FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ATLANTA, GA--The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia announced today that the organization will be representing 11-year-old Ashley Smith and other students in an effort to change Cobb County's controversial "zero tolerance" policy.
Ashley Smith made national news last week when she was suspended for 10 days from Garrett Middle School in Austell for possession of a small chain which attached her Tweety Bird key ring to her Tweety Bird wallet.
"Unfortunately, Ashley was not the only victim of the school's zero tolerance policy," said Debbie Seagraves, Executive Director of the ACLU of Georgia. "Other students have now come forward, which affirms that this is a flawed policy which must be changed."
While school officials originally asserted that they would not allow an appeal of the suspension, they have backed down from that hard line stance and have allowed Ashley to return to class today.
As representatives for Ashley and possibly other students, the ACLU is demanding that Cobb County hold a public hearing to allow input from parents on a sensible and clear weapons policy and to implement an interim policy which includes warning and confiscation as an alternative to suspension.
In a letter sent to officials today, the ACLU said unless it is changed, the zero tolerance policy "will continue to haunt children when school administrators apply their own, sometimes absurd standards to claim toys and non-dangerous items as weapons."
"Zero tolerance does not mean zero common sense," said Gerry Weber, Legal Director of the ACLU of Georgia. "The ACLU is happy to help Ashley and other students, but the Cobb County School District ultimately has the responsibility to implement a weapons policy targeted at true weapons and not loosely aimed at innocent children."
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The ACLU's letter to Cobb County officials follows.
October 2, 2000
Lindsey Tippens, Chairperson and Cobb County Board of Education (for distribution to all members) 514 Glover Street Marietta, Georgia 30060
Dear Members of the Board:
The undersigned represent the Smith family and are in consultation with other families similarly situated whose children have been thoughtlessly and unconstitutionally suspended for violations of Cobb County School District's vaguely drafted weapons policy. While we appreciate the revocation of the suspension of Ashley Smith and the commitment to revisit the weapons policy, its vagaries will continue to haunt children when school administrators apply their own, sometimes absurd standards to claim toys and non-dangerous items as weapons. To avert this virtually certain result and to compensate for the damage already done, we demand that the Cobb County School District:
(1) Hold a public hearing to allow parents to express their views on a sensible and clear weapons policy within the next two weeks;
(2) Adopt an interim weapons policy, in consultation with the ACLU, by the end of this week that includes clear standards with adequate warning, individualized assessment of circumstances and confiscation as an alternative to discipline for items not set out specifically as weapons;
(3) Adopt a permanent weapons policy, in consultation with the ACLU, by the end of this month that includes clear standards with adequate warning, individualized assessment of circumstances and confiscation as an alternative to discipline for items not set out specifically as weapons;
(4) Produce all public records regarding weapons policy discipline of any Cobb County students, with names and other identifying information redacted but school name included, within three days as provided by the Georgia Open Records Act;
(5) Investigate each incident of discipline under the weapons policy to assure that children with non-weapons, toys and non-dangerous items who have suffered improper and unconstitutional discipline have their records expunged, receive written apologies and be properly compensated;
(6) Report all findings, while preserving student privacy, of the investigation set out in item four (4); and
(7) Meet with the ACLU and represented parents to discuss monetary compensation, expungement of discipline files and written apologies to the affected families.
Zero tolerance does not mean zero common sense. While we hope to work with the Cobb County School District to avert litigation on this matter, the onus is on you to work expeditiously to find a solution that ensures that the weapons policy is targeted at true weapons and not loosely aimed at innocent children.
Gerald Weber, Robert Tsai
ACLU of Georgia