African-American students in Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish Public Schools were disproportionately arrested for minor rule violations across the school district. These students often experienced physical abuse while being detained, including one student whose arm was broken as sheriff’s officers detained him. They were also subjected to racially offensive language and other inappropriate comments while being detained. The U.S. Department of Education launched an investigation after the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a complaint describing these conditions.
The Southern Poverty Law Center filed the federal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in January 2012 on behalf of a group of students subjected to such treatment. The complaint describes how African-Americans make up just 46 percent of the district’s student population, but comprised 76 percent of the 453 school arrests during the 2010-11 school year and the same percentage of the 708 arrests during the previous year.
It also outlines how students are often arrested for minor school rule violations, including skipping school, using a cell phone and being in the hall with a teacher’s permission but without a hall pass. The SPLC complaint says that police and sheriff’s officers stationed in schools lack adequate training to work in a school environment.
The complaint asked the U.S. Department of Education to investigate the students’ claims; compel the district to overhaul its school arrest policies and practices; ensure that African-American students are not unfairly targeted for arrest; monitor and track police incidents; and require the district to implement alternative discipline strategies to reduce arrests and law enforcement interactions with students.
The department’s Office of Civil Rights completed its evaluation of the SPLC complaint in March 2012, and advised it will investigate the Jefferson Parish Public Schools to determine whether its discipline policies discriminate against African-American students based on their race.