On June 16, 2016 officers from New Jersey’s Collingswood Police Department were called to Collingswood Elementary school to resolve a dispute between two third graders. One student made a comment about the brownies being served as a snack during an end of the year party. Another student interpreted the comment as racist and, instead of resolving the issue themselves, administrators called in armed police officers to settle the dispute.
Stacy Dos Santos, mother of the nine-year-old accused of making the racist statement, is outraged at the way school administrators chose to handle the situation. She claims that the school overreacted when her son made a comment about snacks, not skin color. Dos Santos told reporters:
“He said they were talking about brownies. . . . Who exactly did he offend?”
Dos Santos isn’t the only parent that is perplexed by the administrators decision to get local authorities involved over a trivial comment. In the past several months multiple parents from the Collingswood school district have come forward to complain that local police were called to the school for non-criminal matters.
Superintendent Scott Oswald estimates that Collingswood police have been called to resolve as many as five incidents a day despite the district only managing 1,875 children. Dos Santos states that her child was traumatized after he was subject to interrogation from an armed police office following the “incident.”
The increased police activity is the result of a May 25th meeting where the Collingswood Police Department, school officials, and representatives from the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office met to discuss the schools disciplinary policy. Both School officials and local police claim they were instructed to report anything that could potentially be considered criminal, including anything “as minor as a simple name-calling incident that the school would typically handle internally.”
Prior to the meeting school officials only reported issues they deemed serious such as any incidents involving weapons, drugs, or sexual misconduct. Oswald claims he and other administrators questioned the policy but had no other choice but to follow direction from the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office. Oswald told reporters:
“It was a pretty clear directive that we questioned vehemently,”
The Prosecutor’s office claims that both the police department and school district misinterpreted what was said at the meeting. Oswald claims this is a clear case of backpedaling on behalf of the Prosecutor’s office.
School Board President David Routzahn claims that the Prosecutor’s office demanded a “higher reporting standard” for incidents but would not comment on the reason for doing so. In a letter issued to parent in the school district on Monday Routzahn claimed he was “not aware of any single event” that could have prompted the Prosecutors sudden demands.
Dos Santos, and other parents, have stated that they do not feel comfortable sending their children to the school after several cases of needless police involvement. Dos Santos said she plans on sending her child to another local school district next year.
Dos Santos, police and school officials all declined to comment on the statement made by the nine year old that prompted the police investigation.