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Lawsuit Filed After First-Grader Handcuffed To Chair

NEW ORLEANS - Children at an elementary school here are subjected to unlawful seizures and arrests - including handcuffing and shackling - for minor violations of school rules, according to a class action lawsuit filed July 8 by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (J.W., et al. v. Paul Vallas, et al., No. 2:10-cv-01925, E.D. La.).

The suit was filed on behalf of an African-American first-grade student who was handcuffed and shackled to a chair by an armed security officer after he argued with another youth over a seat in the lunchroom at Sarah T. Reed Elementary School. The school is part of the Louisiana Recovery School District.

The boy, known as J.W. in the court filing, was 6 years old when the incident occurred on May 6. He had previously been handcuffed and shackled for a similar incident. School officials told the boy's father that the arrest and seizure was required under school rules.

The boy's father, Sebastian Weston, said his son is now terrified of school, his teachers and police.

"Our client was deeply traumatized by this experience and is now terrified of school," said SPLC attorney Thena Robinson.

The complaint alleges that the school principal, one of several named defendants, "provided a clear directive to all employees . . . that students were to be arrested and handcuffed if they failed to comply with school rules." The complaint also alleges that RSD officials - including Superintendent Paul Vallas and Director of Security Eddie Compass - allowed the enforcement of this policy at Reed Elementary and were deliberately indifferent to the rights of the students who attend school there.

The suit, which seeks certification as a class action, asks for a court ruling that the school's policy to "unlawfully seize and arrest schoolchildren at Sarah T. Reed Elementary School absent probable cause of criminal activity" violates students' rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Download the complaint.