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Meridian Students Voice Concerns to the Department of Justice

By Daniel Cherry | Published 24 May 2011 02:44pm | comments

The United States Department of Justice is continuing to investigate the treatment of students in Meridian schools. MPB's Daniel Cherry reports how students of the schools are speaking out against what some are calling discrimination and abuse.

About a dozen students held a forum with the Department of Justice, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and parents to discuss their treatment at school. Jerlonda Stapleton just graduated. She says she was sometimes a distraction, but she wanted to feel like she had a chance.

"Does that mean when I walk in you're going to be hostile toward me because of what I've done or will you give me a fair opportunity? And often times, once kids have gotten themselves in trouble they get to the point where they feel like 'well even if I did do good, no one would accept that because they already expect nothing from me.'"

The biggest issue discussed was what students are describing as exorbitant punishment for minor offenses. Some students claimed they were suspended for days or sent to juvenile detention for uniform violations. SPLC attorney Shakti Belway says it's important punishment fits the offense.

"Part of their learning is to learn how to comply with the rules and not talk to their friend when someone else is speaking. That is normal childhood behavior, but the consequences at both a communal level and a societal level are huge."

The Department of Justice is still determining if the schools are violating desegregation laws. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Tom Perez says it's important children aren't trained to be institutionalized while in public schools.

"Our goal is to create a learning environment where students can indeed learn, where teachers can indeed control a classroom, but where we strike the appropriate balance so we don't have this unintended consequence of creating a school to prison pipeline."

The SPLC said no administrators from the school system attended the forum.

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