[News] Handcuffing 6-Year-Olds in New Orleans

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Wed Jul 14 10:54:47 EDT 2010


Published on The Root (<http://www.theroot.com>http://www.theroot.com)

<http://www.theroot.com/>Home > Handcuffing 6-Year-Olds in New 
Orleans? Seriously?


Handcuffing 6-Year-Olds in New Orleans? Seriously?

By: Brentin Mock
Posted: July 9, 2010 at 7:59 AM

School officials shackled Ja'Briel Weston to a chair for being 
disobedient. Two days later, they did it again. Now his father is 
suing. Why we should all be concerned.

Six-year-old Ja'Briel Weston was shackled by his ankle to a chair for 
disobeying his first-grade teacher. Two days later, he was 
apprehended by an armed security guard, dragged down a hallway and 
handcuffed to a chair for getting into a shoving match with another 
student. This didn't happen at some medieval-age boarding school. It 
happened this year, this May, in New Orleans, at Sarah T. Reed 
Elementary School.

When Ja'Briel's parents found out about this, his father, Sebastian 
Weston, met with the school's principal, Daphyne Burnett, who not 
only confessed to the child cuffing but also said that she'd have it 
done again if the child got out of line. According to a legal 
complaint filed by the 
Poverty Law Center and the <http://jjpl.org/new/>Juvenile Justice 
Project of Louisiana, "When [Ja'Briel's] father implored the school 
principal to stop these unconstitutional practices, she insisted that 
school policy required the arrests and seizures at the school."

The juvenile-justice advocacy organizations are helping the father 
sue not only the school and its security officers but also the 
Recovery School District, the city's public school system, for 
allowing the "required" policy to take shape. Since the incident, 
young Ja'Briel has suffered pain in his wrists and ankles, as well as 
longer-lasting harm to his emotional and psychological well-being. 
This is increasingly cruel, but unfortunately not unusual punishment, 
since New Orleans isn't the only city to 
<http://www.stateline.org/live/printable/story?contentId=18518>cuff a 
6-year-old. But if there is a city that could do with less emotional 
pain, it is New Orleans, whose children in the thousands, displaced 
as a result of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, have bounced city to 
city, school to school, ever since.

It is also a city where one of the largest education-reform 
experiments anywhere is being implemented. But the officials at Sarah 
T. Reed will have to remind the nation why introducing children to 
Officer Friendly by way of cold, metal wrist restraints is a best 
practice for optimum learning environments. Data supporting such a 
claim do not exist. When young black boys like Ja'Briel aren't being 
chained like criminals for petty behavior, they are being suspended 
and expelled from school at rates two to three times those of their 
white peers -- often 
<http://www.learnersedgeinc.com/file/737-6.pdf>because of their race 
(pdf). Excessive punishment is being meted out more often to kids to 
whom breakfast is not given and for whom lunch is free because of 
their families' poverty.

School administrators believe that they need to get tough on bad 
behavior, but there is little evidence that this is a deterrent. In 
New Orleans, schools struggle with a lack of resources to deal 
adequately with student populations that fluctuate with volatility, 
and include children with a range of stress disorders due to 
disasters. Just two years ago, Reed principal Burnett was featured in 
special in which she complained of overcrowding in her school.

"When you look at younger kids, out of anything they could have lost, 
it was the opportunity to have a stable learning environment," said 
Burnett in the program. "You know, some of them, this is their first 
time going to school because Katrina hit."

But instead of stable learning environments being created, it's 
pipelines that are being created -- pipelines to the penal 
institution. It begins with kids being handcuffed and suspended at 
early ages, and continues with them being locked up later in life. 
Students who are suspended early on (Ja'Briel was suspended shortly 
after the handcuff incident) are 
times more likely to drop out before 10th grade, and drop-out status 
triples a child's chances of ending up in jail later.

In the report 
Out, Harsh Discipline in Louisiana Schools Denies the Right to 
Education" (pdf), published by Families and Friends of Louisiana's 
Incarcerated Children, a disturbing picture is painted of disparate 
discipline practices in New Orleans schools: Suspensions in the 
Recovery School District are among the highest in the state, with 
some 186 out-of-school suspensions from just 33 schools handed out 
each week. The district's suspension rate, 28.8 percent, is four 
times the national rate. Of the students the organization surveyed, 
37 percent said that they fell behind in school after suspension, and 
25 percent said that they felt less motivated to learn.

Meanwhile, the report shows how out-of-school suspension and 
expulsion rates increased after Katrina, as did budgets for security 
officers -- $20 million in 2006-2007, as opposed to $3 million for 
2004-2005 -- despite significantly fewer students.

If there are any doubts about whether prison bars are in the forecast 
for some of these students, consider that just last week, the city 
a sheriff's plan to expand a major prison complex in the city. The 
juvenile courts are also in question, after one of the system's 
this week after multiple female employees within his courthouse 
accused him of sexual harassment. Some of the city's leaders are even 
what the Youth Study Center is -- a detention center where youth 
offenders are currently baking because of malfunctioning air conditioners.

Other cities are dealing with poor disciplinary practices, as 
reported in 
<http://journalismfor.us/JJIE/2010/07/school-discipline/>Georgia and 
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that a middle school that 
<http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/08-479.ZS.html>searched a 
13-year-old girl's backpack, bra and panties for alleged 
prescription-pill peddling (never found) violated her Fourth 
Amendment rights. What this all adds up to are zero-tolerance 
policies that have already slid too far down the slope of acceptable 
disciplinary practice.

One plausible reason that schools have been able to get away with so 
much is that students themselves are rarely included at the table 
when disciplinary sentencing rules are established. In New Orleans, a 
group called <http://www.therethinkers.com/what-weve-done/>Kids 
Rethink New Orleans Schools has set out to change that. In this 
group, children from the Recovery School District brainstorm conflict 
resolutions and make recommendations on how schools can preserve 
dignity for students even when delivering punishment. Among 
they made last year (pdf) are deterring mandatory use of metal 
detectors in elementary schools, and increasing social worker and 
counseling staffs in schools.

If Ja'Briel Weston's father, and the juvenile-justice advocates 
supporting him, win their case, schools will hopefully get an 
opportunity to produce alternatives to their current methods of 
dealing with problem children. And perhaps a win will compel the 
school district and state government to supply more resources so that 
schools can implement those alternatives. If they lose, this would 
send a bad signal to other schools throughout New Orleans and beyond, 
that shackling 6-year-olds is acceptable. Just as common sense tells 
us that waterboarding is torture, we should be able to discern that 
handcuffing is cruel and unusual for children in their earliest ages 
of development.

Brentin Mock, a regular contributor to The Root, is based in New Orleans.

Source URL: 

[1] http://www.theroot.com/users/brentinmock
[3] http://jjpl.org/new/
[4] http://www.stateline.org/live/printable/story?contentId=18518
[5] http://www.learnersedgeinc.com/file/737-6.pdf
[6] http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/education/jan-june08/nolareads_06-17.html
[8] http://www.nesri.org/fact_sheets_pubs/Pushed_Out_Report.pdf
[13] http://journalismfor.us/JJIE/2010/07/school-discipline/
[15] http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/08-479.ZS.html
[16] http://www.therethinkers.com/what-weve-done/
[17] http://www.therethinkers.com/wp-content/Recommendations-09.pdf
[18] http://www.facebook.com/theroot
[19] http://www.twitter.com/theroot247
[20] http://www.theroot.com/sites/default/files/jabriel1.JPG

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