A SIX-YEAR-OLD who threw a tantrum at her US school was taken away in handcuffs.
The move has sparked a debate over whether teachers and police are overreacting with disruptive students.
Salecia Johnson's family lashed over her treatment and said she was badly shaken, while the school system and the Atlanta police defended their handling of the incident.
Civil rights advocates and criminal justice experts say frustrated teachers and principals across the US are calling in the police to deal with even relatively minor disruptions.
Some juvenile authorities say they believe it is happening more often, driven in part by an increased police presence at schools over the past two decades because of tragedies such as the Columbine school massacre.
"Kids are being arrested for being kids," said Shannon Kennedy, a civil rights attorney who is suing the Albuquerque, New Mexico, school district, where hundreds of pupils have been arrested in the past few years for minor offences. Those include having cellphones in class, burping, refusing to switch seats and destroying a history book. In 2010, a 14-year-old boy was arrested for inflating a condom in class.
Salecia was accused of tearing items off the walls and throwing books and toys in an outburst on Friday at her school in Georgia. Police said she also threw a small shelf that struck the principal in the leg, jumped on a paper shredder and tried to break a glass frame.
Police refused to say what set off the tantrum. The school called police, and when an officer tried to calm the child, she resisted. She was handcuffed and taken away in a patrol car.
Baldwin County schools Superintendent Geneva Braziel called the student's behaviour "violent and disruptive" and said the girl was taken away out of safety concerns for others.
Police Chief Dray Swicord said the department's policy is to handcuff people when they are taken to the police station, regardless of their age, "for the safety of themselves as well as the officer".
He said the girl will not be charged with a crime because she is too young.
The girl's aunt, Candace Ruff, went with the child's mother to pick her up at the police station. She said Salecia complained about the handcuffs. "She said they were really tight. She said they really hurt her wrists," Ruff said. "She was so shaken up."
The girl has been suspended from school until August, her mother, Constance Ruff, said.
Albuquerque school officials have declined to comment on the arrests there. But Ellen Bernstein, president of the Albuquerque teachers union, said students' bad behaviour is more extreme these days.