In some schools, students who cut in line at the cafeteria might be scolded or sent to a guidance counselor. In Wake County, N.C., they risk getting handcuffed and thrown in jail, according to a complaint against the local school district and law-enforcement agencies filed Wednesday with the U.S. Department of Justice.
In the 74-page complaint, a coalition of civil- and children’s-rights groups representing eight students alleges that the district has failed to take meaningful steps to “stem the tide of students being pushed out of school and into juvenile and criminal court systems.”
Over the past five years, the district’s use of law enforcement officers to deal with disciplinary issues has landed thousands of students in court, keeping them out of school, according to the complaint.
The toll on black students and students with disabilities is disproportionately high, it continues. Although black students accounted for just a quarter of the district’s student population during the past few years, they’ve received as many as three-quarters of the district’s school-based delinquency complaints in a given year, according to data from North Carolina’s Department of Juvenile Justice.
“It’s becoming part of the school culture,” said Jennifer Story, an attorney with Advocates for Children's Services, one of the groups that filed the complaint. “In one case, a parent didn’t even know that her son had been handcuffed until we told her about it. The student was like, ‘It just happens all the time.’”
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