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Unable to read, teased youth tossed into juvenile court 


Although he was only in the 10th grade, David had been in juvenile court several times.

His offense could be summed up in one sentence: He couldn't read.

The teasing, frustration and embarrassment that came from being a 10th grader unable to read led to much of David's "bad behavior" and "acting out" against teachers and classmates. Eventually, he landed in the principal's office and juvenile court.

Rather than help David read, which would help him overcome his behavioral problems, his teacher in Louisiana's Caddo Parish school system found an easier solution.

She would ask David, whose real name has been withheld to protect his identity, to read to his classmates at the start of every class.

The result was predictable.

He would struggle with the words on the page. His classmates would laugh.

He would act out, once even taking a swing at a student.

The teacher would remove him from class, allowing the day's lesson to finally begin even though the punishment for David's outbursts opened the door to alternative school and even jail time.

"A child who can't read is a fairly typical situation," said Clay Walker, a Shreveport, La., lawyer who took David's case for the Southern Poverty Law Center. "But instead of getting the help they need they're getting pushed into the juvenile court and jail."

After taking David's case, Walker was able to get David out of alternative school and into a neighborhood school. He has also received remedial reading classes and special education services.

The SPLC has filed a class action complaint against the school district to ensure students with disabilities receive the services they need.

Editor's note: David's name has been changed to protect his identity.