Jefferson Parish Public School System Might Be Discriminating Against Black Students, The Southern Poverty Law Center Claims

Based on this report, public school students might not want to break the rules in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Jefferson Parish Public School System (JPPSS) has the highest number of in-school arrests out of all Louisiana school districts. In a federal complaint, the SPLC alleges that the Jefferson Parish district is discriminating against black students by having them arrested at a much higher rate than white students in the district.

In an email statement to Bustle, Elizabeth A. Branley, executive director of communications for JPPSS said the public school system is “are aware of" and "very concerned by these allegations," but she didn't mention exactly what the school is doing to solve the race disparity of its in-school arrests:

We pledge to work closely with those agencies involved to quickly resolve any issues that we identify. We are committed to ensuring that our students have a safe, healthy environment and are treated equably at all schools.

What the heck could these kids be doing that's getting so many of them arrested in school? In the 2011-12 school year, there were 706 students were arrested on JPPSS school grounds, according to U.S. Department of Education data the SPLC cites in its report. And according to the SPLC's claims, most of the arrests happened after students committed minor rules violations. For example, a 15-year-old black student allegedly threw Skittles at fellow students on the bus ride home last January. The next day, he was picked up by police during a social studies class, where police allegedly twisted his arm and cuffed him in front of classmates. He was then charged with simple battery, and held in the Rivarde Juvenile Detention Center for almost six days. Most of those days were counted as unexcused absences by the school.

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The case illustrates what the SPLC is calling a system of discrimination against black students in Jefferson Parish public schools. The center filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice on May 7 asking it to intervene, and four students filed their own complaints against the district Tuesday, claiming that their arrests were racially motivated, according to WWL-TV.

This isn't the first time the center has filed that complaint about JPPSS, though. The center told The Guardian it filed a similar complaint in 2012. Two months after, the department's Office of Civil Rights said it had launched an investigation, but the center never heard from the OCR again. The Department of Justice didn't immediately respond to Bustle's request for comment. The SPLC complaint says:

Students are being hauled out of school by police for misconduct that could be better addressed as a potential learning opportunity for the student.
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In 2012, when the first complaint was filed, black students made up 76 percent of the Jefferson Parish district's in-school arrests for school years from 2009 to 2011, despite the fact that black students accounted for 46 percent of the district's total population at that time, according to the 2012 complaint. Then, in the 2013-2014 school year, Sara Godchaux, a New Orleans-based lawyer with the SPLC, said the problem got worse: 448 black students made up 80 percent of all in-school arrests for the district's public schools. Those kinds of numbers are concerning parents like Myoshi Bickham, who spoke to WWL-TV:

That's a large number, that's a big difference so it's something that needs to be considered and looked into. Some kind of action needs to be taken.

The alleged Skittles incident isn't the only scary one, according to the SPLC. The new complaint points to more recent incidents, like when a seventh-grade student was charged with interference with an educational facility after yelling outside of the school, the report claims. In another case, an autistic fourth-grade student was allegedly handcuffed by police and forced to the ground after a classroom outburst, the SPLC report claims.

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Godchaux told The Guardian arresting and pulling students out of classrooms can have long-term negative effects on students by unfairly depriving them of learning opportunities and "unnecessarily subjecting them to harmful experiences." The four students who filed their own complaints have since dropped out of school and never finished high school, according to WWL-TV. Eden Heilman, managing attorney for the SPLC's Louisiana office, told People's World that the school district is not doing its job by using law enforcement to punish students for breaking school rules:

If law enforcement officers are on school grounds at all, they should be there in a very limited capacity — to protect children in the unlikely event of some kind of violent attack. But, as in many other places across the country, school authorities have inappropriately handed off their responsibility to administer routine school discipline to the police.

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