11-Year-Old Autistic Student Charged with Felony Assault

After being grabbed at his middle school, Kayleb Moon-Robinson, an 11-year-old boy with Autism, pushed the officer off of him, resulting in a felony assault charge.

In Lynchburg, Virginia, Kayleb Moon-Robinson, an African American, Autistic 11 year-old 6th grader, was first charged with disorderly conduct. After kicking over a trashcan, Kayleb was ordered to remain in the classroom each day until his classmates had left. After obeying this rule for a period of weeks, Kayleb decided to leave class at the same time as his classmates. When the school officer attempted to grab Kayleb and escort him to the principal’s office, Kayleb shoved the officer away resulting in Kayleb being pushed down to the ground and then hand-cuffed. In April, Kayleb was found guilty of all felony charges.

While this story may sound shocking because the school officer felt so threatened by an 11-year-old autistic boy that the officer charged him with felony assault, what’s more shocking is that Kayleb’s story is not a singular case. Kids across the country, especially minorities, are being pushed into this “school-to-prison pipeline.” According to a report by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), nationally, six for every 1,000 students were referred to law enforcement. Virginia tops the list among all states with 16 referrals for every 1,000 students. Special-needs students and students of color are overly represented in these referred cases. In Chesterfield County, Virginia, for instance, 3,538 criminal complaints against students were filed over the past three academic years. Over half of these students were black, even though they only represent 26 percent of the enrollment.

People with autism often become involved with the criminal justice system at an early age. Federal law requires public schools to provide special education services to students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment possible. Despite this, when a student with a disability displays behavioral problems, such as aggression or making threats, school staff too often rely on law enforcement for help. Unfortunately, once law enforcement is involved, teachers and parents lose much control over the situation.

One 2005 study found that children are far more likely to be arrested at school than they were a generation ago. The vast majority of these arrests are for nonviolent offenses. In most cases, the students are simply being disruptive. Zero-tolerance policies, which set one-size-fits-all punishments for a variety of behaviors, have fed these trends. Ensuring the safety of every student and staff member on campus should be addressed at all IEP meetings for special needs students. Sharing information, considering worst case scenarios, and setting proactive plans in place to be best prepared for an autism-related emergency are the best options for lowering risk and increasing safety.

Parents and school administrators should work together to discover specific behavioral and sensory information about the student, and this information should be used to help all staff respond appropriately. Keeping at-risk kids in class can place educators under pressure to meet accountability measures, but classroom teachers are in a unique position to divert students from the school-to-prison pipeline. There are good resources available on-line and free of charge, https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-43-spring-2013/school-to-prison offers classroom resources and guides to assist classroom teachers to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.

About Jay Nolan Community Services

The mission of Jay Nolan Community Services, Inc. (JNCS) is to enable individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other Developmental Disabilities to live fulfilling lives as members of the community by providing support services customized to their individual needs. Since 1975, JNCS has served over 9,750 people with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities in the community. With over 550 full and part time staff, JNCS ensures each individual is given the opportunity to utilize consultation services, enhanced support, supported employment, supported and independent living options, as well as family support services.