The Autistic Self Advocacy Network strongly condemns the conviction of Kayleb Moon-Robinson, a Black and autistic sixth-grader, for disorderly conduct and felony assault after kicking over a trash can at school and struggling to get away from a School Resource Officer. This was a minor incident which should have been handled by Kayleb’s teachers in accordance with his IEP. Kayleb does not belong in the juvenile justice system. ASAN calls upon Governor McAuliffe to pardon Kayleb and address what appears to be a systemic pipeline issue in Virginia in which students with disabilities, students of color, and most of all students of color with disabilities are moved from school into the juvenile justice and prison systems at alarming rates and increasingly early ages. ASAN also calls on the juvenile court to work with Kayleb’s attorney to prevent his placement in juvenile detention facility and help him transition back to his neighborhood school with appropriate supports.
Kayleb is not the only prominent story we’ve seen in Virginia in recent years. Both in Virginia and nationally, there is evidence of what many advocates call a school-to-prison pipeline: a systemic misapplication of school disciplinary procedures which disproportionately targets students of color, students with disabilities, and students of color with disabilities, resulting in harsher discipline and students being funnelled into the juvenile justice and prison systems at younger and younger ages. Coupled with a marked increase in the use of police in schools, known as School Resource Officers (SROs), we see an increasing de facto criminalization of young children such as Kayleb for being Black and autistic.
Children with disabilities have a right to a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. When children like Kayleb are removed from their neighborhood schools – their least restrictive environment – and sent into juvenile detention facilities, they are deprived of these rights. ASAN calls upon the Department of Education to continue investigation into how overuse of SROs can contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. ASAN also calls on the Office of Civil Rights within the Department of Education, which has already investigated Lynchburg schools for racially discriminatory disciplinary practices, to expand its investigation to encompass both racial and disability-based discrimination in school discipline across the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Schools should be safe for all students, particularly those living at the intersections of multiple marginalizations. Kayleb deserves justice, and students across the country deserve better.