comments_image Comments

Strip-Searching Kids? 6 Shocking Ways Our Schools Treat Students Like Criminals

Instances of nonviolent youth treated like criminals -- strip-searched or shackled for minor infractions -- shed light on a widespread problem in America's schools.

Photo Credit: crawford.l on Flickr


Too many of America's public schools have become pipelines to incarceration. Instances of nonviolent youth treated like criminals -- strip-searched or shackled for the most minor infractions -- shed light on a problem so widespread that every example would be impossible to document.  

This summer alone, from June to September, NYPD school safety officers  arrested more than one student per day, and gave summonses to at least three kids daily. According to New York Civil Liberties Union data, about 94 percent of students arrested were black or Latino, and almost 83 percent were male. Most of the summonses were issued for disorderly conduct, and riding a bike on the sidewalk was the second most common. While these charges are minor, if a student fails to show up to court, he or she will be issued a warrant for arrest.

Deborah Vagins, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, told AlterNet that there are many factors that can contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline, including an increase in school resource officers, who are essentially police in schools, now more frequently handling student misconduct. She added that “Teachers may also not be properly trained, or given enough support, when it comes to school discipline.” 

The results are alarming: “For things that were once considered minor misbehavior in school, and handled in school, we’re seeing an alarming increase in children being subjected to overly punitive school discipline, which leads to kids being pushed out of school, at which point they’re increasingly caught up in the criminal justice system,” Vagins said.

Here are six of the most egregious examples of an education system desperate for reform.

1. At Capital City Alternative School, in Jackson, Mississippi, administrators allegedly tried to force out bad kids with shackles and handcuffs. According to legal complaints, kids in trouble for violations as minor as mismatched shoelaces were handcuffed to railings and poles, left chained and unsupervised for hours on end.

As I wrote in   June:

One student, shackled to a railing for the entire school day for not wearing a belt, had no choice but to eat his lunch handcuffed. Other examples of the school’s bondage punishment policy include a 15-year-old girl handcuffed to a railing for hours after greeting a friend too loudly in the hallway, and a student who was shackled up for not wearing the right colored shoes.

Why such harsh treatment? According to a 2009 ACLU report, Jackson’s Capital City Alternative School had an “especially punitive atmosphere” and used the shackling policy “to deliberately push out challenging and ‘undesirable’ students.”

Capital City Alternative School is designed for students grades 4-12 who have been suspended or expelled from Jackson Public Schools, have had difficulty adjusting to a classroom setting, or were “discipline problems” in the classroom. The school was supposed to serve youths who struggled within the confines of our education system, not simply leave them chained up.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a class action lawsuit in June, after the school district refused to respond to a letter asking for the strict punishment policy to be stopped.  

"At the highest level of the district, Jackson Public Schools officials have failed to protect students from a prison-like environment where children are subject to regular shackling and chained to poles and railings as a consequence for minor, non-criminal violations of school rules," said Jody Owens, who leads the SPLC's Mississippi office. "Not only does this handcuffing policy violate the U.S. Constitution but it demonstrates a diseased school culture and a broken model of school discipline that focuses on criminalizing students at the expense of educating them."