A New Orleans couple recently filed a lawsuit against the Recovery School District after learning that their six-year-old son was dragged down a hallway and handcuffed to a chair after a dispute with a classmate, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported last week.
"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," Sarah Covert, spokeswoman for the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, said in a statement.
The incident took place on May 6 at the eastern New Orleans school.
This wasn't the first time Ja'Briel Weston was handcuffed by RSD employees, according to Covert, who said the first-grader was shackled two days earlier for a similar incident.
"When [Ja'Briel's] father implored the school principal to stop these unconstitutional practices, she insisted that school policy required the arrests and seizures at the school," the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana said in the complaint.
Ja'Briel Weston did not return to the school after the second incident and was allowed to complete his school work for the final two weeks of the school year from home, his parents said.
"I'm furious about it. What kind of message is that sending out to kids?" Sebastian Weston, the boy's father, told WGNO News. "This is a school. This is not a prison."
WWL-TV reported Thursday that RSD spokesman Ken Jones confirmed that an incident took place involving the six-year-old student and said that the two security officers responsible for handcuffing the child have been fired.
The only time a security officer should resort to handcuffing a student is a situation "where someone's life is in danger" or the student is "in danger of hurting themselves," Jones said after the firings.
"The child was acting unruly, but our policy is you don't handcuff a six-year-old to a chair," Jones told the local daily paper. "I mean, he's six. How unruly are you at six, really, unless you're six feet tall and six?"
Jones also said the Recovery School District does not comment on pending litigation.
"This sends a message that no one really cares about Black children," W.C. Johnson, a community activist and founding member of Community United for Change, told The Louisiana Weekly. "It also tells us that the institutions that are supposed to educate us are not in that business of educating; they're in the business of preparing us for penal institutions. They're tracking us straight to the prison pipeline. Anyone, be they a parent or not, who is able to even try to justify that kind of treatment for a child is really totally out of their mind. There's no way in the world that administrators, police officers or anyone should see any justification for handcuffing a child, period.
"If I handcuff my child, I'm taken to jail for child abuse," Johnson continued. "Why aren't the same standards applied to professionals? That's the bottom line."
Johnson invited the student's parents to contact Community United for Change and to testify before the United States Department of Justice at a public forum scheduled for Thursday, July 15, at 6:00 p.m. at Evening Star Missionary Baptist Church, 8926 Hickory Street. "I'd like for them to tell Roy Austin, head of the Criminal Division of the Justice Department, in person exactly what happened to their child and to tell him that they are not going to stand for this kind of treatment and action any more," he told The Louisiana Weekly.
'It's only when we stand up and tell the power brokers and authority that we're not going to accept it that change will come about," Johnson added.
Sebastian Weston said he learned that his son had been handcuffed only after the first-grader complained that his wrists were sore one evening.
"No child should ever be treated like the way our child was treated, like an animal, especially by the very school we entrusted with him and his education," Weston told WWL-TV.
The lawsuit, filed in response to the policy, accuses the school of subjecting elementary school students to "a prison-type environment in which armed police officers viciously seize students for minor, non-criminal infractions."
W.C. Johnson told The Louisiana Weekly that it's imperative that Black children see Black men and women take courageous stands in their defense and on their behalf.
"That's the most important thing in the world and that's why our children are extremely in danger today," he said. "They are not seeing most Black adults standing up and taking a position to protect them. They see few of us stand up and we go through all kinds of situations that are unpleasant for us to be standing up and taking those positions. They need to see more of that. When more of us stand up, we'll have less problems with the pressures coming down on us. But the most important value from that is we're going to see less child abuse by the institutions."
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Image from video on The Southern Poverty Law Center website.