School to Prison Pipeline Close to Home

Recently, the Madison school board voted to modify the contract it has with the City of Madison through which it pays for 4 full time police officers (one stationed in each high school). Unfortunately, rather than taking this vote as an opportunity for a serious conversation about the role of police in our schools, Madison’s Mayor, Paul Soglin threatened to remove the police from the high schools if an agreement is not reached within 45 days, though to date, he has been unwilling to engage in serious negotiations on the issue.

school to prison pipeline

Courtesy: Atlanta Black Star

While it is unclear how these negotiations will conclude, both the City and the school board would be wise to examine the available data on juvenile arrest rates to determine whether they are feeding the school to prison pipeline. I recently obtained a copy of a Dane County report with very useful data, Juvenile Population, Arrest, Law Enforcement Referral, and Recidivism in Dane County, 2007‐ 2015There is some good news. Despite an increase in the juvenile population in Dane County from about 45,000 in 2001, to just under 48,000 in 2014, the number of juvenile arrests have fallen from about 8,000 in 2001, to around 3,000 in 2015. While that is a dramatic decline, it is, nevertheless stunning to see the high percentage of juveniles arrested in Dane County. It should be noted, however, that the number of arrests of white juveniles was about the same as that of black juveniles in 2015, but due to the much smaller black population in Dane County, the arrest rate of black juveniles is 3.5 times higher than that of white juveniles.

However, arrests just start the juvenile justice process. The next step is a referral for prosecution. Referrals for prosecution also highlight a huge racial disparity. In 2015, 483 black juveniles were referred for prosecution compared to only 299 white juveniles. Overall, the juvenile referral rate has risen dramatically from 2007-2015 as follows:

  • Total juvenile arrest referral rate increase=37.7%
  • White juvenile arrest referral rate increase=41.1%
  • Black juvenile arrest referral rate increase=26.7%

The arrest referral disparity between white and black juveniles in 2015 is almost 2:1.

The most relevant data to the current debate about police in our schools is that the most common location for juvenile arrest is in school. In 2015, 22.3% of all juvenile justice referrals were from arrests that took place at school. The percentage of school arrests by race were split evenly among white, black and Hispanic juveniles at around 22% (no explanation is given for the other 34%). In 2015, 81 of the 188 Dane County school law enforcement referrals took place in MMSD schools, 67 of which were at MMSD high schools. It is worth noting that the single highest juvenile law enforcement referral has been the very generic disorderly conduct.

When juveniles enter the justice system they are assigned a social worker who makes a recommendation  to the district attorney regarding formal charges. It is worth noting that the DA has consistently charged juveniles at a higher rate than the social worker recommendation. In 2015, social workers recommended charged in 46% of cases, while prosecutors charged 56% of such cases. The racial disparities are stark. In 2015, prosecutors charged:

  • 62% of black juvenile arrestees;
  • 53% of Hispanic juvenile arrestees; and
  • 43% of white juvenile arrestees.

As the City of Madison and the Madison Metropolitan School District negotiate the future role of police officers in our schools, examining this data, with eye towards elimination of the school to prison pipeline and elimination of racial disparities in juvenile arrests should be a critical piece of the conversation.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

 

 

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Feds Support Positive Behavioral Supports, not Suspensions

On August 1, 2016, the U.S. Dept. of Education (USDOE), Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) issued an important 16 page guidance letter informing schools that they must do more to provide positive behavioral supports to children with disabilities, instead of suspending them. The letter decries the fact that in the 2013-14 school year, nationwide 10% of all children with disabilities were suspended for 10 days or less, and that rate rises to 19% for children of color with disabilities. The guidance focuses on short term suspensions because the law gives school districts far more flexibility with suspensions of 10 days or less.

USDOE

The guidance letter makes clear that,

Research shows that school-wide, small group, and individual behavioral supports that use proactive and preventative approaches, address the underlying cause of behavior, and reinforce positive behaviors are associated with increases in academic engagement, academic achievement, and fewer suspensions and dropouts.

Moreover,

Research shows that implementing evidence-based, multi-tiered behavioral frameworks can help improve overall school climate, school safety, and academic achievement for all children, including children with disabilities.

Since children who are eligible for special education are legally entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE), OSERS makes clear that,

when a child with a disability experiences behavioral challenges, including those that result in suspensions or other exclusionary disciplinary measures, appropriate behavioral supports may be necessary to ensure that the child receives FAPE.

Therefore,

In the same way that an IEP Team would consider a child’s language and communication needs, and include appropriate assistive technology devices or services in the child’s IEP to ensure that the child receives a meaningful educational benefit, so too must the IEP Team consider and, when determined necessary for ensuring FAPE, include or revise behavioral supports in the IEP of a child with a disability exhibiting behavior that impedes his or her learning or that of others.

Of course,

IEPs should contain behavioral supports supported by evidence—IDEA specifically requires that both special education and related services and supplementary aids and services be based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable. As a matter of best practice, we strongly encourage schools to consider how the implementation of behavioral supports within the IEP could be facilitated through a school-wide, multi-tiered behavioral framework.

In many cases, it is not simply a matter of changing disciplinary practice. As OSERS states,

Appropriate supplementary aids and services could include those behavioral supports necessary to enable a child with a disability to be educated in regular classes or the setting determined to be the child’s appropriate placement. Such behavioral supports might include meetings with a behavioral coach, social skills instruction, counselor, or other approaches. In general, placement teams may not place a child with a disability in special classes, separate schooling, or other restrictive settings outside of the regular educational environment solely due to the child’s behavior when behavioral supports through the provision of supplementary aids and services could be provided for that child that would be effective in addressing his or her behavior in the regular education setting.

Program modifications and support for personnel may also be necessary to assure that children with disabilities are receiving the FAPE to which they are entitled.

School personnel may need training, coaching, and tools to appropriately address the behavioral needs of a particular child.

Fortunately, the federal guidance also includes resources, such for classroom strategies, Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports Implementation and Self-Assessmentand a School Discipline Guidance Package.

The guidance identifies seven specific ways which may indicate that there has been either a procedural or substantive failure in the development, review or revision of a child’s IEP, including:

  • The IEP Team did not consider the inclusion of positive behavioral interventions and supports in response to behavior that impeded the child’s learning or that of others;
  • School officials failed to schedule an IEP Team meeting to review the IEP to address behavioral concerns after a reasonable parental request;
  • The IEP Team failed to discuss the parent’s concerns about the child’s behavior, and its effects on the child’s learning, during an IEP Team meeting;
  • There are no behavioral supports in the child’s IEP, even when the IEP Team determines they are necessary for the child;
  • The behavioral supports in the IEP are inappropriate for the child (e.g., the frequency, scope or duration of the behavioral supports is insufficient to prevent behaviors that impede the learning of the child or others; or consistent application of the child’s behavioral supports has not accomplished positive changes in behavior, but instead has resulted in behavior that continues to impede, or further impedes, learning for the child or others);
  • The behavioral supports in the child’s IEP are appropriate, but are not being implemented or not being properly implemented (e.g., teachers are not trained in classroom management responses or de-escalation techniques or those techniques are not being consistently implemented); or
  • School personnel have implemented behavioral supports not included in the IEP that are not appropriate for the child.

A child’s IEP may not be reasonably calculated to provide a meaningful educational benefit if:

  • The child is displaying a pattern of behaviors that impede his or her learning or that of others and is not receiving any behavioral supports;
  • The child experiences a series of disciplinary removals from the current placement of 10 days or fewer (which do not constitute a disciplinary change in placement) for separate incidents of misconduct that impede the child’s learning or that of others, and the need for behavioral supports is not considered or addressed by the IEP Team; or
  • The child experiences a lack of expected progress toward the annual goals that is related to his or her disciplinary removals or the lack of behavioral supports, and the child’s IEP is neither reviewed nor revised.

To avoid confusion, the federal guidance also makes clear that disciplinary removals are not limited to formal suspensions. They also include:

  • A pattern of office referrals, extended time excluded from instruction (e.g., time out), or extended restrictions in privileges;
  • Repeatedly sending children out of school on “administrative leave” or a “day off” or other method of sending the child home from school;
  • Repeatedly sending children out of school with a condition for return, such as a risk assessment or psychological evaluation; or
  • Regularly requiring children to leave the school early and miss instructional time (e.g., via shortened school days).

Inappropriate discipline without behavioral supports can impact the child’s right to be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE) appropriate for the child, as the guidance points out.

Circumstances that may indicate that the child’s placement in the LRE may not be appropriate include, but are not limited to, a scenario in which a continuum of placements that provides behavioral supports is not made available (e.g., behavioral supports not provided in the regular educational setting), and, as a result, the IEP inappropriately calls for the child to be placed in special classes, separate schooling, or another restrictive placement outside the regular educational environment (e.g., home instruction, home tutoring program, or online learning program).

While harsh disciplinarians may not be pleased with the federal guidance, parents of children with disabilities should be thrilled that the federal government has issued detailed guidance which is designed to ensure that children with disabilities stay in school and receive an appropriate education instead of receiving discipline funneling them into the school to prison pipeline. As an attorney who has represented children with disabilities and their parents in school discipline matters for well over 20 years, this guidance is a welcome tool to correct inappropriately harsh discipline meted out by zero-tolerance educators.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Police in Schools need Teen Training

Among the many reasons we have a school to prison pipeline is that many school districts  place police officers in schools. While best practice is to limit police involvement in schools to genuine emergencies, leaving general school behavior management to the educators in the school, many school districts believe that safety requires stationing police officers in their schools. School based police officers are often given euphemistic names like, police liaison officers or school resources officers. In Madison, they are dubbed educational resource officers (ERO), though they are not educators.

Although it did not take place in school, a recent interaction between Madison police and black youth at a large public event, demonstrated the lack of training of the police officers at the scene, as to how to de-escalate teens who were fighting. Without such training, police used pepper spray in a crowded public area causing innocent bystanders to suffer the painful effects of the pepper spray. Madison Police Chief Mike Koval conceded that,

conditions were less than ideal for using pepper spray. A brewing storm was kicking up wind that may have led to “collateral exposures.” But he defended his officers’ actions, saying that those involved in the alleged fight “could have been roundhoused to the point where they might have had fractures or lose consciousness.”

In a case in which I represented a middle school boy against the Sun Prairie police because the officer slammed my client’s head to the ground when he would not give the officer his cell phone (the boy has disabilities and was granted permission to use his phone by the school), when I took the officer’s deposition, it was clear that he had no training in dealing with teenagers, nor children with disabilities. The case settled just before the trial was scheduled to take place.

Fortunately, there are resources available to provide training to police when they interact with teens, whether in school or in public. Put simply, when policing the teen brain, there are better ways to communicate because teen brains are different.

teenbrainjpg-d63fe0ca8d3bc789-195x300

From Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 9, 2016. Click here for larger image.

Strategies for Youth provides training for police on how to successfully interact with teens. Police have used this training successfully in Virginia Beach, although nationally, only about 1% of police training includes strategies for dealing with teens. The training program helps police and youth by:

  • Making interactions with youth easier and faster, less conflicted and more compliant;
  • Asserting authority effectively with youth with reduced reliance on force and arrest;
  • Recognizing and responding appropriately to youth presenting mental health and addiction issues;
  • Investing in youth and increasing youths’ trust and communication with police;
  • Reducing departments’ overtime and court costs by partnering with youth serving, community-based organizations for low-level offenses; and
  • Supporting good community relations and reduce complaints.

The Madison Police Department and the Madison Metropolitan School District are currently examining the role of police in Madison schools. Any agreement to continue to the placement of educational resource officers in all of Madison’s high schools should include mandatory training for these officers on successful interactions with teens in order to reduce the school to prison pipeline and keep everyone in school safe.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Discipline them ’til they drop out

The U.S. Department of Education recently released the latest data which provides a lot of information about students in special education. Unfortunately, in critical areas, including discipline and drop-outs, in addition to overall high rates of excessive discipline and drop-outs, racial disparities persist. The data varies significantly between states, and readers can check their own states’ data, as well as gender disparities and those of other racial or ethnic groups, on the Dept. of Education’s website linked above, but to illustrate the problem, I will use my home state of Wisconsin’s data for Black, Hispanic and White students, and compare that to the national average.

USDOE

The national data for special education eligibility is:

  • White:                                          49.7%
  • Hispanic/Latino:                      24.75%
  • Black or African American : 18.47%

The Wisconsin special education eligibility rates are:

  • White:                                        66.26%
  • Hispanic/Latino:                     11.33%
  • Black or African American: 15.28%

Since we know that school success can only happen if students remain in school, the data for suspensions and drop outs is deeply disturbing:

The percent of students with disabilities suspended or expelled 10 or more days is as follows:

US suspension/expulsions 10+days:

  • White:                                         30.43%
  • Hispanic/Latino:                      16.55%
  • Black or African American : 47.16%

Wisconsin suspension/expulsions 10+days:

  • White:                                         25.53%
  • Hispanic/Latino:                        9.31%
  • Black or African American : 62.14%

That’s right. Despite the fact that Black students make up less than 20% of students with disabilities nationally and in Wisconsin, they comprise nearly half of US students with disabilities suspended or expelled more than 10 days and nearly 2/3 of Wisconsin students with disabilities

If that does not shock you, it is even more disturbing when one examines the actual number of students with disabilities suspended or expelled out of school.

  • US total students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 52,848
  • US total students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 487,847
  • US total Hispanic/Latino students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 8,713
  • US total Hispanic/Latino students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 90,779
  • US total Black or African American students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 24,827
  • US total Black or African American students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 182,116

The Wisconsin numbers are equally disturbing.

  • Wisconsin total students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 795
  • Wisconsin total students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 10,907
  • Wisconsin total Hispanic/Latino students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 74
  • Wisconsin total Hispanic/Latino students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 1,111
  • Wisconsin total Black or African American students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 494
  • Wisconsin total Black or African American students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 4,332

Of course, when students are disciplined out of school, many of them end up dropping out.

US students with disabilities ages 14-21 dropping out in 2013-14

  • White: 9.49%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 14.55%
  • Black or African American: 14.3%

Wisconsin students with disabilities ages 14-21 dropping out in 2013-14

  • White: 7.95%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 16.73%
  • Black: 29.38%

Once again, to make clear that these are not just percentages, but real live children, here are the actual numbers of drop outs in these categories.

US students with disabilities ages 14-21 dropping out in 2013-14

  • White: 29,876
  • Hispanic/Latino: 18,812
  • Black or African American: 19,452

Wisconsin students with disabilities ages 14-21 dropping out in 2013-14

  • White: 536
  • Hispanic/Latino: 164
  • Black: 639

These numbers are a tragic indication of a failed education  system that metes out excessive discipline ultimately driving tens of thousands of our most vulnerable students to drop out of school, many of whom will commit crimes and fuel the school to prison pipeline.

However, we need to stop admiring this problem. It is not a new problem. Rather, it is a persistent problem. It persists because those who are responsible for underfunding our schools and permitting local school officials to remove students from school excessively are not held accountable. The numbers are only evidence of a deeply rooted problem. With tragic and transparent evidence of such widespread failure, who will accept responsibility and solve this ongoing nightmare? Who will we hold accountable for this failure?

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact him by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

 

 

 

 

Police in Schools? Only in Emergencies

The recent incident of police brutality in a South Carolina school makes clear that the trend of ever increasing police presence in our schools has gone too far. Last year, I settled a case of police brutality in a Sun Prairie, Wisconsin middle school, just before it went to trial. Both of these incidents illustrate exactly why police do not belong in school, other than in genuine emergencies.

SC police brutality

In both incidents, the students were not causing or threatening harm to anyone. Both students simply wanted to use their cell phones and failed to follow police orders not to do so. The result in both incidents was a violent use of force by the police officer simply because the children did not follow the police officer’s command.

Earlier this year the Center for Public Integrity produced eye-opening data revealing the number of school referrals to law enforcement on a state by state basis. The data should shock anyone who is concerned about the schools to prison pipeline. The worst state is Virginia which sends nearly 16 out of every 1000 students to law enforcement. Sadly, racial and disability disparities are also revealed. In Virginia, that rate jumps to over 25/1000 black students and over 33/1000 students with disabilities.

My own state of Wisconsin has the 7th highest rate sending over 10/1000 students to law enforcement, with similarly troubling racial and disability disparities. Wisconsin schools send 14/1000 black students to law enforcement and nearly 25/1000 students with disabilities are referred to law enforcement.

Due to this overuse of police in our schools, the National Disabilities Rights Network just issued its recommendations on school policing, earlier this week. Among the key recommendations are:

  • The role of School Resource Officers (SROs) should be limited to ensuring school safety in the manner expected of a sworn law enforcement officer. Local Education Agencies (LEAs) (school districts) should assess whether SROs working in their districts are being used to enforce non-violent school code violations, manage student behavior (including the behavior of students with disabilities who have behavior plans), and other non–law enforcement tasks. If so, they should remove SROs from the school environment or alter their role accordingly.
  • In any instance in which a SRO works in a school setting, the school districts should develop and publicize Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with the relevant law enforcement agencies regarding the use of school based law enforcement. The purpose of the MOU is to make clear the role of the SRO in the school setting, and specifically to clarify that SROs may not be used enforce non-violent school code violations, manage student behavior (including the behavior of students with disabilities who have behavior plans), and other non– law enforcement tasks.
  • All law enforcement officers working in and around schools must know how to appropriately interact with individuals with disabilities.
  • All law enforcement officers working in and around schools must understand the developmental needs of children and youth, and how to interact with them successfully. This includes the need of all law enforcement officers to comply with Constitutional requirements in a manner that is developmentally appropriate for students of the age they will encounter in the course of their work.
  • State Education Agencies (SEAs) and LEAs should use reported data, including disaggregated data on school based arrests to guide school improvement plans and to highlight disparities (i.e. resources, discipline disparities). This data analysis should be used to ensure that LEAs are taking action to remedy disparities in school based arrests. Where they are not remedying disparities on their own, the federal government should enforce the law using the full extent of their authority.
  • All LEAs must report accurate data to the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) in a timely manner. The US Department of Education (ED) should hold non-compliant districts accountable, including but not limited to, withholding administrative funds to grantees, and lowering scores when non-compliant districts compete for new federal education competitive grants. Competition scores should be increased for fully compliant districts. ED should report to the public when a sanction has been levied against a district for failing to report as required, in order to improve confidence in the reporting system. This compliance must include reporting of school based arrests and referrals to law enforcement.
  • Require implicit bias training for schools and/or districts that are under consent decrees or that have significant disproportionality in discipline, referrals to juvenile justice, access to programs and/or resources.
  • Requiring SEAs with schools and districts that have high levels of exclusionary discipline, or disproportionality in rates of exclusionary discipline, to provide the following training/professional development to school staff and SROs, at a frequency based on a quarterly review of discipline/school removal data and law enforcement referral data.

    o IDEA (federal special education law) discipline policies and requirements
    o Crisis management
    o Data-driven, evidence-based prevention and responsive strategies (including such approaches as restorative justice and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports)
    o De-escalation strategies
    o Understanding and responding to the effects of trauma o Culturally responsive practices
    o Implicit bias

    Finally, school districts identified as having elevated school-based arrest rates remove SROs from the school environment as soon as possible.

    The bottom line is that police do not belong in schools to enforce school discipline policies. They should only be used in cases of violent emergencies.

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    For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Which Students Overcome Suspensions?

While I have written a lot about the problems with zero tolerance policies in school fueling the school to prison pipeline, a recent analysis provides new insights into which students overcome the burdens imposed upon them when they are suspended from school.

According to the analysis  by the Brooking Institution, high school graduation rates are significantly lower for students who are suspended. This leads to lower income later in life as the “suspension penalty” carries into adulthood.

Reeves 102001

It is well documented that school discipline is disproportionally meted out on students of color, those with disabilities, and those who are low-income, which is a problem in my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. But, as the Brookings analysis points out, economic success later in life for suspended students is impacted greatly by whether or not the student graduates from high school and obtains further education.

Reeves 102002

Reeves 102003

Not surprisingly, then, family income is directly related to whether or not a child is suspended.

Reeves 102004

The Brookings analysis also examines two other critical factors which help determine whether or not a child can overcome the burden of suspension. First, students who live with both biological parents through age 18 have a much better chance of overcoming the burden of suspension.

Reeves 102005

Finally, whether or not the student’s mother graduated from high school has a strong correlation to whether or not the student graduates. This correlation is particularly profound for students who are suspended.

Reeves 102006

Thus, while school discipline policies must continue to reduce the likelihood of suspension due to the long term problematic outcomes for suspended students, the larger picture of family stability and parental success must also be supported if we hope to stop the generational poverty which burdens our society.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Department of Justice Makes Strong Disability Statement in School to Prison Pipeline Case

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) took the unusual step of submitting a Statement of Interest in a school to prison pipeline case in Kenton County, Kentucky. The case involves a school resource officer (SRO) in the Covington Independent School District, who is accused of handcuffing 2 students: 8 and 9 years old, behind their backs, and above their elbows, at the biceps. Both children have disabilities and the behavior for which they were handcuffed arose out of their disabilities.

Seal_of_the_United_States_Department_of_Justice

Although the federal government is not taking sides in the lawsuit brought by the children’s parents, it took the unusual step of submitting a statement of interest, to make sure that the court understands that in addition to the normal way of analyzing excessive use of police force cases, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)  imposes additional requirements when police deal with people with disabilities.

Specifically, the DOJ informed the court that when encountering people with disabilities, the ADA requires police departments to:

  • “reasonably modify procedures, practices, and policies unless doing so would result in a fundamental alteration,” and
  • “create policies and administer those policies in a way that does not have the effect of discriminating against children with disabilities.”

The DOJ makes clear that,

This litigation implicates the rights of children in schools to be free from unconstitutional police seizures, the rights of children with disabilities to be free from disability-based discrimination, and the rights of children to be free from civil rights violations that lead to the cycle of harsh school discipline and law enforcement involvement known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

In a very impressive statement, the DOJ informed the court that,

the United States has a strong interest in eliminating the school-to-prison pipeline, which has a disproportionate effect on students with disabilities and students of color.

As I have written previously, the DOJ has issued strong guidance seeking to eliminate the school to prison pipeline for at least the past 2 years.

In this particular case, these young children both had disabilities that impacted their behavior that the school district was well aware of and provided them with behavior intervention plans. However, the Sheriff’s Office, when asked to supply school resources officers to the school district never

provided training or created policies or procedures for the SROs on the use of physical force, including the use of handcuffs, on children, including children with disabilities.

The plaintiffs’ complaint alleges that

video footage of S.R.’s handcuffing depicts Defendant Sumner saying to the child: “You can do what we ask you to or you can suffer the consequences.” The video also allegedly shows Defendant Sumner pushing on the chain of the handcuffs to place S.R. in a chair and telling him, “Now sit down like I asked you to.”  Defendant Sumner also said to S.R.: “You know you’re . . . going to behave the way you’re supposed to or you suffer the consequences. It’s your decision to behave this way. If you want the handcuffs off, you’re going to have to behave and ask me nicely.” Throughout the interaction, the video depicts S.R. crying in pain, gasping, and squirming in his chair.

The officer’s behavior was similar with the other child and he, in fact, handcuffed her on another occasion. Both children have suffered emotional distress as a result, according to the complaint.

The DOJ correctly points out that

students can suffer lasting harmful consequences after an interaction with law enforcement. Indeed, students who experience coercive force by those in the criminal justice system are more likely to miss critical instructional time, struggle in class, disengage from learning, feel stigmatized or alienated, drop out, become involved in the juvenile justice system, and miss future educational opportunities. They face a greater risk of drug use, emotional difficulties, and low self-esteem. These law enforcement interactions can leave students feeling traumatized, anxious, humiliated, and deeply fearful of school. For children with disabilities, who may experience disproportionate contact with law enforcement in schools, such interactions can exacerbate the disability and the very behaviors that led to the SRO interaction.

As the DOJ goes on to say,

Best practices developed for implementing SRO programs demonstrate that, in efforts designed to help promote a safe learning environment in school, the role of SROs should be carefully circumscribed to ensure they do not become involved in routine disciplinary matters. SROs should use their law enforcement powers judiciously, to focus on safety, to avoid disability-based discrimination, and to avoid unnecessary criminalization of childhood behavior and perpetuation of the school-to-prison pipeline. These practices, if implemented, help ensure that schools and law enforcement agencies effectively protect school safety while avoiding violations of the federal rights of students.

The DOJ has issued guidance on how to deal with people with disabilities which includes:

Some examples of reasonable modifications that might be necessary for law enforcement officers when interacting with individuals with disabilities include:

1. Being aware that the officer’s uniform, gun, or handcuffs may frighten an individual with mental illness, and instead adopting a nonconfrontational stance by removing the officer’s hat, sitting down, and assuring the individual that he or she is heard.

2. Asking an individual with mental illness questions regarding his basic needs such as “What would make you feel safer/calmer, etc.?”

In my own practice, I have seen the devastating impact on children with disabilities when school resource officers aggressively interact with them. My case against the Sun Prairie police settled just prior to trial. But too many children who suffer at the hands of over aggressive school resource officers cannot find legal representation. Hopefully, the DOJ’s involvement in the Kentucky case will result in a strong message from that federal court and convince both school districts and police departments to alter their practices and stop the flow into the school to prison pipeline.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Settlements: An Integral Part of our System of Justice

Today, I settled a case on behalf of my clients. As is typically the case in settlements, neither side got everything they wanted, but both sides agreed to settle their dispute understanding that the unpredictable nature of allowing a judge to determine the outcome of the case made the risk of continuing litigation too great for both sides to bear.

handshake

While settlements invariably involve compromise, they are an integral part of our system of justice. Our system of justice is designed to resolve disputes in a peaceful manner instead of resorting to vigilante justice. Although rulings from courts are key pieces of our system of justice, they actually represent only a small minority of the results of litigation. In fact, roughly 95% of all civil cases result in a settlement before trial.

Recently, a friend expressed concern over Tony Robinson’s family’s decision to sue the City of Madison over the fatal shooting of their son by a Madison police officer, as he thought that it would only result in a settlement. Ironically, this lawsuit was brought just a day after the City of Madison settled the lawsuit brought by the family of another victim of a fatal police shooting, Paul Heenan, for $2.3 million.

I explained to my concerned friend that although it was impossible to predict the outcome of the Tony Robinson lawsuit, odds were very high that it would result in a settlement, and there was nothing wrong with that. In fact, that is what happened just before the trial in which I represented a Sun Prairie Middle School student against a police officer who assaulted him at school.

While the City of Madison claimed the settlement in the Paul Heenan case was not an admission of liability, and technically that is true, I can assure you that no party settles a case for $2.3 million without knowing that it has a very good chance of losing a lot more if the case goes to trial. As the Heenan family’s attorney Mike Fox said,

We want policing to be something other than a reaction to unreasonable fear and unreasonable anger, and we hope that this case is a testament to the fact that a shooting of an individual who is unarmed and who we allege did not pose a threat to the officer is simply wrong.

They hope this settlement and the work it took to achieve this settlement will become part of the national conversation that is currently dealing with relationships between police officers and their respective communities and a dialogue between police officers and their respective communities that seems to be dreadfully out of sync.

Civil rights attorneys, such as myself, hope that every settlement brings about systems change resulting in improved future behavior by both the perpetrator of the civil rights violation, and perhaps more important, by others who learn about the settlement. As an attorney who continues to battle the schools to prison pipeline, I sincerely hope that my Sun Prairie settlement, and the Paul Heenan settlement take us a couple of steps closer to living in a nation where our police officers protect us rather than injuring or killing us.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Sun Prairie Police Brutality Case Headed to Trial

Last summer, I filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of my client, a Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, middle school student, who without provocation, was forcefully taken down to the hard floor at his school by police school liaison officer Brandon Lingle, suffering a concussion and black eye, as well as emotional distress.  My client and his mother retained me not only to obtain justice for him, but to make clear to both the Sun Prairie Police Department and others who are taking note of this case, that police officers simply cannot use excessive force against children in our schools and get away with it.  You can read more about the media coverage when the lawsuit was filed and see the TV broadcast of the school security video showing the takedown of my client in my previous post on this case. Although my client and his mother have always been willing to resolve this matter through a fair and reasonable settlement, to date, Officer Lingle and the City of Sun Prairie have refused to enter into any negotiations, choosing instead to try to have the case dismissed before trial.

Late last week, presiding federal Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker, issued an important decision which affirms my client’s right to have a jury decide whether Officer Lingle used excessive force when he took my client down to the hard school floor.  Based on the written submissions by both parties, Judge Crocker stated that:

I cannot find that Officer Lingle’s takedown was reasonable as a matter of law….As a result, a jury will have to hear the evidence, find facts and resolve this claim with a verdict.

Unless the parties resolve this case through settlement, trial is scheduled for 4 days in federal district court in Madison, from October 27-30, 2014.  My clients will continue to seek justice for school children through this case, whether by obtaining a fair settlement or presenting their case to a jury next month.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Madison School Improvement Plan: Insufficient Accountability

Earlier this week, Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham held a press conference touting the progress which the district has made after one year under her leadership.  The basis for her claim was the progress made by many schools as set forth under her First Annual Report.  To make sure that MMSD parents were aware of how each school is doing under what she has dubbed the Strategic Frameworkshe e-mailed MMSD parents with links to the Annual Report, and encouraged them to examine the results of the children’s schools.

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To that end, I have examined the results at Madison East High School, and despite the fact that my son gets a good education there, the results reveal significant academic problems, huge racial disparities, and simply no information about school discipline issues.

First, it is worth examining the demographics of East High, which interestingly are found in the accountability link.  In the 2013-14 school year, East High had:

  • 55.4% low-income students;
  • 24.7% English Language Learners;
  • 21.5% Special education students; and
  • a minority white student, with 59.3% of its students being non-white.

Next, the academic achievement results as shown in the School Improvement Plan which provides no data for any minority groups other than African-Americans and students in special education reveals that:

  • While there was some improvement with 33% of 9th graders having 2 or more course failures compared to 38% the prior year, this is still a very high rate of failure and is magnified by significant racial and disability disparities with 49% of African-American 9th graders having 2 or more course failures, and 45% of students in special education having 2 or more course failures;
  • Once again, there was some improvement with 36% of 11th graders having a 3.0 grade point average or higher (compared to 31% the prior year), these rates plummet to 11% for African-American students, and 10% for students in special education;
  • Reading and math scores show similar improvement, but once again striking racial and disability disparities with 45% of students at a college ready reading level, but only 22% of African-American students and 18% of students in special education reading at that level; and 40% of students at college ready math level, but only 12% of both African-American and students in special education reading at that level;
  • Finally, the 4 year graduation rate has improved overall to 83%, but it is only 70% for African-American students and a mere 49% for students in special education, which unfortunately suggests that many students are graduating without college ready reading or math abilities.

Sadly, given all the attention paid to the school district’s significant modification of its Behavior Education Plan earlier this year, there is no school discipline data provided to parents or the public, which means there are no goals, nor any accountability for this area which is so critical to improving student achievement and shutting down the school to prison pipeline.

In sum, while some improvement is worth bragging about, the high level of racial and disability disparities which remain, and complete lack of data and goals around improved behavior mean that MMSD has a long way to go if it School Improvement Plan will result in a quality education for all of its students, preparing them to be productive adults upon graduation.

_________________________________________________________________________________________ For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.