Jackson, Mississippi Schools Pledge to Stop Handcuffing

To settle a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2011, Mississippi’s Jackson Public Schools district agreed to stop handcuffing and otherwise shackling students to fixed objects at the district schools serving troubled youths. The lawsuit claimed that the school excessively used that kind of restraint even when the infraction was a relatively minor one. Pupils were handcuffed to poles and radiators for violating the dress code and being disruptive in class.

In addition, the settlement, which was approved by the U.S. District Judge Tom Lee last week, calls on the district to completely stop using restraints on children under the age of 13 and stop all use of handcuffs for non-criminal student misconduct.

Under the agreement, Jackson Public Schools will order its employees to end the practice of fixed restraints, which refers to securing a student to an immobile object with handcuffs or shackles, according to court papers. The district also agreed to revise its restraint policy and document all cases in which handcuffs are used on students.

The SPLC filed the suit based on stories like that of their lead plaintiff, an 8th grader who said that he was chained to a pole in school for hours without any means of going to the bathroom. To relieve himself, he had to call out to teachers or other school employees and wait for them to unshackle and take him. The student was described as suffering from ADHD, asthma and other medical issues. The filing didn’t indicate what manner of infraction resulted in the punishment.

Jayne Sargent, interim superintendent of Jackson Public Schools, said in a statement that her district was “delighted” it could reach a settlement.

“The children certainly will benefit the most,” said Sargent, who added that the incidents that led to the lawsuit occurred before she became interim superintendent.

SPLC’s Judy Owens said that it was imperative that the district address their restraint policy immediately, especially in light of the findings by the U.S. Department of Education that improperly administered restraints could result in student injury and even death. Furthermore, despite their discomfort and danger, some form of shackling didn’t lead to any improvement in student behavior. DOE report concluded that restraints were justified only in cases when the student proves to be a danger to either themselves or others and should be strictly limited and closely supervised.

Mississippi was singled out by the report as one of the states without any oversight requirements for schools and staff practicing shackling.