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Report: disproportionate number of black students being arrested in one Louisiana school district

For most children, swearing in school, throwing Skittles on a bus or walking around without a hallpass would get them sent to the principal’s office. But in the Jefferson Parish School District of Louisiana, many of these misbehaviors have resulted in arrest.

A new report from the Southern Law Poverty Center found that schools and police are using a revised state statute to arrest students “under the charge of simple battery for horseplay and typical student roughhousing and fighting.” The report also finds that roughly 80 percent of students arrested in the 2013/2014 school year were African-American, though they only account for 40 percent of Jefferson Parish’s student population of 45,914.

The report comes three years after the SPLC filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. An investigation has since been underway, looking at the high number of black students being arrested for minor rule breaking in that specific school district.

Jefferson Parish School District isn’t the only one to allow police to guard schools and make arrests. But SPLC believes they have abused their power. According to them, police made 706 school-based arrests and received 923 law enforcement referrals at that particular school distrcit. By comparison, the East Baton Rouge Parish has a student population of 42,985. That same year, police made no school-based arrests there and received only 170 law enforcement referrals.

The report argues:

JPPSS’s policy and practice of arresting students and referring them to law enforcement for minor student misbehavior violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act because: (1) the practice disproportionately affects African American students, who, although comprising only 41% of the Jefferson Parish student body, account for 80% of all school-based arrests; (2) the practice is not necessary to meet any educational goals and instead has devastating consequences for students; and (3) there are equally effective, less discriminatory alternatives for preventing and responding to minor student misbehavior.

Several arrests were pinned to “Interference with an Educational Facility.” One such instance in the report says that a 14-year-old girl went outside of her school in March where she began yelling and cursing after a parent-teacher conference. Police told her to stop shouting, or she would be arrested. When she continued to remain emotional, she was arrested and kept overnight in a juvenile detention center.

On a different occasion, a 15-year-old boy and other students threw Skittles at each other on a bus. The 15-year-old was arrested the following day at school for “simple battery” and “interference with an educational facility.” He was then left in a juvenile detention center for six days.

Another instance, also from March, details the arrest of a 10-year-old African American autistic girl who police handcuffed face-down on the ground, after she disrupted her classroom by climbing on top of tables and out a window onto a tree.

Beth Branley, a spokeswoman for the school district, said in a statement Friday, “We are aware of and are very concerned by these allegations. 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.”