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Schools promise to stop treating little kids as criminals: Jarvis DeBerry

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Ted Jackson / The Times-Picayune Sebastian Weston and Robin Weston talk about their son shackled for unruly behavior by an RSD security officer at Sarah T. Reed Elementary School, during a press conference at the Urban League offices in New Orleans July 8.

By Jarvis DeBerry

With 11 children and three times as many grandchildren, my grandfather had plenty of occasions to recite Proverbs 22:6. “Train up a child in the way he should go,” the verse reads, “and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

Restrain a child, on the other hand — with handcuffs, shackles and other tools of the penal system — and you aren’t steering him onto the right path as much as you are telling him where you think he is already: on the road to perdition.

The temptation to equate childlike misbehavior with criminality and to haul out the locks and chains when a more child-appropriate punishment would suffice has become too great for some adults to resist. That’s how a little boy at Sarah T. Reed Elementary School, a Recovery School District campus, came to be shackled to a chair in May. It would be unfair to say that the 6-year-old’s misbehavior prompted his shackling, because children have always misbehaved. It’s in their job description, even. Still, when those children were being overseen by sensible adults their misbehavior didn’t get them treated as perps.

However, the 6-year-old at Reed attended a school where the adults had lost a sense of perspective. His parents say their son got shackled twice, and that neither was a rash decision made by a rogue security officer. Instead, they said in the federal lawsuit they filed against the RSD and others, their child was restrained on the orders of the school’s principal, Daphyne Burnett. Last week, the boy’s parents settled with the district for an undisclosed sum of money. The RSD agrees, as part of the settlement, to prohibit the use of restraints for children younger than 10.

Thena Robinson, lead attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the groups that gave the boy’s family legal assistance, said age 10 is the state’s “age of criminal culpability.” That’s not to say that her organization supports handcuffing children who’ve reached that age, she said Friday. But the RSD has at least agreed not to shackle children who can’t legally be held responsible for a crime. Besides, she said, most of the misbehavior that has gotten children shackled isn’t serious enough to be called a crime.

Eddie Compass, a former superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department, is the director of security at the RSD, which probably explains the fascination with traditional police tools. Compass seems to have devoted no attention to giving his security personnel guidance specific to handling small children.

Ken Jones, a spokesman for the RSD, has said that the system had a policy forbidding using handcuffs on young students and that the security guards who shackled the boy were in violation. However, Robinson said that there was no prohibition against handcuffs included in the handbook provided to the RSD’s security officers and that the handbook looks like a manual for a police department that just has the words RSD inserted throughout.

For example, there’s this language: “The garrison hat shall be worn so that it is evenly positioned atop the member’s head, the bill centered on the forehead, above the eyebrows.” And this: “Commissioned employees may carry only those shotguns which are commissioned by the Department.” The security officers’ handbook also includes instructions on how to fill out a domestic violence report, a crime they’re unlikely to see dealing with first-graders.

After the parents of the 6-year-old complained, Robinson said there were many more parents with children at RSD schools who complained that their children had been treated in a similar fashion. “We think it has a lot to do with training,” Robinson said. There seems to be nothing in the officers’ handbook, she said, “that anticipates working with small children.”

But working with small children is the point — for everybody working at a school. They are there to train the children in the way they should be going. But you can’t train children if you don’t first acknowledge that they are children, not adults.

We wouldn’t expect a security guard to parade through the halls of a school with a shotgun, garrison hat or no garrison hat. We’d think it foolish if one were to write up two squabbling children on a domestic violence rap.

Handcuffing small children is just as foolish, and it’s a shame it’s taken a lawsuit to get the RSD to stop.

Written by demon53

November 19, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Real Views, william broussard. william broussard said: Schools promise to stop treating little kids as criminals: Jarvis DeBerry: […]

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