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article imageLouisiana school board faces lawsuit for handcuffing children

By Stephanie Dearing     Jul 14, 2010 in Crime
New Orleans - The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana announced they had launched a lawsuit against a New Orlean's school for an incident earlier this year in which a 6 year old boy was handcuffed by a school security officer.
The incident made headlines in May when the news broke that an armed security guard handcuffed a six year old elementary school student, allegedly twice. Private Officer reported the school board investigated, firing the security guard. At the time, Board spokesperson, Ken Jones said “The child was acting unruly, but our policy is you don’t handcuff a 6-year-old to a chair. I mean, he’s 6. How unruly are you at 6, really, unless you’re 6 feet tall and 6?” And that seemed to be the end of the story.
Except the parents of the boy, who is now seven, say their son is afraid to go to school. Sebastian Weston, father of JW, said in a press release issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center, "He doesn’t want to go outside and play with his friends anymore. He just wants to be alone in his room. He won’t do his homework anymore."
Enter two advocacy organizations who have launched a class action lawsuit against the Sarah T. Reed Elementary School along with the principal of the school, Daphyne Burnett as well as other school board officials. The principal, the suit alleges, “provided a clear directive to all employees … that students were to be arrested and handcuffed if they failed to comply with school rules.” Recovery School Board officials, including Superintendent Paul Vallas and Director of Security Eddie Compass are named in the suit for having "... allowed the enforcement of this policy at Reed Elementary and were deliberately indifferent to the rights of the students who attend school there." Two police officers are also named in the suit, which "... asks for a court ruling that the school’s policy to “unlawfully seize and arrest schoolchildren at Sarah T. Reed Elementary School absent probable cause of criminal activity” violates students’ rights under the U.S. and Louisiana constitutions."
The advocacy organizations said the Sarah T. Reed Elementary School has an ongoing history of dealing with unruly young children by unlawfully restraining them in handcuffs, as well as unlawfully seizing the children. Thena Robinson, Southern Poverty Law Center attorney said "Handcuffing and shackling children to furniture is absolutely outrageous and can inflict not only physical injuries but psychological wounds that can have a profound impact. School personnel acted unreasonably and continue to enforce a school policy that violates clearly established state and federal law."
The Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) said the lawsuit was necessary, because while years of working with the school to change the way students are treated had resulted in some small positive advances, negotiations had hit a dead end. JJPL's Legal Director, Carol Kolinchak said
The advocate organizations are attempting to have the lawsuit certified by the courts as a class action, opening the door to compensation for other Sarah T. Reed families.
The Sarah T. Reed Elementary School is in the Recovery School District, and like many schools in Louisiana, according to Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children unfairly targets children of colour for disciplinary measures that are not equal from student to student nor school to school.
Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children issued a report earlier this year urging legislative reforms to the Louisiana School system, saying the system unfairly penalizes school-aged children of colour through policies and practices. The FFLIC report noted that spending on school security shot up $19 million immediately following Hurricane Katrina, creating "an extreme prison-like environment in schools." Spending on security for the Recovery School District has since been cut, but still, say the advocates, is too high, resulting in what the organization calls "a criminalizing environment." The organization urges Louisiana's school boards to focus on spending money on positive supports for school children, such as guidance counsellors.
The FFLIC report goes on to say "... Based on data from the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court, from September 7, 2007 to January 14, 2009, there were 492 school-related arrests at 54 public and charter schools.158 Approximately one quarter of the arrests were for minor offenses that should not involve police intervention in a school setting and in all likelihood should have been dealt with by school staff, including disturbing the peace, trespass (which often involves being on school grounds after the school day ends), truancy and school fights not categorized as Battery or Assault."
Founded in 1971, the Southern Poverty Law Center is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society.
The Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana's mission is to transform the juvenile justice system into one that builds on the strengths of young people, families and communities to ensure children are given the greatest opportunities to grow and thrive.
More about Southern poverty law center, Juvenile justice project louisiana, Unlawful seizure arrest, Sarah reed elementary school
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