As part of the “zero tolerance” movement, schools throughout Pennsylvania have adopted the practice of referring students involved in even minor behavioral matters or confrontations to the police. Many of these referrals result in citations for “summary” offenses, the lowest level criminal offense in Pennsylvania. Because a summary offense does not result in jail time, it does not trigger the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Thus, students who have been cited for disorderly conduct or dress code violations find themselves in magisterial district courts, or in Philadelphia Municipal Court, among adult defendants and usually without counsel. These proceedings often result in convictions and, subsequently, a host of barriers to accessing future employment, education, and job training programs.
Through her Stoneleigh Emerging Leader Fellowship, Maheen Kaleem worked with the ACLU of Pennsylvania to examine the scope, effects, and costs of issuing summary offense citations for school-based misconduct, with the ultimate goal of ending this practice. She developed a toolkit for parents and community members working to eliminate the use of summary citations, influenced policy changes in the Philadelphia and Upper Darby School Districts regarding citations for disorderly conduct, and created a training for attorneys representing clients in summary offense cases.