School Climate & Safety

Trump’s Supreme Court Pick Has Opined on Student Discipline, School Police

By Evie Blad — January 31, 2017 1 min read
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President Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court said in a dissenting opinion last year that it was inappropriate for a school police officer to arrest a student for behavior that would have previously led to a trip to the principal’s office.

Trump announced Tuesday night his nomination of Neil M. Gorsuch, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver, to fill the spot vacated when Justice Antonin Scalia died last year.

As Mark Walsh writes on his School Law Blog, Gorsuch has weighed in on a number of education-related issues from the bench. But for those concerned with school discipline and law enforcement in schools, his dissent last year is particularly relevant, including language that sounds like it came straight from a discussion of the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline.”

In that case, judges from the 10th Circuit upheld 2-1 a school resource officer’s decision to arrest and handcuff a 7th-grade student for disrupting his class with “fake burps.”

As Mark wrote in his post:

The 2-1 panel majority in A.M. v. Holmes ruled that the officer was immune from liability because it was not clearly established that the student's classroom disruptions were not in violation of a New Mexico law that prohibits interference with the "educational process" at any public or private school... Writing in dissent, Gorsuch said that a student's classroom disruption that would have once resulted in a trip to the principal's office and detention was now leading to the involvement of the police. "And maybe today the officer decides that, instead of just escorting the now-compliant 13-year-old to the principal's office, an arrest would be a better idea," Gorsuch said. "So out come the handcuffs and off goes the child to juvenile detention. My colleagues suggest the law permits exactly this option. ... Respectfully, I remain unpersuaded."

Such discussions about the role of law enforcement in schools have been a topic of much debate in recent years. To learn more about the issue, read Education Week’s Policing America’s Schools series.

The first part of the package, released last week, includes an analysis of the school police issue as education civil rights enter a new era under the Trump administration; an interactive data tool that explores school arrests, referrals to law enforcement, and racial disparities at every school in the country; a Q and A with a student who was arrested for protesting an officer’s violent treatment of her classmate; and a look at research on school policing. And we will soon release two more stories that explore how individual districts are handling the issue.

As the School Law Blog notes, Gorsuch made another decision that’s notable in the school discipline world when he was among a 2013 panel that unanimously ruled a school did not violate the constitutional rights of a student with disabilities when it placed him in a “timeout room.”

Read more about Gorsuch and education here.

Follow @evieblad on Twitter or subscribe to Rules for Engagement to get blog posts delivered directly to your inbox.

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

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