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Report: Mississippi Schools Too Harsh On Students

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 17 Jan 2013 06:41pm | comments

A new report by several civil rights advocates claims many Mississippi schools use harsh disciplinary practices that lead to children being expelled and even incarcerated for minor infractions. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports African-American students appear to be punished more harshly than their white peers.

"My daughter spent a night in jail because of a fight. That is just a little excessive to me. She is 15 years old,"

That's Polly Windham talking about the night her 15-year old daughter spent in jail after getting in a fight with a girl that had been picking on her.

Windham, who lives in Jones County, believes the night in jail was excessive for what she considers normal school yard problems.

"I think it is very much an over-reaction because when I was a high school kid and I got in a fight the first thing that they would have done is take us to the office. Maybe give us some extra work or something like that to do and there was no life threatened. So it really bothers me because we don't have any tolerance for the children in our schools anymore and they are children," Windham said.

A new report released yesterday by several civil rights advocacy groups claims harsh disciplinary actions are taking place all over Mississippi for even small infractions such as dress code violations and profanity.

The report claims that Mississippi schools use out of school suspension at one and a half times the national rate...with African-Americans being three times more likely than whites to be suspended.

Bear Atwood with the Mississippi ACLU says the levels of punishment are an outgrowth of zero tolerance policies.

"We are 44th out of 50 for graduation rates in our country. And our harsh disciplinary policies result in lower student achievement and are at cross purposes with our educators ability to teach and for students to learn," Atwood said.

The groups are calling for a relaxation of zero-tolerance policies, more transparency in disciplinary data, and alternatives to harsh discipline.

The report comes just three months after the Justice department filed a lawsuit claiming Meridian schools are too quick to have students arrested...a claim the defendants denies.

The Mississippi Department of Education says districts set their own discipline policy, but they discourage removing students from a traditional schools for minor infractions.

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