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Report: Mississippi Children Handcuffed in School For Not Wearing a Belt

Nicole Flatow
Think Progress / News Report
Published: Friday 18 January 2013
Mississippi is among 19 states that still permit paddling in school and has the highest percentage of students beaten by educators.
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A recent Department of Justice lawsuit that called the criminalization of school disciplinary offenses as minor as dress code violations so arbitrary and severe as to “shock the conscience” publicized some of the most egregious punishment at Meridian, Mississippi’s schools. But perpetuation of what is known as the school-to-prison pipeline is not limited to that one city or county, and it’s nothing new, according to a new report by several civil rights organizations. Stories highlighted by the report reveal that school punishment in other Mississippi counties is as bad, if not worse, and exemplify the severity and scope of the problem:

In 2000, what began with a few students playfully throwing peanuts at one another on a school bus ended in five Black male high school students being arrested for felony assault, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. When one of the peanuts accidentally hit the white female bus driver, the bus driver immediately pulled over to call the police, who diverted the bus to the courthouse where the students were questioned.

The Sheriff commented to one newspaper, “[T]his time it was peanuts, but if we don’t get a handle on it, the next time it could be bodies.”

More recently, in 2009 in Southaven, DeSoto County, armed police officers responded to an argument between three students on a school bus by reportedly arresting a half dozen Black students, choking and tackling one Black female student, and threatening to shoot the other students on the bus between their eyes.

In 2010, in Jackson Public School District, until a lawsuit was filed, staff at one school regularly handcuffed students to metal railings in the school gymnasium and left them there for hours if they were caught not wearing a belt, among other minor infractions. For example, one 14-year-old boy was reportedly handcuffed to the railing when he wore a stocking cap to class, threw his papers on the ground, and refused to do his school work.

Mississippi is among 19 states that still permit paddling in school, and has the highest percentage of students beaten by educators. Severe over-punishment is imposed in a discriminatory and arbitrary manner, with three times as many black students receiving out-of-school suspensions as white students.

In Meridian, Miss., the problem of criminalizing school infractions is perpetuated by a policy of school officials calling police to discipline students. This raises serious concerns about the push to place more officers in schools in the wake of the Newtown, Ct. mass shooting, as putting more armed guards in schools has already been linked to an uptick in arrests.

A juvenile judge in Georgia testified about this phenomenon during a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing:

When I took the bench in 1999, I was shocked to find that approximately one-third of the cases in my courtroom were school-related, of which most were low risk misdemeanor offenses. Upon reviewing our data, the increase in school arrests did not begin until after police were placed on our middle and high school campuses in 1996—well before the horrific shootings at Columbine High School. The year before campus police, my court received only 49 school referrals. By 2004, the referrals increased over 1,000 percent to 1,400 referrals, of which 92% were misdemeanors mostly involving school fights, disorderly conduct, and disrupting public school.

Despite the many arrests, school safety did not improve. The number of serious weapons brought to campus increased during this period of police arrests including guns, knives, box cutter knives, and straight edge razors. Of equal concern was the decrease in the graduation rates during this same period—it reached an all-time low in 2003 of 58%. It should come to no one’s surprise that the more students we arrested, suspended, and expelled from our school system, the juvenile crime rate in the community significantly increased. These kids lost one of the greatest protective buffers against delinquency—school connectedness.

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ABOUT Nicole Flatow

Nicole Flatow is the Deputy Editor of ThinkProgress Justice. Previously, she was Associate Director of Communications for the American Constitution Society. Nicole has also worked for several legal and general circulation newspapers, including The Daily Record and The New York Law Journal, and was a legal fellow at Bread for the City, where she represented low-income D.C. residents in housing and public benefits matters. She received her J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law, and her B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Law from Binghamton University, where she was editor in chief of her campus newspaper.

Excellent post.Thanks for

Excellent post.Thanks for sharing such a useful informative post with us...

How can a person be so

How can a person be so ruthless on the base of color so as to frighten and punish small children and even give threatening warnings for simple playful mistakes.

I think school policies

I think school policies should be reviewed and small or little offense should not be brought to court instead it should be settled within the school premises. law enforcement career

There are many cells that

There are many cells that need filled in the For-Profit prisons and educating youth to fill those cells is the sure way to make sure the investors get substantial returns and wallst ceo's and bankers get well lavished with bonuses. It's simple supply-side Reaganomics. Wallst creates the demand by building prisons cells and the education system/government creates the supply thru industry guided legislation.
We should be thankful his holiness Lord Reagan showed the elites the way to Eternal Prosperity and embrace STPP with all our hearts so that the rewards will trickle down upon us all.

From Australia, this

From Australia, this situation seems totally bizarre. It's obvious that there are American pockets so unjust, so irrational, that fixing them is going to be arduous. Educational change, alas, is slow; but there are changes that must be made at once. This article highlights one of them. Thank you, Nation of Change and Nicole Flatow.

It is Mississippi after all

It is Mississippi after all so some leeway has to be given for the lower IQs of educational staff. If you treat the public school administrations as mentally challenged you will be better able to understand the harsh environment they have prepared for the school population.

Sorry, but when job

Sorry, but when job requirements for police officers is a "GED or equivalent", yes our Village requirements for hiring police, you get a bunch of cops who likely were alienated themselves, drop outs, and now want to flex their authority. You get underdeveloped brains.
When they start raising the bar, perhaps we will have police who can think out a situation and find other choices in handling a situation than handcuffing and bullying students. Lots of cops like the adrenalin rush from the fear that they create and get high by abusing their authority.
From bully to cop.
An official in the community next to mine said they don't get much to choose from when hiring. I told him to increase the hiring requirements. So many college educated people without jobs right now. Why keep do they keep so many ignorant thugs to patrol our communities. They are creating fear in all of us. Are they focused on teaching submission and fear, to prepare Americans for the next abuse of our right to live peacefully.
Handcuffing a child should be a crime.
Yes, there are some cops who are really intelligent and know how to talk with people and are not authority junkies. I praise them to continue.
Perhaps the system want cops who act like the gestapo. It does not have to be this way.

Every instance of handed-down

Every instance of handed-down authority in our society is fraught with limitations, because (supposedly) it is the smarter folks handing down THEIR authority to the peons, and letting THEM exercise the higher-level authority FOR the smarter folks. (seems one of the perks of higher authority is NOT being saddled with ENFORCING that authority.)

So every Cop is actually "doing for others." And when you are doing that, you don't even know the RIGHT thing to do, because you DO NOT REFER to "right" when enforcing, but to the written (or otherwise defined) rules you must go by. Putting a crowd of stupid people into such a position is cruel, and is very hard on us too, when the stupid people are supposed to be in charge of us.

So we have what we have: stupid, rigid people who HAVE TO oppress others, to even meet their own job requirements.

Time for a new system, if you ask me.

The NRA wants to post armed

The NRA wants to post armed guards in all schools, as an alternative to any sort of gun control. It won't just be Mississippi that is arresting children for minor offenses.

Some years ago, I saw a film

Some years ago, I saw a film about the training of avalanche rescue dogs, which are trained to locate and help dig out people buried in snow. The dogs are trained to believe that the person they unearth will play with them. Dogs trained in such a way perform better and far more enthusiastically than those who are punished for not doing what they are supposed to or offered a "doggie treat" after they do their jobs.

People are not dogs, of course. But what is the likely reaction of any person (never mind the age) who has committed some minor "infraction" and is immediately approached by someone wielding handcuffs? Are they going to say "thank you for the lesson and I'll be sure to do better next time?" I think not.

A belt with a good-sized buckle can be a rather fearsome weapon. I'm surprised they are allowed in schools (sarcasm).

There is a need for a US

There is a need for a US culture shift to reframe the philosophy, policies and practices around school discipline. We can choose to stop a one-size-fits- all zerp tolerance policy, unwarranted criminalization of minor offenses and handcuffs for six year olds. Instead we can choose to develop healthy individuals and communities, develop networks of support for those who need it, and interrupt the school to prison pipeline. One of the most successful efforts has been Restorative Justice/ Restorative Discipline. Look at school districts like Oakland CA and Alameda County for two examples of courageous, positive progress-in-action.
Penny Bryan, Ph.D.

It's Mississippi, what do you

It's Mississippi, what do you expect?

Was Mississippi in these

Was Mississippi in these particular instances. But criminalizing school disciplinary issues happens across the country to equally devastating affect.

The lesson that is taught

The lesson that is taught being here is fear & hatred of unbridled authoritarianism, a recipe for rebellion.

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