Parents of Handcuffed Kindergartener Want “Justice”
Initial reports said that six-year-old Salecia Johnson was tearing things off the wall and throwing furniture in class when Creekside Elementary School officials called the cops. Baldwin County Schools Superintendent Geneva Braziel later stated that the girl’s “violent and disruptive” acts included “pushing several other students; running away from the school staff; slamming chairs around the school office; climbing up and knocking over a bookcase; knocking pictures off the wall; scribbling over the walls and door; and injuring a school employee.”
But Salecia’s parents, Constance Ruff and Ernest Johnson, say teachers and cops went too far – and that their stories don’t even add up. They dispute claims that school officials tried to reach them, and ask why a guidance counselor was not called in before police got involved.
“The school said she was out of control, but once the officer walked into the office, my daughter immediately sat down and said, ‘I’m sorry, Mrs. Popp’ — that’s the principal’s name – and started to cry and said, ‘I want my mama.’ If she calmed down, why did she have to be taken and put in handcuffs?” Ruff told The Root, a Washington Post-owned website that reports on news from an African American perspective. Salicia is black.
A U.S. Department of Education report issued in March found harsh school discipline policies disproportionately affect black children, who are three and a half times more likely to be suspended expelled than their white classmates.
“Kids are being arrested for being kids,” civil-rights lawyer Shannon Kennedy told the Associated Press. Kennedy is suing the Albuquerque, N.M., school district and police department on behalf of hundreds of children arrested for minor offenses.
Superintendent Braziel said that the decision to handcuff and arrest Salecia was made by police, not the school. Milledgeville, Ga., police said that their policy requires them to handcuff everyone taken in to the station, regardless of age. They ultimately dropped charges of simple assault, criminal damage to property and unruly conduct for a juvenile.
Similar treatment of children elsewhere has prompted families to sue, as the parents of Lennox Seaforth Jr. are doing after the then-13-year-old was arrested as a suspected gang member when he wore Boyz n the Hood-inspired clothes to a school costume day.
Though Ruff says Salecia is afraid to return to school, the girl’s family is so far working for change outside the courts. They’ve collected close to 175,000 signatures on a petition seeking justice, which they hope will pressure leaders in their Georgia town to change school and police policies.
“We are calling on Milledgeville officials to remove any record of Salecia’s arrest and end the use of police in school discipline,” Ruff wrote on the petition. “Also, we believe there should be a more in-depth examination of what happened and why police were brought in to deal with a matter of school discipline.”
If you feel your child’s rights have been violated, you should consult an attorney who can help you determine if legal remedies are available to you. Visit the Civil Rights section on Lawyers.com for more information.
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