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J.W. v. Paley

Last Update: August 27, 2021

What's at Stake

It is critical that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals clarify that the Fourth Amendment applies to the use of force against schoolchildren. J.W. v. Paley involves Fourteenth and Fourth Amendment claims stemming from a police officer tasing a high school student with disabilities who was attempting to exit the school building to calm down following an incident with another student. The district court dismissed the Fourteenth Amendment claim based on precedent, but allowed the Fourth Amendment claim to proceed, denying qualified immunity to the officer. The Fifth Circuit, however, reversed the lower court’s decision regarding the Fourth Amendment claim, ultimately leaving schoolchildren without any constitutional protection from excessive force by law enforcement in the Fifth Circuit.

In an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the ACLU, ACLU of Texas, the Juvenile and Children’s Advocacy Project, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas State Conferences of the NAACP provide necessary information and context to the Court regarding the increase of police presence in United States’ public schools and the accompanying increase in use of force against schoolchildren.

Since the 1970s, police presence in United States’ public schools has dramatically increased. Today, more than 50% of public schools have police officers. These police officers are trained in combat techniques and most carry physical restraints and weapons, including guns, aerosol sprays, and tasers—training and tools deployed against students. Greater police presence in schools is predictably linked to negative educational outcomes, like decreases in graduation and college enrollment rates, and increased use of force against children. Students of color are routinely over-policed for common and minor adolescent misbehaviors, leading to higher rates of negative educational outcomes, arrests, referrals to law enforcement, and use of force. Students with disabilities also experience a disproportionate rate of police contact resulting in similar disproportionate rates of school-based arrests and referrals to law enforcement.

Our brief also highlights that many schools have police but lack essential mental health providers, like counselors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists who, as data shows, improve school safety, attendance rates, academic achievements and career preparation, as well as lower rates of discipline. These providers also play an important role in supporting students and addressing barriers to school success, like trauma, poverty, mental or behavioral health, and bullying.

As a matter of doctrine and public policy, and given the rapid increase in police in schools and the connected increase in use of force, Fourth Amendment protections must be available to schoolchildren. We argue that this Court should grant rehearing en banc and affirm the district court.

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