ACLU Claims Student Punishment Too Harsh

By: Mike McDaniel Email
By: Mike McDaniel Email

There's a new report claiming schools across Mississippi are too harsh in punishing students for bad behavior while on school grounds.

The American Civil Liberties Union says the report examined the impact those punishments are having on students, when excessive consequences are meted out for minor offenses.

Some groups say they want change.

When Polly Windham's daughter was suspended from her Jones County school last fall, she says the punishment didn't fit the crime, especially since her daughter was the victim.

"I think it's absurd," said Windham.

Windham says her 15-year-old daughter was being bullied and a fight broke out when the girl tried to walk away.

Windham says her daughter was taken to a juvenile detention center where she spent the night and was suspended three days from school. A judge eventually threw out the case.

"It was really a traumatic experience, not only for my daughter but for me," Windham said.

It's that type of situation the Mississippi ACLU says it's trying to end. In its report 'Handcuffs on Success' the organization claims too often school districts use excessive punishment for minor and expected adolescent behavior.

"The results are alarming. They weren't surprising," said Bear Atwood, legal director for the ACLU, who says that type of extreme discipline contributes to a 'school-to-prison pipeline'.

"It doesn't mean that there shouldn't be consequences," said Atwood. "Of course we want to teach our children to behave appropriately, but arresting them and sending them to detention centers is not the way to accomplish that."

Atwood is hoping policy makers pay attention to the report and create better zero tolerance policies.

According to the report, Mississippi schools have higher suspension rates than neighboring states, nearly two times the national average.

"Harsh disciplinary policies do not improve safety," Atwood said. "They do not improve behavior."

"Children are going to be children and there are going to be small altercations, pushing and shoving, you hit me and I hit you back," said Windham. "Does that really classify jail?"

The U.S. Department of Justice filed suit in 2012 against the city of Meridian, Lauderdale County, two youth court judges, the state of Mississippi and two state agencies.

The lawsuit claims those entities routinely arrest and incarcerate minors without procedural safeguards.


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