When Handcuffing Students to a Pole Is Appropriate

Kim Conte

handcuffsSeveral students at Capital City Alternative School in Jackson, Mississippi, are claiming staff handcuffed and shackled them to a pole, sometimes for up to six hours at at time without lunch or bathroom breaks! Other times they say they are forced to eat their lunches while restrained and are required to beg faculty to unlock them to use the restroom. What did they do to deserve such a punishment?

Well, that's the thing: These students are alleging they only committed minor infractions -- for example, forgetting a belt, wearing the wrong color shoes, or talking back. But according to the official school board policy for the district, physical restraints should be used only when students display "physically violent behavior."

Now, civil rights advocates are suing the Jackson public school district, claiming the way students are restrained at the school violates school board policy and is unconstitutional. (Interestingly enough, some of the plaintiffs involved in the class-action suit aren't suing for monetary damages -- they just want an end to the inappropriate use of restraints.)

A few things you should know about Capital City Alternative School: It educates students in grades 4-12 who have been suspended or expelled from Jackson Public Schools for 10 days or longer. And, just to give you an idea of what typically goes on there: According to an open records request by the local newspaper, student offenses for the school year 2009-2010 ranged from drug possession to assaulting teachers or other school employees

In other words, there might very well be some instances at this school in which staff has no choice but to restrain its students in the best interest of everyone's safety -- thus the reason for the restraints in the case of the "physically violent behavior" policy above.

But if what the students say is true, restraining students for minor infractions like forgetting an article of clothing -- and in such an excessive manner -- is inappropriate, unacceptable, and, frankly, against the law. Not to mention the fact that, as critics of the school shackling punishment maintain, "it makes students more likely to drop out of school -- and commit crimes later in life."

And isn't that what the school is trying to avoid in the first place?


Image via The.Comedian/Flickr

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