Federal Appeals Court to Hear Birmingham School Pepper Spray Case

A case that alleges chemical spray is overused in Birmingham, Ala., schools is headed to federal appeals court and will probably not re-emerge for at least a year. Attorneys for the school officials, resource officers and city police officers named as defendants have asked the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to hear two questions. First, if the case go forward as a class action; and second, if they have any official immunity. If the court decides to hear the questions, no ruling is likely for at least a year, said Ebony Howard, an attorney with the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center. She is lead attorney representing six youths who say officers on campus sprayed them with a chemical called Freeze+P for minor school-based infractions, including in one case, uncontrollable crying over being bullied.

OP-ED: Shameful Treatment of Children in Meridian, Miss. Is Not the Only Example of School-to-Prison Pipeline

In recent years, juvenile justice advocates, lawyers, policy-makers, and reformers have increasingly sought to raise awareness of the American phenomenon of the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

The term refers generally to the process in which substandard public schools fail to provide adequate support and resources for at-risk children and their families, resulting in high drop-out rates and ultimately leading to court-involvement, detention and incarceration. More specifically, the term refers to the pattern in which students who have committed school-based wrongdoing — whether by pushing another child in the hallway, taking a pencil from a teacher’s desk, or disrupting class — are summarily arrested, charged with violating a criminal offense, and prosecuted in juvenile delinquency court. After a judge finds them delinquent, youth are then placed on probation and court-ordered to comply with a long series of conditions, typically including that they not be suspended (or not be suspended again) from school. In many jurisdictions when a juvenile on probation is suspended — even for a minor infraction at school — the consequences of the violation may include incarceration in a detention center. Research has shown that youth who are disproportionately impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline are likely to be those who are already the most vulnerable: low-income students, children of color, English language learners, youth in foster care, students with disabilities (whether physical, psychological, or developmental), and homeless children.

A Juvenile Justice System in Flux: Updates from John Jay Symposium

NEW YORK – The John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice is holding a two-day conference for journalists on its campus in New York Monday and Tuesday. JJIE/Youth Today’s John Fleming and Clay Duda are attending the conference and will be reporting some highlights throughout. While the conference, Kids Behind Bars, Where’s the Justice in America’s Juvenile Justice System?, is primarily meant for journalists, many of the topics will be of interest not only to those in the field, but the general public as well. Speakers on Monday include: Mark Soler, executive director of the Center for Children’s Law & Policy; Vincent Schiraldi, commissioner of New York City’s Department of Probation; Ricardo Martinez, co-director, Padres & Jovenes Unidos and David Utter, director of policy, the Florida office of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Gail Garinger, a former juvenile court judge, who is now the Child Advocate of Massachusetts’ Office of the Child Advocate, will deliver the keynote address.

Juvenile Justice in New Orleans: LGBT issues, School-to-Prison Pipeline and More

On March 22nd, 2012, The Lens welcomed five panelists and over 100 attendees to its third salon at the Ashe Cultural Arts Center, which focused on the status of the juvenile justice system in the New Orleans area. Panelists were queried by the moderator on issues surrounding the new French Quarter youth curfew, LGBTQ youth issues in juvenile facilities, the rebuilding of the Youth Studies Center, the school to prison pipeline, and the New Orleans Parish Prison. Audience members were then invited to pose their own questions to the panel. Panelists:

Dana Kaplan – Executive Director of Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana
Wes Ware – Founder & Director of BreakOUT! Michael Bradley – Deputy Chief District Defender at Orleans Public Defenders
Eden Heilman – Senior Staff Attorney at Southern Poverty Law Center
Alison McCrary – Soros Justice Advocacy Fellow at Safe Streets/Strong Communities
This panel was one in a series of events held by The Lens to engage readers and New Orleans stakeholders on current issues.

Southern Poverty Law Center Sues Birmingham Schools for Using Mace on Children

Teens in Birmingham, Ala. schools have been routinely sprayed with mace and pepper spray as punishment for minor offenses. The Southern Poverty Law Center has now filed a federal class action lawsuit against the Birmingham City School District on behalf of students who’ve had chemicals used on them. “We must ask ourselves, what kind of school system allows armed officers to come in and use mace on its children,” said Ebony Glenn Howard, lead attorney on the case for the Center. Hundreds of students were arrested in the Birmingham City Schools last year for minor offenses that could have been taken care of in the principal’s office, according to the Center.

Feds Say Suspension Overused on Minority Students

A growing number of schools suspend over 50% of their racial and ethnic students in a given year, according to a Southern Poverty Law Center study. The study, called Suspended Education: Urban Middle Schools in Crisis, found that zero tolerance policies in schools have led to suspension being overused as a disciplinary tool, especially for kids of color. This corresponds with the Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice’s public school discipline study across the state, which is underway right now. As JJIE.org reported Friday, Georgia Appleseed is surveying parents and kids in Phase II of its study on school discipline methods in public schools. An early version of the study, called Effective School Discipline: Keeping Kids in Class, showed a high number of minority kids being punished by out-of-school suspension, which adversely affected their success in school.

Black Boys Suspended from School 3 Times More than White Boys, Says New Study

Middle school kids nationwide, specifically minorities, are facing out of school suspension at alarming rates, according to a study published by the Southern Poverty Law Center called Suspended Education: Urban Middle Schools in Crisis. Atlanta is one of 18 urban school districts the researchers studied. Using data from more than 9,000 middle schools they discovered a suspension rate of 11.2 percent. But the suspension rate for black boys was dramatically higher at 28.3 percent…almost three times higher than the rate for white boys.The research focuses on middle schools and warns suspensions in these grades may have significant, long-term repercussions for students. Also, few previous studies have separated middle school data from that for all grades, masking the extraordinarily high frequency of suspension in middle schools.

New Rules: Isolation, Handcuffs, Hogties

Schools cannot put children in seclusion rooms as a form of punishment anymore, and must limit the use of physical and chemical restraints. The State Board of Education approved new rules Thursday for handcuffing children, controlling them with prone restraint tactics, and giving them prescription drugs to control their behavior. These measures are now limited to situations where students are an immediate danger to themselves or others, or when calming techniques don’t work. Parents of 13-year old Jonathon King of Gainesville pushed for changes after their son hanged himself in a seclusion room in 2004. Jonathan was a student in the Alpine Program, a public school in Gainesville, Ga.