In Texas, a December report from the nonprofit Texas Appleseed, a public interest group, says more than 275,000 non-traffic tickets are issued to juveniles each year. While it is unclear how many are written at school, the group says the vast majority are for offenses most commonly linked to incidents like disrupting the class and disorderly conduct.
Texas Sen. John Whitmire said educators and police need to better distinguish between who they are afraid of and who they are mad at.
"If you are afraid of someone because they bring a gun or drugs, of course we come down hard," Whitmire said. "It's the kids that just make you mad that you don't need to make a crime."
In Albuquerque, which started tracking arrests after noticing more minor cases coming from schools, more than 900 of the district's 90,000 students were referred to the criminal justice system in the 2009-2010 school year. Of those, more than 500 were handcuffed, arrested and brought to juvenile detention, officials said. More than 200 were arrested for minor offenses, including disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, refusing to obey and interference with staff.
Preliminary numbers indicate arrests have fallen 53 percent since the class-action lawsuit was filed in 2010, prompting law enforcement officials to order more caution.
Albuquerque school officials have declined comment on school arrests, citing the pending litigation.
But juvenile advocates and parents say first arrests could lead to more trouble.
Annette Montano says her 13-year-old son was arrested at a middle school for burping in gym class. The tension between him and school officials led to several more run-ins, she said, including a strip search after he was accused of selling drugs.
In Georgia, Salecia's family said the girl has been suspended for the school year.
Her aunt said, "We would not like to see this happen to another child, because it's horrifying."
Associated Press writers Dorie Turner and Jeff Martin in Atlanta, Jamie Stengle in Dallas, Michael Melia in Hartford, Conn., and Ivan Moreno in Denver also contributed to this story.
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