Friday, October 2, 2015
Alabama Court Finds Police Officers' Failure to Adequately Decontaminate Students from Pepper Spray Effects and Use of Spray on Nonviolent Students Unconstitutional
The Northern District of Alabama ruled yesterday that Birmingham police officers (acting as school resource officers) used excessive force when they pepper-sprayed students who were not posing a danger and when officers failed to adequately decontaminate students from effects as recommended by the spray's manufacturer when there were available facilities to do so. discussed the suit earlier this year, The plaintiffs, students from eight of the city's nine high schools, alleged that local police used excessive force by spraying students with a substance called Freeze +P, a spray made up of Orthochlorobenzalmalonitrile (CS) and Oleoresin Capsicum (OC), that causes “strong respiratory effects" and "severe pain." The spray was used to break up fights, disburse bystanders, and discipline students who were verbally disrespectful but not physically violent. The officers were following Birmingham Police Department procedures in using the spray, as summarized by the court in Fig. 1. The district court found that the sprayings were unconstitutional seizures under the Fourth Amendment, and that officers' failure to arrange for sprayed students to be decontaminated was part of those ongoing seizures. Thus, the court concluded, the plaintiffs' claims were best evaluated under the Fourth Amendment's unconstitutional seizure doctrine, rather than the Fourteenth Amendment's "shock the conscience" standard. Turning to remedies, the district court found that six of the eight student-plaintiffs were entitled to damages. The court declined the plaintiffs' request to ban the use of Freeze+P in Birmingham schools, given the "scenarios when it is appropriate for S.R.O.s to use Freeze +P in the school setting." The court instead ordered the parties to meet and develop a training and procedures plan for S.R.O.s’ use of Freeze+P, including protecting uninvolved persons from overspray. The court also suggested that the Birmingham police chief remind his officers that "enforcement of school discipline is not part of their job description and that Freeze+P is not suited for general crowd control." Given the chief's comments earlier this year that the school system was too dependant on the police department to resolve low-level misbehavior, he may agree with the court's sentiment. The plaintiffs were represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The opinion in J.W. v. Birmingham Board of Education is here.
Thursday, October 1, 2015
Last week, the Seattle School Board unanimously voted to place a one-year halt on elementary schools suspension for disruptive conduct, rule breaking and disobedience. Last year, seventy five percent of the district's elementary school suspensions were for these minor misbehaviors. Under the new policy, elementary schools will remain free to suspend student who endanger themselves or others.
Seattle follows the lead of some other school districts in the area that are seeking to eliminate most suspensions all together. Readers might also require that California passed legislation last year to eliminate suspensions for students in kindergarten through third grade. To Seattle's credit, even before the policy change, its suspension rate was below average. Given its progressive stance on discipline, it would not be surprising to see this policy migrate to middle schools in another year or two. It will be interesting to see how the district performs if it moves toward a system in which there are very little if any suspensions other than those for very serious misbehavior.
Friday, September 18, 2015
In October of 2013, I published a series of posts on a high school student, Erin Cox, at North Andover High School in Massachusetts. The story told by her, her family, and primarily her attorney, Wendy Parker, was that the school had punished her under its zero tolerance policy on alcohol for being at a party where alcohol was served. The media story that unfolded over a couple of days was that she had not actually consumed any alcohol, that she had not actually been present at the party, that she had only come to the party to give a drunk friend a ride home, and that the police were already there when she arrived, but released her because it was clear she was not involved. Her attorney claimed she had a police report that even verified these last facts. The narrative was that the school was punishing for doing the right thing. She then brought suit in state court seeking to enjoin her punishment and her attorney said that the school's attorney lied about the undisputed facts at the initial hearing before the court.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Edward Smith and Shaun Harper have released a new study focusing on suspensions and expulsions in the South. Most of it is sadly par for the course, but the enormous portion of the nation's suspensions and expulsions that come from the South was shocking. "Nationally, 1.2 million Black students were suspended from K-12 public schools in a single academic year – 55% of those suspensions occurred in 13 Southern states. Districts in the South also were responsible for 50% of Black student expulsions from public schools in the United States." The racial disparities also seemed to track consistently higher than than other regions. "In 132 Southern school districts, Blacks were disproportionately suspended at rates five times or higher than their representation in the student population." Expulsion disparities were high as well, although slightly lower the suspension disparities. "In 77 Southern school districts, Blacks were disproportionately expelled at rates five times or higher than their representation in the student population."
The study also includes a nice set of tables with the data for individual school districts, so one can easily see what is occurring in their own community, region, and state.
Get the full report here.
Thursday, August 20, 2015
Monday, August 17, 2015
Wednesday, August 5, 2015
The handcuffing and isolated restraint of a third grade special needs students in Covington, Kentucky, was caught on video. The video is particularly disturbing, as the child cries and pleads. I did not watch the whole thing myself. The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit on that and another student's behalf on Monday, alleging the handcuffing was an unreasonable seizure and included excessive force. The complaint also alleges that the arrest amounted to discrimination and a failure to accommodate under the American's with Disabilities Act.
More on the story here.
Monday, July 13, 2015
Two years ago, Anna Aizer and Joseph J. Doyle published a study finding that juvenile incarceration does not have the deterrent effect that the system supposedly intendeds. The abstract explains:
Over 130,000 juveniles are detained in the US each year with 70,000 in detention on any given day, yet little is known whether such a penalty deters future crime or interrupts social and human capital formation in a way that increases the likelihood of later criminal behavior. This paper uses the incarceration tendency of randomly-assigned judges as an instrumental variable to estimate causal effects of juvenile incarceration on high school completion and adult recidivism. Estimates based on over 35,000 juvenile offenders over a ten-year period from a large urban county in the US suggest that juvenile incarceration results in large decreases in the likelihood of high school completion and large increases in the likelihood of adult incarceration. These results are in stark contrast to the small effects typically found for adult incarceration, but consistent with larger impacts of policies aimed at adolescents.
They have now published a second even more nuanced study.
Thursday, June 18, 2015
The Southern Poverty Law Center and Flagler County Schools in Florida a reached a settlement to resolve a claim of discriminatory discipline. The original complaint had alleged that "African-American students accounting for 31 percent of all out-of-school suspensions during the 2010-11 school year even though they were only 16 percent of the student population." Under the agreement, the School Board adopted a wide-ranging plan to eliminate racial disparities in school discipline . Rather than permitting unilateral school level decision, the school district itself will have to approve suspensions of five or more days this upcoming school year, and suspensions for three or more days in the next school year. In addition, staff will receive cultural competency and implicit bias training. A committee will monitor discipline data on a regular basis to monitor progress. The district will consider abolishing suspensions altogether once it develops an alternative school program, peer mediation, and restorative justice practices. The district also committed to work with law enforcement to reduce in-school arrests.
SPLC is still pursuing federal civil rights complaints in Escambia, Bay, Okaloosa and Suwannee county school districts.
Friday, June 5, 2015
Flagler County Schools (FL) agreed to change its disciplinary practices after being sued for racial discrimination against African-American students, reports the Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a complaint against Flagler Co. Schools in 2012 for removing and arresting black students more harshly than white students. The complaint alleged in the 2010-11 school year, black students made up 16% of the Flagler Co.'s school population, but were 31% of the in-school and out-of-school suspensions and 69% of expelled students. The complaint also alleged that black students were retained at a disproportionate rate of 22%. Flagler Co. school officials told the media that it will, subject to the school board's approval, reduce out-of-school suspensions and form a citizens’ committee to monitor discipline practices. The district also reportedly agreed to reserve out-of-school suspensions for situations when there’s a safety concern, and require district approval for suspensions lasting five days or more. Starting in August 2016, the district will require approval for any suspension of three days or more and consider eliminating out-of-school suspensions altogether.
Thursday, May 14, 2015
The Harrisburg Patriot-News reports that a racial bias suit against a Pennsylvania school district was settled this week. In 2014, the Webbs, a student and his mother, sued the Susquehanna Township School District after it expelled the student from high school for wearing a multifunction tool that had a knife on it. The student's mother sued when they learned that three white male students were treated differently than the student, who is black. In the other three instances, a white male student brought two airsoft pistols onto school and aimed at other students as they left the building; in the second, a white male student brought marijuana into a classroom; and in the third, a white male student brought a BB gun onto school grounds. On each of those occasions, the school superintendent did not recommend to expel the students. The Webbs sued in federal court claiming disparate treatment and violations of the 14th Amendment, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). The Middle District of Pennsylvania dismissed their claims for lack of standing and because the statute of limitations had expired on some of the claims. However, the federal court gave the Webbs leave to amend their claims under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). Despite the dismissal, the school district reportedly settled the case for an undisclosed amount. The federal case was Webb v. Susquehanna Twp. Sch. Dist., No. 1:14-CV-1123, 2015 WL 871731 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 27, 2015).
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
A New Jersey mother, Karen McMillan, alleges that her son passed out after being choked by a school security guard who was attempting to restrain the 7-year-old. After being held back from recess, the boy became disruptive. According to school officials, he was kicking chairs and rolling on the floor. The security guard was called to help restrain the child, and allegedly was trying to help the boy when he started to hyperventilate. The boy told his mother only that the guard held him very tightly and he felt like he might be sick, leading McMillan to believe that guard's force to be excessive. The boy was not injured, though McMillan stated that he is afraid to return to school and she intends to remove him from the school district. The guard was put on paid leave while the school investigates the incident.
Even if true, rogue acts of individual employees may be no more than that. On the other hand, this past year has brought various other stories like this one in other school districts. See, e.g., here, here, here, and here. This raises the question of whether the harsh policing tactics that are currently embroiling a national debate are also a part of every day life for many public schools students. Past reports by the Advancement Project would suggest the answer is yes, as would the Department of Justice's report on Ferguson, Missouri.
More on the New Jersey story here.
Thursday, May 7, 2015
A new study out of England finds that children who are bullied by their peers experience more long term negative mental problems than those who experience physical, mental, or sexual abuse. The authors of the study are, of course, not suggesting that the effects of abuse are minimal but that the effects of bullying are comparatively higher. This point is particularly important, they say, because “[g]overnmental efforts have focused almost exclusively on public policy to address family maltreatment; much less attention and resources [have] been paid to bullying. … This imbalance requires attention.”
Friday, May 1, 2015
The Office for Civil Rights has released its 2013-2014 report to Congress and the President. From my perspective, past reports have been dense and un-illuminating. This current one strikes a very different approach. First, it is very well written. Second, it is very well framed and organized. Third, and maybe most important, it is incredibly informative. Fourth, it is analytical. Fifth, it is visually appealing. Sixth, it implicitly suggests courses of action or concern. Overall, it presents as a study in the state of civil rights and equity in our nation's schools, rather than a bureaucratic account of the beans counted in the past two years.
May 1, 2015 in Bullying and Harassment, Discipline, Discrimination, English Language Learners, Equity in education, Federal policy, Gender, Racial Integration and Diversity, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Social science demonstrating that zero tolerance and harsh discipline are ineffective in achieving their goals of improved student behavior and deterrence is not new, but what is new is a growing parade of research demonstrating that zero tolerance and harsh discipline are actually counterproductive. In effect, they make student behavior and academic achievement worse. Last month, I posted a study finding that punitive discipline is associated with increases in student drug use. Another study by Brea Perry and Edward Morris, Suspending Progress: Collateral Consequences of Exclusionary Punishment in Public Schools, American Sociological Review, finds that punitive discipline negatively affects not only the student who is punished but his peers who are not. Their abstract explains:
Friday, April 24, 2015
Last month Derek cited a study correlating higher student marijuana use to schools in which administrators reported using out-of-school suspensions and students reported low policy enforcement. That has not slowed the use of such policies in some districts, however, as the Roanoke Times reports that an eleven year old student was disciplined under circumstances that seem excessive even under zero tolerance policies. Acting on a student tip, an assistant principal at Bedford Middle School (VA) found a green leaf and a lighter in a plastic baggie in a sixth grader's backpack at school last fall. School resource officers from the sheriff’s office field-tested the leaf, which tested negative for marijuana. The student was nevertheless arrested and charged as a juvenile for marijuana possession. Two further tests of the leaf confirmed that it was not marijuana. That confirmation that the bag contained an ordinary leaf was not the end of the matter, however. An administrator told the student's parents that the juvenile's charge dismissal did not resolve the school's zero tolerance policies, and the student was suspended for a year. After sixth months of online education and homeschooling, the student was permitted to return to school (albeit a different school) under strict probationary terms. The student's parents, a current and a retired teacher, have sued the district and the Sheriff's Office for due process violations and for malicious prosecution. The case reportedly has been sent to mediation. Read more about the case here.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
Jason A. Okonofua and Jennifer L. Eberhardt of Stanford University have published Two Strikes: Race and the Disciplining of Young Students, confirming what statistical analysis has long suggested: that whether and how a student is disciplined is heavily influenced by subconscious racial biases. Their abstract explains:
There are large racial disparities in school discipline in the United States, which, for Black students, not only contribute to school failure but also can lay a path toward incarceration. Although the disparities have been well documented, the psychological mechanisms underlying them are unclear. In two experiments, we tested the hypothesis that such disparities are, in part, driven by racial stereotypes that can lead teachers to escalate their negative responses to Black students over the course of multiple interpersonal (e.g., teacher-to-student) encounters. More generally, we argue that race not only can influence how perceivers interpret a specific behavior, but also can enhance perceivers’ detection of behavioral patterns across time. Finally, we discuss the theoretical and practical benefits of employing this novel approach to stereotyping across a range of real-world settings.
Read the full study here.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
This February, the UCLA Civil Rights Project's school discipline study reported that Oklahoma City Public Schools district (OCPS) was one of the nation's ten highest highest-suspending districts for secondary school students. Yesterday, OCPS Superintendent Rob Neu announced plans to reduce the district's 3,000 annual suspensions through behavior programs and by shortening the length of suspensions. Neu was responding to the results of the district's internal audit which confirmed some of the UCLA report's findings. That study noted that OCPS' suspension rate for minorities exceeded other districts surveyed, with 75 percent of African-American male high school students and 54 percent of African-American female high school students in the district suspended at least once in 2012, and 60 percent of Native American male and 40 percent Native American female high school suspended that year. Neu told the media that the district planned to respond to racial disparity in school suspensions by hiring more teachers and administrators of color and "become more culturally aware of the students that we’re serving.” Links to the OCPS audit are available here.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
Florida is considering a bill that would allow teachers to carry concealed weapons at school. The pros and cons of such bills have been rehearsed here, here, and here over the past several months. I am glad to report that one Osceola School Board member, who also happens to be an attorney, finally states the issue in the most simple terms possible. Sputnik News offers this summary:
Monday, April 13, 2015
A new study by the Center for Public Integrity collected law enforcement referrals for public schools in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. The variety across states was startling. Ohio, Nevada, and D.C. only referred one percent of their students to law enforcement (1.9, 1.3, and 1.2 percent respectively). Virginia topped the list, referring 15.8 percent of all students, which is 13 times the rate of D.C. Six more states had rates above 10 percent.
The analysis of sub-populations was also troubling. Virginia referred 25 percent of its African American students (which is 16 times the rate of DC) and 33 percent of its disabled students--a number so high that one must wonder if there is an error in the data or if Virginia is under-identifying students with non-behavioral disabilities (which could skew the referral number upward). Wyoming referred 32 percent of African Americans. In short, the state-by-state comparisons show not all states find law enforcement to be a necessary aspect of school discipline, but others integrate it as part of their standard operating procedure.