01/05/2012

Jackson, Miss., School System Fails to Produce Key Documents in SPLC Suit Over Abusive Discipline Practices

The SPLC has asked a federal court to force Jackson Public Schools to turn over key documents describing the practice of handcuffing students in an alternative school to a pole for hours at a time as punishment for minor infractions.

The motion details instances where school staffers and administrators have described documents that record incidents of handcuffing and have admitted to handcuffing students to a railing for several hours. Despite these statements, the school district has failed to produce a single document from these handcuffing incidents.

“Jackson public school officials have created a prison-like environment for alternative-school students by chaining them to poles and railings for minor, non-criminal violations of school rules,” said Vanessa Carroll, lead attorney on the case for the SPLC. “Members of the staff and administration have testified that these documents exist, and we simply want the district to turn over this critical information.”  

The motion to compel the school district to produce the documents was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Jackson Division. The SPLC filed suit in June after the school district refused to end abusive discipline practices at the Capital City Alternative School. The lawsuit asserts that the students have regularly been disciplined for minor infractions, such as not wearing a belt or for wearing mismatched shoelaces, by being shackled to a railing hours at a time.

Frequently, these children are forced to eat their lunches while handcuffed to a railing and must yell or cry to get the attention of staffers to release them to use the restroom. The students are left unsupervised while they are handcuffed and are denied classroom instruction.

The specific allegations in the lawsuit include:

  • A 15-year-old girl was handcuffed to a railing for several hours after she was accused of greeting her friend too loudly in the school hallway.
  • A 16-year-old student with an emotional disability was shackled to a railing for an entire school day because the student did not wear a belt. The student was even forced to eat lunch while handcuffed.
  • A 14-year-old special education student spent an entire school day handcuffed to a railing and was not released even after he fell asleep.

The school district has struggled to implement fair and effective school discipline practices. According to publicly available data, the Jackson Public Schools district suspends children at twice the rate of the national average. A 2009 ACLU report documented that the Capital City Alternative School had an “especially punitive atmosphere,” enforcing “its zero tolerance policy ‘to the utmost degree,’” and using this policy “to deliberately push out challenging and ‘undesirable’ students.”

The SPLC is dedicated to reforming the broken school and juvenile justice systems that derail young lives. These efforts, which include litigation and grassroots campaigns, are focused in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi – four of the states where children are most at risk of being pushed out of school and ending up in the juvenile justice system.

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