One day in fourth grade, a kid in my class was misbehaving so atrociously that the teacher, in an act of desperation, enclosed him in a cardboard box on the ground for the rest of the afternoon. At the time, it was hilarious, and it became a sort of mythical story that he and everyone else would tell well into high school and beyond. You know, one of those jokes or memories that come up at a reunion. Thinking about it, it was probably not the best way to treat a child, but he was being downright unruly. I can understand that sometimes teachers just become so exasperated that they decide to break rules/morality to restore some order. Not so in Mississippi, where, in a certain school district, it was all but encouraged to simply incapacitate out-of-line students as a first resort.
The school in question was a special one called “Capital City Alternative School”, used for students in the Jackson school district who already had behavioral problems. You’d think they would know a thing or two more than the average teacher about how to deal with problem children, but instead their philosophy seemed to be inspired by an 1830′s orphanage. When children committed even the smallest of offenses, such as forgetting to wear a belt, they were sometimes handcuffed to poles and other stationary objects as punishment. Students had to eat lunch while cuffed to railings, or shout for help when they had to go to the bathroom while shackled.
A lawsuit propelled by the Southern Poverty Law Center brought these issues to light last year. Today, a settlement was reached in the case. The school district will no longer handcuff kids under 13 at all, and only in response to actual crime for all other students (i.e. no longer as a punitive measure for dress code violations). Also, never again will they handcuff a student to a stationary object. Not only is it demeaning and uncomfortable, but problems arise in cases of emergency. What if a becuffed student is neglected to be unshackled during a fire? Similar to the pregnant prisoner case from a week ago, what threat does a belt-lacking 12-year-old really pose to the composure of a classroom? The school district has 60 days to mend its ways, according to the settlement. Hopefully in that time they’ll also take down the stocks and thumbscrews in the basement.