According an Associated Press (AP) report on CBS Atlanta, Jackson Public Schools (JPS) will no longer handcuff students to poles or other objects and will train staff at its alternative school on better methods of discipline. JPS agreed to settle a suit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which charged that staff at the school district’s Capital City Alternative School engaged in the practice of shackling students to a pole in the school.
SPLC’s suit claimed that staffers routinely restrained students for hours for offenses as minor as dress code violations, forcing them to eat lunch while chained to a stair railing, and to shout for help when they needed to go to the bathroom.
The settlement, approved by U.S. District Judge Tom Lee, says all district employees will stop handcuffing students younger than 13, and can only handcuff older students for crimes. In no case will employees shackle a student to a fixed object such as a railing, a pole, a desk, or a chair. “It’s apparent there were severe problems that we hope now are being addressed and will be alleviated,” Judge Lee said.
Nationwide, a report from the U.S. Department of Education showed tens of thousands of students, 70% of them disabled, were strapped down or physically restrained in school in 2009-10. Advocates for disabled students say restraints are often abused, causing injury, and sometimes death. Currently, there are no federal standards, although legislation is pending in Congress.
The U.S. Department of Education says Mississippi is one of 13 states with no statewide rules governing restraints. National experts have said seclusion and restraint should only be used in emergencies when there is a threat of someone getting hurt. They contend people who are not properly trained resort to restraints when students get out of control.
Mississippi Families as Allies for Children’s Mental Health will serve as a district-paid monitor as part of the settlement. Joy Hogge will check compliance in quarterly reports for two years. Under the settlement, JPS also agreed to record every time handcuffs or other restraints are used. In addition, the settlement requires JPS to instruct the principal and vice principal at the alternative school that they will be fired if they use fixed restraints.
JPS’ chief lawyer, JoAnne Shepherd, told the judge that the district has told employees at the alternative school to stop using restraints. “We’re looking forward to improving that environment,” she said. “We think the agreement will help us.”
Source: CBS Atlanta, 5/28/12, By AP
[Editor's Note: SPLC's press release announcing the settlement identifies other terms in the agreement, including, but not limited to, written directives barring the use of fixed restraints, when handcuffs may be used, completion of certain assessments, adoption of curricula, training on behavior management, implementing interventions and supports, and other items.
In April 2011, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Jackson Clarion Ledger, which reported on SPLC's suit against JPS, which alleged that JPS students, including special education students, at the alternative school were being handcuffed by staff for minor disciplinary offenses.]