The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal class action lawsuit today against the Jackson Public School District in Mississippi for allowing an alternative school to shackle and handcuff students for hours at a time as punishment for school uniform violations and other minor infractions.
The SPLC filed the lawsuit after the school district refused to respond to a letter asking it to end the practice at the Capital City Alternative School. Students at the alternative school have regularly been shackled for hours at time to railings and poles for minor infractions, such as not wearing a belt or wearing mismatched shoelaces. They are left unsupervised and are denied classroom instruction.
"At the highest level of the district, Jackson Public Schools officials have failed to protect students from a prison-like environment where children are subject to regular shackling and chained to poles and railings as a consequence for minor, non-criminal violations of school rules." said Jody Owens, who leads the SPLC's Mississippi office. "Not only does this handcuffing policy violate the U.S. Constitution but it demonstrates a diseased school culture and a broken model of school discipline that focuses on criminalizing students at the expense of educating them."
The specific allegations in the complaint include:
- A 15-year-old female student was handcuffed to a railing for several hours after she was accused of greeting her friend too loudly in the school hallway.
- Another student 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.
- One student spent an entire school day handcuffed and shackled to a railing because he wore shoes that school officials deemed to be the wrong color.
A 2009 ACLU report documented that Jackson's 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." According to publicly available data, the Jackson Public School District suspends children at twice the rate of the national average.
This lawsuit is part of the SPLC's education reform efforts in Mississippi, which include advocacy meant to reform school discipline practices that push children out of school and have a disparate impact on students of color or students with special needs.