07/08/2010

Statement of Carol Kolinchack, Attorney for Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana

Good morning. My name is Carol Kolinchak, and I am the Legal Director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana. Like the other organizations here today, JJPL is appalled by the egregious nature of this particular incident. As you just heard from his parents, it left a six year old first grader traumatized and fearful. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. It is one of many stories that illustrate an overwhelming pattern of misbehavior and misconduct on the part of Recovery School District security officers.

Over the last several years, JJPL has heard from dozens of students and parents about poorly trained RSD security officers who create a climate of fear that pushes children out of the classroom, rather than create a climate of safety and support that fosters their learning.  According to a recent report by Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children, there is one police officer for every 150 students, while the ratio of students to guidance counselors is 221 to 1. This is unacceptable. All New Orleans youth deserve educational opportunities that provide them with the tools they need to succeed. And all law enforcement officials, including RSD security officers, must work to help and not hinder the public’s sense of safety and security.

We have worked in the past to address this issue, meeting numerous times with officials of the RSD in order to recommend solutions.  We have sought trainings for security officers on how to interact with children in a school environment in order to reduce the use of force against schoolchildren. We have requested policies and procedures to govern appropriate behavior of school security officers, and a mechanism to hold them accountable when they cross the line. To date, none of these requests have been met.  

So while on the one hand it is a shame that we are standing here with the Westin family, having filed a lawsuit on behalf of their child, on the other hand this is one more opportunity for the City of New Orleans and the Recovery School District to resolve this problem once and for all. Hopefully the outcome of this litigation will be model policies and procedures for security officers in the schools, better training of these officers, some relief for this child and his family, and, perhaps most significantly for us all, a better learning environment for all of the children of New Orleans.