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Over the last several years, Clayton County, Georgia has made substantial improvement in the number of students being sent from schools to the juvenile justice system. In the summer of 2004, members of the juvenile justice system, law enforcement, the local school system, and social services groups teamed up to draft a cooperative agreement aimed at limiting the overall number of school referrals to juvenile court and reducing the disproportionate contact students of color have with school discipline and the juvenile justice system.

This effort was spearheaded by Judge Steven Teske, a juvenile court judge in Clayton County, Georgia. Judge Teske learned that referrals to law enforcement skyrocketed as soon as school resource officers were stationed at local schools. In fact, in the mid to late nineties, there were only 89 referrals per year, but in 2004, after the placement of these officers, referrals increased to 1,400. To combat these numbers, in 2001, Judge Teske helped enact a school conflict diversion program as an alternative to law enforcement. Also, Judge Teske found that those students who became involved with the court system were more likely to recidivate, or commit another crime at a later point, than those who were disciplined more informally or were enrolled in a diversion program instead. He also found that zero tolerance was widely used throughout county schools despite the fact that there was little to no evidence of its effectiveness. After speaking with parents and other citizens, Judge Teske learned that they too were concerned and were willing to support any other efforts he undertook to reverse these statistics.

Judge Teske decided to spearhead a community-driven process to create an agreement that would prevent and reduce the number of referrals to juvenile court. To engage as many people as possible to form a working group, he spoke with local civic groups and churches, and placed an advertisement in local newspapers.

To ensure that the working group’s product would be effective, the members engaged in the following steps:

  • Identified key stakeholders and gained their input and perspective, including school officials, juvenile court officials, prosecutors, public defenders, law enforcement members, and county citizens;
  • Identified a neutral moderator to lead the group and developed principles and guidelines for drafting the agreement;
  • Educated stakeholders on best practices, namely that low-risk youth be sent to diversion programs; and
  • Mandated cross-training be provided to law enforcement, counselors, school staff, and juvenile intake officials to ensure understanding of how to use the agreement before it was put in place.

The resulting cooperative agreement ensures that “misdemeanor delinquent acts,” like fighting, disrupting the public school, disorderly conduct, most obstruction of police, and most criminal trespass, do not result in the filing of a complaint unless the student commits a third or subsequent similar offense during the school year, and the principal conducts a review of the student’s behavior plan. Thus, youth receive warnings after a first offense and referral to mediation or school conflict training programs after a second offense. Furthermore, elementary school-aged youth cannot be referred to law enforcement for “misdemeanor delinquent acts” if committed on school premises.

Since 2004, when the agreement was implemented, the existence of dangerous weapons on campuses has decreased by 70%. Moreover, police officers’ relationships with students have improved, allowing students to converse more comfortably with the officers and be more willing to provide critical information on serious school crimes when necessary. In addition, the Clayton County Public Schools Blue Ribbon Commission on School Discipline found that after the cooperative agreement was put into place, there was an 87% decrease in fighting offenses and a 36% decrease among other “Focus Acts,” which includes disorderly conduct, obstruction of an officer, and disrupting a public school. Furthermore, there was also an 86% and 64% decrease in referrals for fighting and disruption of public school offenses, respectively, specifically for African American youth.  Since the protocol was implemented, graduation rates have increased by 20%.

Judge Teske and the working group will continue to monitor the agreement’s effects, collect data, and make any necessary changes in the future.

The Cooperative Agreement
Blue Ribbon Commission on School Discipline Report

For more information, contact:
Steven C. Teske

Juvenile Court of Clayton County
Georgia Clayton County Courthouse
Annex 3 121 S. McDonough Street
Third Floor Jonesboro, GA 30236
T: 770-477-3260
[email protected]