Free-Range Kids

Federal Appeals Court Upholds Criminal Charges Against 13 Year Old for Burping in Class

Another argument for school choice...


Straight to juvie…|||Andi Berger |
Andi Berger |

The scene is Albuquerque's Cleveland Middle School, where a 13-year-old class clown is disrupting things by constantly burping during teaching time. So the teacher bounces him to the vice principal's office, who has a sneaking suspicion that the kid is involved in selling pot on school grounds. The boy is made to take his jeans and shoes off but no drugs are found.

The kid—a pain in the ass in all likelihood, let's be honest—is suspended for the rest of the school year. As over-the-top as that seems, there's worse yet to come. He's also criminally charged under an impossibly vague statute that reads in part:

No person shall willfully interfere with the educational process of any public or private school by committing, threatening to commit or inciting others to commit any act which would disrupt, impair, interfere with or obstruct the lawful mission, processes, procedures or functions of a public or private school.

And now, as George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley writes,

Teachers and administrators have been criminalizing juvenile conduct rather than dealing with such issues with the students and their teachers….the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has issued an opinion upholding one of the most ridiculous examples of the criminalization of our schools. The Tenth Circuit said that Albuquerque school officials and police were justified in ordering the arrest of 13-year-old boy who was burping in class. The Tenth Circuit ruled that the school officials and police officer were entitled to immunity for their excessive response to what was at worst a class clown.

When you encounter this sort of ridiculous overreaction on the part of school officials—which is then certified by even-more-august authorities—it is no wonder why Americans are losing confidence in major institutions of political, commercial, and civic life. These are not the actions of authorities who have belief in themselves and the things they run. They are the behaviors of a society in decline, to be honest, that no longer feels as if it can exercise power at any level except via banishment and extreme action.