Raleigh teen's case highlights problems in foster system, some say
Posted March 27, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — A Raleigh teenager jailed for nearly three weeks after a fight on a school bus is free after pleading guilty Thursday to a charge of disorderly conduct.
Selina Garcia, who is in between foster families, was placed in adult jail after getting arrested March 7 when she repeatedly hit a student on a bus and threatened a teacher at Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School.
She was sentenced Thursday to 20 days in jail, with credit for time served.
Some, however, say the 17-year-old should not have been in jail and that her case shines a light on problems with Wake County's foster care program and school system.
The girl could have been released from jail on the misdemeanor offense, but because she is under 18, she needed a parent or guardian to take responsibility for her.
Garcia's aunt, Melissa Garcia, had custody but had to give up her custodial rights several years ago.
She's upset because no one notified her, and she believes the foster care system is partly to blame.
"When I gave the state custody of her, it was under the impression that they would take better care of her than I could because they had the resources," Melissa Garcia said.
Assistant Wake County District Attorney Al Singer said parents of a child in the foster care system are usually notified if the child is in trouble or gets hurt.
He said he was not sure why Melissa Garcia wasn't notified. Privacy laws, he said, prevented him from saying more.
"Sixteen- and 17-year-olds don't belong in jail," Singer said. "There've been bills in the Legislature for years so that 16- and 17-year-olds are treated like juveniles in cases like this."
The youth advocacy group NC Heat blames the Wake County Public School System's disciplinary approach by allowing a school resource officer to arrest the Southeast Raleigh High senior in the first place.
"The problem is that the foster care system is broken, the school system is broken, and we need to end this school-to-prison pipeline," said Sanyu Gichie, a college student with NC Heat. "Kids need to be in school, not in jail."
The school system is the subject of a federal complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Justice challenging the school system's disciplinary policies, which it contends "unnecessarily and unlawfully punish and criminalize minor misbehaviors."
Christine Kushner, chairwoman of the Board of Education, said school leaders constantly review and revise the district's disciplinary policies and pointed out that out-of-school suspension rates are down.
Selina Garcia is now expected to go to either a group home in High Point or stay in the area with another foster family.
Her attorney told District Judge Ned Mangum Thursday that Selina Garcia has been in foster care since age 8 and that she wants to be an advocate for children in similar positions.
"I don’t want them leading down the same path," Garcia told Mangum. "I don’t want to see other kids in this situation. I’m ready to make a change."