Sebastian and Robin Weston, parents of the first-grader who
was handcuffed and shackled at school, discuss the case during a news conference.
NEW ORLEANS – Children at an elementary school here are subjected to unlawful seizures and arrests – including handcuffing and shackling – for minor violations of school rules, according to a class action lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL).
The suit was filed on behalf of a first-grade student who was brutally handcuffed and shackled to a chair by an armed security officer after he argued with another youth over a seat in the lunchroom at Sarah T. Reed Elementary School. The school is part of the Louisiana Recovery School District.
The boy, known as J.W. in the court filing, was just 6 years old when the incident occurred on May 6. He had previously been handcuffed and shackled for a similar incident. School officials told the boy’s father that the arrest and seizure was required under school rules.
The lawsuit can be read here:
WVUE - New Orleans
“Our client was deeply traumatized by this experience and is now terrified of school,” said SPLC attorney Thena Robinson. “Handcuffing and shackling children to furniture is absolutely outrageous and can inflict not only physical injuries but psychological wounds that can have a profound impact. RSD personnel acted unreasonably and continue to enforce a school policy that violates clearly established state and federal law.”
The complaint alleges that the school principal, one of several named defendants, “provided a clear directive to all employees … that students were to be arrested and handcuffed if they failed to comply with school rules.” The complaint also alleges that RSD officials—including Superintendent Paul Vallas and Director of Security Eddie Compass – allowed the enforcement of this policy at Reed Elementary and were deliberately indifferent to the rights of the students who attend school there.
For many years, local advocates have decried RSD’s practices of arresting, handcuffing and shackling schoolchildren for minor violations of school rules that do not constitute probable cause of criminal activity. Most recently, Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, issued a report that documents the prevalence of RSD’s unlawful arrest and seizure policies. JJPL representatives have repeatedly met with RSD officials in an effort to craft alternatives to this destructive practice.
“Since children returned to the city after Hurricane Katrina, schools have treated them like criminals. In a city with such significant educational needs, our schools have a duty to provide support for students rather than respond with inappropriate aggression,” said JJPL Legal Director Carol Kolinchak. “While work with RSD has yielded some positive results, including a move away from private security contractors, we have reached a point where the courts must intervene to uphold the law, and clear policies and procedures to govern school security officers must be put in place.”
The suit, which seeks certification as a class action, asks for a court ruling that the school’s policy to “unlawfully seize and arrest schoolchildren at Sarah T. Reed Elementary School absent probable cause of criminal activity” violates students’ rights under the U.S. Constitution.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, with offices in New Orleans, Florida, Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama, is a nonprofit civil rights organization that combats bigotry and discrimination through litigation, education and advocacy. For more information, see www.splcenter.org
The Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) is a statewide advocacy organization dedicated to transforming the juvenile justice system into one that builds on the strengths of young people, families, and communities to ensure children are given the greatest opportunities to grow and thrive. For more information, see www.jjpl.org