a fight with another individual and an injury occurs) – one or both participants may be charged with a Felony."
Students would go to a juvenile detention center, where they'll be charged with a Class E felony—which could result in up to four years in jail, according to KFVS. Currently, if a student hurts somebody in a fight, they're charged with a misdemeanor and released to their parents.
So what exactly does the new statute mean? The Hazelwood School District wrote:
"For example, if two students are fighting and one child is injured, the student who caused the injury may be charged with a felony. Student(s) who are caught fighting in school, bus or on school grounds may now be charged with a felony (no matter the age or grade level), if this assault is witnessed by one of the School Resource Officers/police officers (SRO) or if the SRO/local law enforcement officials have to intervene."
Many people aren't happy about the new law.
"Are we really trying to throw these kids' futures away by giving them a felony charge for something they do in their adolescence, giving them an adult charge when we can do something else to get in front of the situation?" Erica Ussery, a graduate of Hazelwood Central High School, told KTVI.
According to KFVS, Sikeston DPS Sergeant Jon Broom believes the new statute will make students think twice about fighting now that "just a fist fight anymore could definitely mean a felony." He continued, "A felony down the road is something that will definitely hamper you down the road for sure."
Seemingly unaware of the significant issues of the school-to-prison pipeline that he was explicitly promoting, Broom added, "Something that could follow you on down the road and could make life difficult for you."