School discipline concerns prompted local parents, students, and mayoral candidates to attend a briefing by Civil Rights leaders on the progress of a Justice Department lawsuit, claiming the city of Meridian, Lauderdale County, and Lauderdale County Youth Court Judges have unfairly targeted and punished students over the years.
"But it's a situation where we feel as though the work is not done," Meridian-Lauderdale County NAACP Education Chair Randall Jennings says. "It's really just beginning because we have to go back and figure out just how many children got caught up in this."
Jennings says since the Department of Justice filed the lawsuit last October, leaders from the NAACP, SPLC, ACLU, and the Children's Defense Fund have launched a statewide investigation to determine if there are school to jail tendencies in other districts. In the meantime, he says he is pleased with the findings of the Justice Department.
"Because we felt like when we first brought these allegations out that there was some credibility to what we were saying, even though we were being shut down at every turn," Jennings explains.
During the meeting, numbers from the U.S. Department of Education were presented, showing that for every one white student served with out of school suspension, there are five black students served. Civil Rights leaders say they recommend a punishment that will hold students accountable for minor misbehavior without excluding them from school.
After the Department of Justice lawsuit was filed last fall, attornies for the city and county fired back with a letter, saying there is no evidence to support claims of students being targeted and punished unfairly.
The Meridian Public School District and the Lauderdale County School District are not included in the lawsuit.