Alternative Jackson school students ate lunch handcuffed

By The Associated Press

JACKSON — Students at a city alternative school are sometimes handcuffed to a stair railing while they eat lunch, the Jackson Public Schools district states in court papers. But the system denies that students are handcuffed for hours because of dress code violations and other minor offenses,

The papers were filed recently in response to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s federal lawsuit, filed June 8, alleging “unreasonable, abusive and excessive physical restraints” on students at Capital City Alternative School. It was filed on behalf of a 16-year-old eighth-grader identified by the initials A.M., but asks to be made a class action for all of the school’s students.

The school was created for fourth- through 12th-grade students who have been suspended or expelled for at least 10 days. Critics of the school say the allegedly excessive punishment makes such students more likely to drop out of school and commit crimes later in life.

The paragraph-by-paragraph response filed June 28 generally denied any wrongdoing and said school and district officials acted in good faith and within the law.

It did say, “Defendants admit that youth who are handcuffed to a stair railing when lunch is served eat their meals there. Defendants further admit that school employees passing by or through the gym area can hear children calling out and asking for the handcuffs to be loosened.”

Jayne Sargent, who became the system’s interim superintendent Friday, told The Clarion-Ledger through a spokeswoman that officials will work to resolve concerns. “We want children to feel safe, and solutions will be sought as quickly as possible,” her statement said.

The newspaper reported that Sargent had not been briefed on the matter, the district’s attorney has been out of the office, and the school system was closed all week.

Jody Owens, director of the SPLC’s Mississippi office, said he hopes the two sides can meet quickly to discuss a resolution such as changing the school board policy to prohibit handcuffing students to a railing or for hours.