Thursday, June 1, 2023

Arresting a 6-Year-Old Child at School Can’t Be Who We Are

A 6-year-old girl named Kaia Rolle threw a tantrum at her school in September. She lost control and punched and kicked several school employees. And then she calmed down and sat quietly while a school employee read her a story.

Certainly one would expect there to be consequences and interventions in light of her behavior. And a meeting with her parents or legal guardian.

But one would not expect two police officers to enter the school, interrupt her story, and proceed to handcuff the child with zip-ties, arrest her, and lead her out of her school and into a police car. Is it any surprise she was sobbing and pleading “help me, help me, please!” It is gut-wrenching.

Children lose control for lots of reasons, some within and some outside of their control. But it is impossible to think of a single scenario that justifies placing a 6-year-old child’s hands behind her back, bound by zip ties. It is impossible to imagine any convincing reason to arrest that child and send hear away to a “juvenile assessment facility”.

She was terrorized.

The officer was subsequently fired for failing to follow protocol—and that is good. But the way he bragged that Kaia had “broken the record” for his youngest arrest is sickening and indicative of an attitude that is frightening for parents who live in jurisdictions where young school children are treated this way.

Just last week we learned of Nadia, another 6-year-old child who was taken from her school by police. A social worker decided to invoke the Baker Act and have Nadia admitted to a mental healthy facility where she was held for 48 hours —and reportedly injected with a psychotropic drug—without her mother’s knowledge or consent. The mother was not allowed to see her daughter for the two days she was held in the facility.

The Baker Act gives social workers in Florida the power to initiate involuntary holds on children as young as 2 without the need for parental permission. According to the incident report, the child was out of control, throwing chairs and attacking teachers—she was known to have a mood disorder and ADHD.

Even the police officer, who is kind and reassuring to the youngster throughout the ordeal, questions the decision to invoke the Baker Act on this child. Nadia is calm and clearly not out of control when the police arrive and she remains calm on the drive from the school to the facility. It is remarkable and brave, actually.

But let’s imagine the pain and desperation of a parent who finds out from a third party that their 6-year old child has been taken from school by police officers and driven to a mental health facility where they are not permitted to see her for 48 hours. And let’s imagine the terror of a 6 year old child who is locked in a room by herself for two days, unable to see her family, and required injected with thorazine. It is such a grotesque thought, I can’t even begin to imagine the agony.

There is a conversation to be had about what to do when student behavior that is out of control—but God help us if we think that the solution lies anywhere close to handcuffing and arresting 6-year olds at school. God help us if we think that the solution lies in keeping 6-year olds from seeing their parents for any length of time, let alone two days.

God help us if we can’t do better than this.

Erika Sanzi
Erika Sanzi is a former educator and elected school committee member. She is also a senior visiting fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Her blog is Good School Hunting and her Substack is Sanzi Says. She occasionally writes for other outlets including Scary Mommy, The 74, and The Hill. She is the mother of three school aged sons and calls Rhode Island home.


  1. “Arresting a 6-Year-Old Child at School Can’t Be Who We Are”
    I encourage you Erika, and all other self respecting individuals, this is NOT who WE are. Never has been, never will be. On the contrary. The event clearly illustrates forceful coercion exercised by those who view the child as a threat to “their system” …a corrupt public school system that is fed by enrollment numbers….at any cost.

    Ironically, the progressive system insists on keeping misbehaved kids in the class room, will not exercise tough love notifying parents, suspend or expell. As long as teachers and other students will tolerate the elevated chaos in the class room, enrollment numbers are skewed higher…more funding to feed the bureaucracy. “You teachers keep quiet, don’t let on to some parents who might pull their kids out in preference of a school of choice.” However, it is inevitable a kid who may be predisposed to explode to extreme misbehavior will be provoked by the chaotic environment. Then the heavy hand of the system is initiated, because, controlled dysfunction within the learning environment of the system was disrupted by a kid who exploded.

    The Baker Act was not intended to be used by public school administrators, though unfortunately the law did not stipulate that. It was intended to be used as a needed tool to help law enforcement maintain peace/civility on public streets. Protecting citizens from mentally handicapped adults engaged in out of control violent behavior is one thing. Using that law to perpetuate a repressive system of public school governance is quite another.

  2. This is a very sad day for our children young and old to have this happens to them. They have issues just like adults even more so when they have behavioral issues. It’s a very traumatic experience for adult person who functions well society yet to a person with a disability that isn’t apparent when you look at the child teen young adult an adult with with those issues to be arrested by the police because there are resources in place the schools to help these children. Provide space for when they are acting so they can help themselves become quiet again and talk about what happened. They need to be given a chance and respect the for their specific issue force doesn’t work. Really Sad way to handle things especially when race is involved. Take a lesson from the Principal at the Lacey Lucy school in North Minneapolis Minnesota of how she treated her students even the most out of control. I think it pays dividends for the health and welfare of the child. We need more like her and her teachers and staff. The Principal is teaching North High in Minneapolis and she using same kind of methods in this school as well at the appropriate age level. It was heartbreaking and heart wrenching to see how the school was and how it has really changed for the better and this was a mostly black children yet there were white children.


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