Public schools in Jackson, Miss., will no longer be allowed to handcuff students to poles or other objects, under a settlement with the Southern Poverty Law Center reached in U.S. District Court.
Jody Owens, director of the Mississippi office of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the Capital City Alternatives school in Mississippi's largest district must immediately stop handcuffing students, a practice used to punish even such things as dress-code violations.
"The focus should be education, not incarceration and it's tantamount to child abuse when children are handcuffed to railings for something as simple as not having the appropriate belt or inappropriate shoe strings," Owens said.
The way students had been disciplined in the school was abusive, she said.
"We have some students who have gone on record to say it's happened to them three or four days in a row," Owens said. "We know there are some students who actually had to eat their lunch with one hand handcuffed to a railing."
According to the settlement, approved by U.S. District Judge Tom Lee, district employees will stop handcuffing students younger than 13, and can only handcuff older students for crimes, and no student may be handcuffed to railings, poles, desks, chairs or other objects.
"It's apparent there were severe problems that we hope now are being addressed and will be alleviated," Lee told lawyers in court Friday, just before signing the settlement order.
CCA Principal Marie Harris said in her deposition that some did handcuff students, but that it was done for student safety.
The ruling requires the school to change its approach in dealing with emotionally challenged students. The school was ordered to conduct a "climate assessment" that includes students, parents and teachers, as well as a mandate that all teachers be trained to deal with students with emotional and behavioral management problems, Owens said.
"We're excited to have a comprehensive settlement that changes not only the practice of handcuffing kids to railings but in addition the settlement focuses on changing the overall climate of this school from one that's jail like to one that focuses on education," Owens said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.