Can this really be happening in our schools in the 21st century?
Earlier this month, the Southern Poverty Law (SPLC) filed a federal class action lawsuit regarding the use of mace as a means of basic discipline against school children in Birmingham, Alabama.
Mace As A Tool For School Discipline
Chemical weapons to enforce school discipline? I had to read this twice just to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood.
The suit was filed on behalf of district students who have been targeted with chemical weapons and other excessive force. It also seeks to protect other students from these abusive and unconstitutional practices.
Lawsuit Against School Board, Superintendent, Police
From the SPLC newsletter:
The lawsuit, which was filed after the Birmingham School Board refused to address the issue after it was raised last month by the SPLC, outlines how the Birmingham Board of Education, Superintendent Craig Witherspoon, and the Birmingham Police Department violated the constitutional rights of Birmingham students through an abusive and unconstitutional policy that allows School Resource Officers to use chemical weapons against them to enforce basic school discipline.
“We must ask ourselves: What kind of school system allows the entry of armed police officers who mace its students? One with a serious illness. One that needs to re-examine its ultimate purpose for existence – educating and protecting its students,” said Ebony Glenn Howard, lead attorney on the case for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
I have written a few times here on the horrific practice of corporal punishment, which is still legal in 20 states of the country, including Alabama, but this is the first time I’ve seen a reference to mace as a tool to enforce discipline.
According to the SPLC, hundreds of students were arrested in the Birmingham City Schools last year. However, most of the arrests were for petty offenses that most schools would handle in-house – no need to call the police.
The Health Risks Of Pepper Spray
The Center also points out that individuals exposed to pepper spray are at risk for serious health effects ranging from temporary loss of vision or blurred vision to blistering of the eyes and skin. They can also experience life-threatening effects such as inflammation and swelling of the throat that restrict the size of the airway and limit the amount of oxygen entering the lungs. This is especially concerning in a school district that is 96 percent African American and is located in a community where children have a five times higher death rate due to asthma-related complications.
Our children have the right to the best education possible. Obviously that’s not happening in Birmingham. Even criminals in prison are protected by law from being physically abused by those in authority over them. But not our children?
Victory For The SPLC
Last month, I reported how the SPLC won a victory for a six-year-old who was handcuffed at his New Orleans elementary school in May of this year. Thanks to their efforts, such practices will no longer be used against young people in New Orleans.
Let’s hope they achieve justice for the students of Birmingham too.
Photo credit: iStock