Groups gather to expound on federal complaint against Wake schools

mhankerson@newsobserver.comJanuary 23, 2014 

Qasima Whidman, a senior at Cary High School and a youth organizer with NC HEAT, talks about school suspensions and discipline. Video by Mechelle Hankerson

THE NEWS & OBSERVER

— Shortly before Superintendent James Merrill held a meeting Thursday at East Wake High School to hear employee and parent concerns, a coalition of civil rights groups and concerned parents gathered outside to talk about a federal complaint that police officers who work at Wake County schools routinely violate the constitutional rights of minority students.

The complaint, filed Wednesday against Wake County Public Schools and nine area law enforcement agencies, claims the school system’s disciplinary actions have overwhelmingly affected African-American students and students with disabilities. It says the school system’s use of school resource officers isn’t adequately regulated and officers are not properly trained or monitored.

“The cops at our schools are not there to keep kids like us safe,” said Cary High School senior Qasima Wideman. Though she did not cite any personal experiences, she reiterated the groups’ contention that available data shows African-American students are punished more often than their white peers.

The complaint says since school resource officers are not regulated or monitored, it’s difficult to tell how many African-American students are disciplined for minor offenses in school and end up in jail or in some sort of legal situation.

“Students who should be sent to the guidance counselor to find out what’s really wrong end up in jail,” said Raleigh-Apex NAACP President Rev. Portia Rochelle. “Too many students are pushed into a pathway to prison.”

Speakers at the gathering cited incidents when school resource officers allegedly didn’t read students their Miranda rights when necessary, illegally searched students’ bags, used pepper spray on students, and detained students without contacting their parents until some were already booked and in custody at a jail.

The complaint also cites several examples of school resource officers ignoring students’ individual education plans that are created to help students with disabilities function in a classroom environment. Rather than following IEP plans – some of which advise instructors to simply talk with the student when there is a problem – school resource officers often restrained those students, the complaint states.

“Cops are not trained to deal with disabled students,” Wideman said. “They see students of color and disabled students as inherently criminal.”

Hankerson: 919-829-4826

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