File this under the category of Things I Didn’t Know Needed to Be Illegal: public schools in Jackson, Miss. have been banned from handcuffing students to poles or other objects as punishment. Under a settlement with the Southern Poverty Law Center, U.S. district courts have said that the Capital City Alternative (CCA) School, an “alternative” public school in Jackson, can no longer handcuff students to poles or other objects; that the school district will stop handcuffing students under 13 entirely; and that older students will only be handcuffed for crimes.
Jody Owens, director of the Mississippi office of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said CCA used handcuffs to punish even such things as dress-code violations.
“The focus should be education, not incarceration, and it’s tantamount to child abuse when children are handcuffed to railings for something as simple as not having the appropriate belt or inappropriate shoe strings,” Ms. Owens said.
Capital City Alternative School principal Marie Harris said in her deposition that some did handcuff students, but that it was done for student safety. However, U.S. District Judge Tom Lee wasn’t buying it.
“It’s apparent there were severe problems that we hope now are being addressed and will be alleviated,” Judge Lee told lawyers in court Friday.
Capital City Alternative School (CCA) is a public school in the Jackson Public School District, Mississippi’s largest district. The school serves students in grades 4 through 12 who have been suspended or expelled from other Jackson public schools for more than 10 days. The district court’s ruling also requires the school to change its approach in dealing with emotionally challenged students.
The school was ordered to conduct a “climate assessment” that includes students, parents and teachers, as well as a mandate that all teachers be trained to deal with students with emotional and behavioral management problems, ABC News said.
“We’re excited to have a comprehensive settlement that changes not only the practice of handcuffing kids to railings but in addition the settlement focuses on changing the overall climate of this school from one that’s jail like to one that focuses on education,” Ms. Owens said.
As the mom of two special needs students and as a writer who seems to cover many stories of children being abused and bullied by adults in schools, this is a huge step in the right direction. Banning handcuffs as punishment (as opposed to their intended use restraining a person who has committed a crime) is important, but the “climate assessment” is even more important. I hope that schools across the country will take this as a warning signal and evaluate how students with emotional and learning differences are handled before the situation comes to a class-action suit.
School districts would do well to remember that providing training to teachers and staff, and ensuring that proper protocol is followe is always cheaper than a big, fat lawsuit.
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