JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Civil rights advocates say harsh disciplinary practices at many Mississippi schools lead to children being expelled and even incarcerated for minor infractions, policies that disproportionally affect minorities.
A joint report by groups including the ACLU and NAACP says the problems are more widespread than just the city of Meridian, where the U.S. Justice Department has filed a suit claiming officials are running a “school-to-prison pipeline” for minor infractions.
The groups say the Meridian lawsuit is just one example of a problem “that has plagued Mississippi schools statewide for years.” The report was a joint project of the state chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People with the Mississippi Coalition for the Prevention of Schoolhouse to Jailhouse and the Advancement Project. They planned to discuss it at an 11 a.m. CST news conference Thursday.
The report comes less than three months after the Justice Department filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Jackson alleging that students in the southeastern city of Meridian have been sent to juvenile detention for infractions such as flatulence or dress code violations, and that mostly black and disabled children are affected.
The defendants deny the allegations and the city said in court records that the police department amended its arrest policies before the suit was filed. Youth court judges in Lauderdale County also denied the allegations in court documents.
The new report says many schools in Mississippi use zero-tolerance policies and students end up incarcerated or kicked out of school “often for the most trivial misbehaviors.”
“Whether it is a dress code violation, profane language, or a schoolyard scuffle, young people are being herded into juvenile detention centers and into the revolving door of the criminal justice system,” the report says.
The report also cites a study of 115 school districts in Mississippi that found black students were three times more likely to receive out-of-school suspensions than whites and the number was higher in certain districts.
“Among Mississippi’s school districts, several have the dishonor of maintaining out-of-school suspension rates that are over 9 times higher than the national average,” the report says.
Justice Department officials have said there are similar problems at some schools throughout the country. At a news conference about the Meridian lawsuit in October, Roy Austin Jr., deputy assistant attorney general, said there are other “school-to-prison pipelines” in the United States. But the Meridian lawsuit was the first time the civil rights division sued based on those allegations.
Cedrico Green, now 18, told The Associated Press he was in the 8th grade the first time he was sent to juvenile detention and put on probation for fighting at a bus stop for his school in Meridian. After that, he said he was locked up numerous times for violations ranging from fights to dress code violations.