School Climate & Safety

Middle School Student Handcuffed, Charged With Crime For Taking Free Milk

By Evie Blad — May 24, 2016 2 min read
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The mother of a Virginia middle school student says her son was handcuffed, charged with a crime, and suspended from school after he retrieved a carton of milk he get for free through the National School Lunch Program, ABC affiliate WJLA reports.

On May 10, after filling his lunch tray, Ryan Turk returned to the lunch line to pick up a carton of milk, the station reports. A Prince William County Police Officer working in the school accused Turk, who is black, of stealing the milk. He was handcuffed after police said he was disorderly. From WJLA:

The teenager said he indeed pulled back from the officer. 'I yanked away from him I told him to get off of me because he's not my Dad,' the middle school student said. Ryan was then taken to the principal's office and searched for drugs, his mother said. 'Because he was fidgety, kept pulling on the strings of his pants, and laughing when we were trying to talk to him and just wouldn't talk,' Shamise Turk said. Ryan Turk has since been charged with larceny and ordered to appear in Juvenile Court."

What Should School Police Do Differently?

Some civil rights and student groups have said police should be removed from schools all together because they often unfairly target students of color for overly harsh discipline. Others have said schools need to do a better job setting boundaries between routine disciplinary issues better handled by school administrators and the kinds of crime or violence that school police should respond to.

Discipline reform advocates have also said school-based officers should be trained in conflict de-escalation techniques that are sensitive to students’ development and experience with trauma. That sort of training could stop a misunderstanding over a carton of milk from growing, they say.

There’s little consistency in the way school-based officers are trained. As the American Institutes for Research notes, despite the special concerns of working in school settings, many states don’t have laws setting training requirements for school-based officers.

Some took to Twitter on Tuesday to react to the story.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.

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