“These are the students that society has given up on,” said John Williams, principal at Phoenix Academy, which is an alternative high school for students in need of extra attention.
“You don’t need to have kids locked up in a classroom,” he said. “You just have to love them.”
Kristi Price, a juvenile court counselor, said year-long suspensions take the problem beyond the classroom.
“They are sitting at home, watching TV, no education, doing nothing,” she said.
Jim Woodall, the district attorney for Orange and Chatham counties, said a big problem facing the court system is an inability to decide which cases need to be deemed a felony.
“We work real hard before some of these people become felons,” he said.
Woodall said that due to limited resources, it is imperative to help as much as they can but that not every case is going to be fixable.
Sending children to court can also have a negative impact on the child’s life. “It may not make it into a newspaper, but it has an impact,” Morey said.
Despite the problems, the panel still believes that with increased training and education, leaders in the community can fix the juvenile court system.
“If the parents can’t do it, we need to fill in the gap,” Williams said.
He said this can be done by helping individuals without trying to fit students into a mold.
“One size does not fit all,” he said. “What you need to do is find the individual’s needs.”
Something that stands in the way of meeting individuals’ needs is the unseen biases of teachers and leaders, Williams said.
Williams gave an example of when he showed the teacher at his school a video of the doll test, in which kids are shown favoring a white doll as the good doll and labeling the black doll as bad.
“I wanted to plant the seed that we all were those children,” he said.
Eric Zogry, a state juvenile defender, expressed the importance of acknowledging the problem in order to progress.
“If you do not own the issue, you cannot move forward,” he said.