ACLU Fights to Keep Three Students from New Orleans in Mississippi Public School
JACKSON, MS -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi today announced that it will represent three displaced students from New Orleans at a hearing before members of the Jackson Public Schools disciplinary committee. The ACLU charged that school officials are discriminating against the students by subjecting them to harsher disciplinary action than students who live in Jackson.
“It is unfair to criminalize students who have been through such a traumatic experience,” said Nsombi Lambright, ACLU of Mississippi Executive Director. “These students deserve a second chance to continue their education.”
The students, two in the 10th grade and one in the 11th grade, moved to Jackson and enrolled at Provine High School after their families lost their homes in New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina. The students were enrolled in the new school for approximately two weeks when they got into a fight. Without fully investigating the matter, the school administrators recommended expulsion for all three students for the remainder of the school year, even though the usual punishment is a 10-day suspension. School officials have not said what disciplinary action, if any, was taken against the Jackson students involved in the fight, according to the ACLU.
The students, two of whom have special education needs, have been at home since November awaiting the disciplinary hearing. If the district follows the school administrators’ recommendation and expels the students, they will be enrolled at Capital City Alternative School for the remainder of the school year. The ACLU is fighting for the students to be reinstated at Provine High immediately.
“I just want my boys back in school,” says Erica Jolly, the mother of two of the students. “We’ve been through enough; we’re trying to start our lives over and getting a good education is key to that.”
As a member of the Mississippi Coalition for the Prevention of Schoolhouse to Jailhouse, the ACLU of Mississippi works with mental health advocates to develop proactive approaches to provide counseling and other services to displaced students.
“Traumatic experiences can result in a host of chronic, sometimes life-long, problems,” said Tonja Tarvin, a Trauma Specialist with the Trauma Recovery Network, a project of Catholic Charities. “The condition of individuals with pre-existing emotional and behavioral problems may be exacerbated if their support systems fail, if they lack medications, and if their routine is destabilized. When traumatized children receive appropriate services, they can heal.”
The ACLU said it believes that by punishing the displaced students more harshly than their peers, school officials are violating the McKinney-Vento Act of 1987. The Act, which was reauthorized in 2002 by the No Child Left Behind legislation, mandates that school districts must provide special educational services to homeless children. Under this Act, displaced people are considered homeless because of migratory living conditions.
McKinney-Vento also makes available federal funding for school districts to support and enhance their services. For more information on the federal legislation, go to www.nlchp.org/katrina.
Several other national groups have also discussed the trauma associated with disasters and the need for special services for children. In a report entitled, Responding to Natural Disasters: Helping Children and Families, the National Association of School Psychologists stated, “Schools can play an important role in this process by providing a stable, familiar environment. Through the support of caring adults, school personnel can help children return to normal activities and routines (to the extent possible), and provide an opportunity to transform a frightening event into a learning experience.”
More information about helping students who have been traumatized is available online at www.nasponline.org