The second biggest school district in Louisiana has been hit with claims of racism and discrimination after many children, including an eighth grader allegedly detained for throwing candy on a school bus, were arrested for petty crimes.
The Jefferson Parish School District was named in a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center last Thursday, citing claims of police officers threatening children and making unlawful arrests, Vocativ reports. The arrests range from kids walking in the hallway without a pass, to talking back to administrators, having cell phones on campus (but not using them), and failing to follow the school’s dress code.
Eighty percent of the students arrested were African-American, although they only make up 40 percent of the school’s population. Latino students were also harassed about their immigration status – even though they are American citizens. Other students allegedly targeted included children with mental disorders.
In their report, the SPLC says the district has had problems for years, but it came to a head in 2012. One of the more puzzling arrests happened earlier this year, when an eighth grader was arrested and detained for six days for throwing Skittles on the school bus. A day after the incident, the child, who is African-American, was pulled out of class by an officer. Vocativ reports:
As the officer led the handcuffed teenager out of the school, both students and faculty heard him threaten to “beat the f*** out of [the boy],” or to have his son, who is about the same age, do it for him. The student, who is African-American, spent six days in a juvenile detention facility before seeing a judge, whose first comment was: “Am I to get this right? Are we really here about Skittles?”
Angry with the way they treated her son, the student’s mother later pulled him from the school.
The SPLC is demanding that the Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office investigate the school’s practices. They also want to work with the school and the DOJ to come up with better tactics to handle children without using force for minimal incidents.
“The Jefferson Parish Public School System has continued its destructive practice of arresting and jailing children for minor, and often trivial, violations of school rules and decorum,” said Eden Heilman, managing attorney for the SPLC’s Louisiana office. “It’s nothing less than a racially biased system of criminalizing African-American children.”
The school district has released a statement following the report and says they plan to work with outside agencies to resolve the issues.
“We are aware of and are very concerned by these allegations,” the statement reads. “We pledge to work closely with those agencies involved to quickly resolve any issues that we identify. We are committed to ensuring that our students have a safe, healthy environment and are treated equably at all schools.”
The SPLC hopes their words will turn to concrete change for the school district and its students.